SU hires piano tech
Posted: January 25, 2013
The Winchester Star
Winchester — Tuning a piano is more than having a good ear and turning a few knobs.
For Israel Schossev, the new lead piano technician at Shenandoah Conservatory, music is not only about notes, it is about feeling. It is about the “tension the vibrations make in your body.”
Those vibrations are different for every instrument and pianist, he said. Finding the right balance is an art he has spent 25 years perfecting.
“The idea is, once everything is connected, and the piano is tuned and voiced, and the musician gets the notes right, it is no longer music on a page,” Schossev, 51, said. “It is magic.”
Schossev began work Jan. 3 at the university after relocating to Winchester from upstate New York. His wife, Rackelle Roden, is still there while the couple sells their house.
Schossev had an extensive prior relationship to Steinway instruments, including employment at Steinway and Sons, and a “familiarity with pianos at the highest level,” said Dr. Michael Stepniak, dean of the conservatory. That was important given the conservatory’s goal of becoming an “All-Steinway School.”
He also has a reputation among major artists as being a “wonderfully sensitive and knowledgeable technician — an artist’s artist,” Stepniak said.
“He takes enormous care and pride in his work and his instruments — and they are now his babies,” he said. “And he has a keen eye not only for the smallest detail, but also for long-term issues related to our piano inventory management strategy.”
The conservatory knew creating the position of a lead piano technician was critical at the outset of developing a “long-term plan for the strengthening and management of the piano fleet,” Stepniak said. The issue wasn’t if the school needed one, but when.
For their long-term well-being and responsiveness, pianos need regular and sometimes extensive maintenance, he said. That is especially true for grand pianos in practice rooms or teaching studios that may be played “seven to 12 hours a day.”
As lead piano technician, Schossev is responsible for maintenance, voicing, regulation and repair on concert and premier Steinway instruments. He also oversees apprentice student and part-time tuning staff to ensure the upkeep and maintenance of all regular and practice instruments.
He said he has tried to approach the new position from the top and bottom.
On one hand, performance pianos have to be maintained and tuned to fit the needs of individual performers to enable them to put on the best show, he said. Before performers arrive, he listens to their recordings to better understand their styles and how they interact with an instrument.
On the other hand, the students who are at the university to learn and the professors who are teaching them need to be doing so on instruments maintained at “the highest quality,” he said.
“I look at it more as the faculty are my private clients; each one has their own individual tastes,” he said.
Having the opportunity to work with everyone from emerging student musicians to veterans who have been teaching 50 years has been a wonderful phenomenon, he said. He likes that there isn’t a huge division between the old and new guard — “it is all one.”
The fact that Shenandoah Conservatory is working to become an all-Steinway school was exciting for Schossev, who thinks the company produces the finest quality instruments on the market.
Steinway instruments produce a special sound that “gets into your veins,” he said. They have the most “bell-like sound, for me, of any other piano manufacturer.”
Through the Steinway Initiative, the conservatory acquired its first Steinway in fall 2011 and has built up to between 13 and 15, said Dr. Elizabeth Temple, professor of piano. In the short time Schossev has been at the school, she has seen that he is passionate about “bringing the instruments to their highest level possible.”
Many piano technicians are “frustrated pianists” or people who fell into it because they have a good ear, Schossev said, adding he is neither.
He is somewhat philosophical on the subject of why he became a piano technician, drawing dots between certain points in his life that led him to his ultimate career.
When growing up in Jerusalem, he began playing the recorder at age 5, the same age he received a wood construction kit that began teaching him mechanical skills. While his mechanical skills continued to be fostered at home by different family members, his love of music was encouraged at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.
Schossev took up the violin and then the French horn, which he would continue playing throughout high school. At age 18, he volunteered for service in the Israeli Defense Force, where he served five years.
After his military service, he returned to the French horn and the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance as a college freshman. But he came to realize that while he loved music, he didn’t want to be a musician.
In the mid-1980s, while on a visit to New York, Schossev fell in love with the piano and worked for a year at The Piano Loft, learning the art of being a piano technician.
He returned to Israel for a visit and met his other true love, his future wife Rackelle, and decided to stay there and gain experience as a piano technician.
He worked in Israel for 10 years honing his skills rebuilding, repairing, refinishing, tuning, voicing and regulating. In 1997, his wife agreed to move to New York City with him and their two sons. Omri Roden is now 26 and Daniel Schossev Roden is 23.
By August of 1998, he was working at Steinway & Sons’ Restoration Center as a tuner, voicer and regulator. After four years of working on every kind of Steinway imaginable, he said he acquired the true polish only doing the same task repeatedly can bring.
“This is when you become part of the piano; you know it inside and out,” he said.
Schossev opened his own shop in upstate New York, Woodstock Pianos, which he ran until he took the job at Shenandoah. Now, he is ready for a new venture, where he can continue to work with fine pianists while also helping the next generations of musicians.
“When the students arrived and started filling the halls, I felt that now we have all the pieces together,” he said.
— Contact Laura McFarland at firstname.lastname@example.org