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The Legacy of William James Richardson


Funeral services were for the public, friends and family

Location: LDS West Jordan Chapel at 6689 South 2200 West

Saturday July 7, 2012

Time of Viewing in the Relief Society Room at 4 pm

Memorial Service in the Chapel at 5 pm

Burial and Graveside Family service immediately following at Crescent Cemetery.

In 1965 at the age of 47 he began his 40-year career as a Piano Technician and became skilled in rebuilding, voicing, re-stringing, ivory key replacement, tuning by ear rather than with a machine and also sound board restoration techniques that Steinway in New York came to study. He became the Guild President and trained other technicians in his techniques.

Letter from Composer and Concert Pianist Kendall Bean

Dear Karyne ~

My profuse apologies for taking so long to respond. I’ve just  been getting back on my feet from the flu, which I came down with earlier this month. (The worst is usually over in a day or two, but it leaves you without much energy for a few weeks…)

First of all, thank you so much for always thinking so kindly of us and remembering us and keeping us posted about all the wonderful and moving and touching things you are doing to bless the lives of others. Like your father, you are incomparable at all these things you are able to do for others.

I was saddened to hear of your father’s passing. He was truly a great man. He did so many selfless and wonderful things (just like you!) - I learned so much from him. He was a big part of our lives for many years. Although we didn’t see as much of him after he moved to Fair Oaks/Citrus Heights (and then even further away), he made an indelible impact on my life, and his words and light and example are ever-present for me, -as vivid memories that come to me almost daily, and remind me that I was so blessed as to have known him.  (I am certain that myriad other people will remember him the same way. He touched so many lives for good. )

I had wanted so to attend the service but wasn’t able to make it. Please forgive me. Perhaps these few lines may serve to let you know how much he will be missed.

I remember clearly the first time I met him. We were living in this tiny little place out on Gregory Lane in Pleasant Hill,  - a little old 800 (or less) square foot bungalow/vacation cottage, on an acre or two of land, that Karen’s father was going to eventually raze and turn into a medical center. I think it was around 1983 or ’84, when your folks had just moved down here from Idaho and they moved into the place over there on Patterson or Putnam Blvd.

I had been trying to learn how to tune my 1926 Mason & Hamlin grand we had bought when we were in school in Texas in 1982, and had had it restrung down there, and had just had it shipped to us, -and I was very frustrated with my efforts. I could just never tune it to my satisfaction.

One evening after dinner I got a call out of the blue. This voice on the other end said “How would you like your piano tuned by the world’s greatest piano tuner?”

I couldn’t resist. I said, “When can you come?” Without dropping a beat, the voice said “Well, I can be there in about 20 minutes.”

So that is how I met your Dad, almost 30 years ago. He came over that evening. I still remember the bow tie  (-it seems he almost always wore). And the smile. (And the sales pitch!) And I also knew my life would never be the same.

I had had other tuners tune my piano, but when your Dad got through with my Mason & Hamlin that evening, there was something absolutely magical about it: My piano had literally come to life. I could feel it. It vibrated under my fingers and made beautiful, incredible sounds I had never heard before and not known it was capable of, that made my ears tingle and my heart beat faster. It spoke to me, nay, sang to me in a way that no piano tuner had ever made it sing before, (-nor has ever done since). Instead of having to coax or force or coerce sounds out of it, or try and figure out how to “make it do” what I wanted, -all of a sudden it was simply just “there”, -present, waiting, listening, expectant. I felt it tremble and stir and respond to my slightest touch, -no, my slightest thought, it truly seemed. (It was really like that. I’m not exaggerating or waxing poetic.) Suddenly my piano was available, accessible, attentive, responsive.  It was like your Dad had touched an inanimate, wooden object with his magic tuning hammer/wand and, through some miraculous, unseen, divine power, brought it to life. -Like the Blue Fairy with Pinocchio. (-Or like some other, more sacred things which I will not mention here, -out of reverence.) He had a special gift when it came to music, refined and enhanced and magnified by years of study and service.

From that day on, whenever I had a concert or needed a piano tuned for an important event, I would try and get him to do it. Of course, he wasn’t always available, -and when someone else would tune the piano, I always knew what I was missing. But he was always there for me when I really needed his magical touch: Tuning the 9’ Steinway Concert Grand for me when I played the Rachmaninoff 2nd with the Symphony of the Mountain at the Concord Pavilion (and giving me a priesthood blessing before going out on stage, because I didn’t think I could do it), tuning for the Children’s Concerts we did in the Regional Center for the Arts, and for so many other important occasions that I simply can’t remember them all!

How can I describe it? When others tuned my pianos I knew the tuning would be somewhere “in the neighborhood” but when your dad did it you knew you had come home. He put all the notes right at your front door. No, it was even more than that. He put them right in your hand, -right at your fingertips. When he was done with your piano you knew this man was The Master. Every note, every string was precisely where it belonged.  The unisons were absolutely perfect (& I do not use that word lightly. But they were. The three strings of every unison spoke as one.) Every string touched, resonated with, melded and blended with every other string in this wonderful, ineffable, indescribable wholeness, completeness. The beat rates were all just perfect, flawless. Everything just felt right. Somehow he had miraculously taken all those strings that for me (and others) had clashed and fought and utterly refused to work together, -and turned them into the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing Climb Every Mountain. When he got through, every note, every string knew its job, and was doing it. My piano had become a living, breathing, pulsing thing. And the result was somehow far beyond the sum of the parts. There was an energy, an utterly magical synergy he endowed the piano with. The piano and I were at last, one. And this humble, unassuming, self-effacing, soft-spoken man had done it.

