By James Maher
Name: Ben Treuhaft (and Zsofi)
Occupation: Piano Tuner
Location: 7th Street between 2nd and 3rd Ave.
Time: 12:15 on Saturday, Dec. 17
I’ve lived in the neighborhood since 1998. I’m from Oakland. I’m a piano tuner and I had my piano shop in Berkeley for about 25 years. And then I got sick to death of the Bay Area. I was 50 years old and 50 years was enough, so I rented a Ryder truck and drove my whole piano shop out this way.
When I arrived I didn’t have any customers, although I was the big fish in Berkeley. My background was with the Steinway Concert Department and I had no trouble getting a gigantic clientele over there. I worked with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music even though I didn’t wear shoes until I was 35 years old. I was barefoot. I was a hippie, you know. Everybody put their shoes back on but I didn’t. I just went around with no shoes on because I figured it was so much more comfortable. It became almost a religion with me. I would go to the Conservatory of Music and I would pat around with no shoes. Then, I figured when I was 35 years old that I could make a little bit more money if I put shoes on. So I sold out and wore shoes after that.
I also started an idea called Send a Piana to Havana. I named it after Send a Salami to Your Boy in the Army. It was an enema for Clinton’s blocked up Cuba policy. It was great for awhile. We got famous. We were all over the news. We were famous in Cuba too and everybody loved us.
Then everybody got bored with us. We started a piano tuning school there that was accredited. I was getting these big huge piano tuners to come in and do these annual brigades in Cuba. And it turns out that the Cuban authorities were pissed off rather than enjoying it because they stopped helping us. We now think that they think that we were corrupt, which is really weird. We’re finding this out now. We don’t know the end of the story yet. We still get thanked all around the world in concert.
Let me tell you the best thing about moving out here. When I got here, even though I didn’t have any customers, the few I had were jaw-droppingly better than the ones I had in Berkeley. The people are much more interesting here than my cohorts in the Bay Area. It took me four years before I got any clientele, and then it blossomed from there. I have a little piano shop on the Lower East Side, on Essex and Rivington. It’s a little rat hole. I’m going to keep it even though we’re moving to Edinburgh [this week], to Scotland. We’re having a garage sale now of our furniture and seven pianos.
My wife is a scientist and she got a job at The University of Edinburgh. We’re moving there for a few years at least. She moved to the neighborhood the year before I did. She was from Hungary. I'm Hungarian also, and in 1999, I was in Moishe’s around the corner and my wife-to-be was working there ... I said, “Hey listen, I like you Olga ... come and work in my piano shop.” And she said okay and we worked together until she said, “You know, my dream is to be a biologist.” I told her to pursue that and six years later she’s written nature articles, she’s like a big Ph.D., and she’s got post-doc offers in Japan and Scotland. She’s amazing.
Paul’s "Da Burger Joint" — that is one of my favorite places in the world. Also, I like McSorley's but it’s only good in the afternoon. And one last favorite thing, Colin Huggins — the Crazy Piano Guy. He plays under the arch in Washington Square Park and he’s one of my absolute favorite customers. You tune the piano outside with everybody around and it’s so nice and when I’m done he lets me sit under the piano and lie there for awhile and listen to the music. He’s a very good pianist. Under the piano, under a grand piano, is the best place