He was so unselfish, so giving of his time and talents. He tried to teach me (and myriad others) his method (and I’m still working on it, almost 30 years later) -but it seems he just had an incredible patience that I have yet to attain. After I had known him a few years, he told me one day that, by his calculations, he had tuned 3 million strings. At roughly 235 strings per piano, that’s an awful lot of pianos.  (A few years later, he told me he had reached 4 million). No wonder he was good at it. Like so many other things in his life, he kept at it. He didn’t give up. He knew the great secret: that the pianos he was tuning that were so significant, belonged to people who were even more significant, who depended so deeply  on those pianos, and particularly, on the man who tuned them.

I remember him telling me of his experiences when he started out tuning,  working down at Breuners in Oakland when they actually had a piano section in the store. Another time he loaned me his Aubrey Willis tuning course, which was the first course I had ever read that actually made sense about how to set a temperament. It gave me my best tunings yet. (But still nowhere near his.)

He was accustomed to working long hours, and long days. He was definitely an early riser. If someone was actually up that early, he would be tuning pianos at their home at 6 or 7 am. And when he came over to my house that first time, it was getting late in the evening, -and then after he got through tuning my piano he stayed and talked and answered my questions.  I remember the years he would take off in his camper truck with all his tuning tools and supplies, and go make the rounds tuning all the pianos in all the chapels and stakes throughout Nevada and the other western states. As I understood, he would sometimes be gone for weeks at a time. Tuning, and making pianos beautiful and responsive so people could create beautiful music with them, was definitely something he loved.

But he did so many things besides tuning. When I couldn’t find anyone available on short notice to bore and hang the new hammers on my Mason & Hamlin grand, he did it, and charged me only a fraction of what others had quoted. He refinished pianos, and rebuilt them, and moved them, and did just about anything and everything a piano could possibly ever need. Nothing seemed to scare him! I still use some of his techniques he taught me in refinishing, like using denatured alcohol to clean off the remaining paint stripper and even up the stain before recoating. I still have a 7 foot skidboard he sold me 28 years ago for moving pianos. And when you sent me his obituary/list of all the other things he did and was interested in in his life, I truly marvel!

He shared his secrets. He was a frequent visitor to our home, and events, and concerts, and wards. I remember filing hammers together with him at our house in Walnut Creek. -His sharing with me a special secret concoction for hardening hammers he got from someone in Arizona (one of the secret ingredients was methylene chloride. Don’t breathe too deeply!). I remember talking to him about piano and myriad other things, standing in the street outside your home when we both lived across the street from each other on Bigelow Dr. in Clayton.

I do know he loved the good things in life as well. I remember being invited to and going to The Piper’s buffet with him and Charlotte when we lived in Pleasant Hill. I remember seeing and hearing  him perform (sing) in the Pleasant Hill Chapel, and being amazed that he did so many things so well.  He was always doing, busy with, engaged in, interested in, -many things.

Some years later when he was tuning for my concerts at the Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, he was starting to have some difficulty hearing (and tuning) the topmost 4 or 5 notes. I still had him tune my pianos. After he left, I would touch up the top notes. On one occasion we talked about it. He said, frustrated, “Why don’t you just tune the piano yourself?”  I replied, “Because no one tunes like you.” (-even if I did have to touch up the top notes. A short time later, I noticed he had gotten a hearing aid, -and from then on we had no more problems with even those hard-to-hear top notes.)

In those early years, he would often come over and tune pianos for us in our fledgling piano business. -In our home, and in our garage.  And I would stop and watch him, and listen. Every tuning became a lesson, as well. He could multitask – tuning had become so second nature to him he could talk, and teach while he was doing it.

So many things I do, almost every day in my business, I learned from him.  He was the one who taught me the trick of installing the muting felt under the dampers in a vertical piano, where there wasn’t any clearance otherwise. He taught me the trick of using a long brush to apply center pin lube to inaccessible action parts that were sticking. He taught me how to tune the bass strings. He taught me how to tune the high treble, how to set the tuning pin and the string. -How to move the pin just the slightest possible amount for those very highest notes. How to get rid of false beats in strings. He was constantly learning new things and he was always enthusiastic about sharing his newfound knowledge with others. He told me about the pianos he was working on, like the one he restrung (and I think refinished as well!) for the Berkeley LDS Institute of Religion. He shared his other tunings and rebuilding projects and told me the problems (both pianos and people) he ran into. He tuned and serviced the pianos at the Oakland Interstake Center. He tuned for pretty much all the members of the Church all up and down the 680 Corridor. He was all over the Bay Area, all over the place. I still constantly come across his business card in the pianos I encounter.

He sold us our first player piano (an AutoPiano) which we rebuilt and refinished and had for a time in the Gregory Lane place in Pleasant Hill.  When we finally sold it, to a couple who owned a restaurant in San Rafael, it provided the down payment to get into our first real home in Walnut Creek, on Meadow View Lane. He touched so many areas and parts of our lives.

Everywhere I look in my life I see his influence. I still often run into people he tuned for, and who remember him fondly. I only hope I can do a fraction of all the incredible and wonderful things he did in his life. He was truly a great example, a great role model, and a great man.

There is ever so much more I could say about him, and perhaps someday I will have a chance, but I hope this will suffice for now. His name and numerous deeds are throughout the pages of my journals.

Life is short, -even though he was blessed with many years-, -and knowing this, he tried his best to live it to the fullest, and bless the lives of others whenever, wherever and however he could. I truly believe he succeeded, and I will count myself truly fortunate if I can do a hundredth as much, in as many years. 

I hope this will give you some idea of the great impact he had in my life—and the lives of so many others.

Gratefully, and Fondly~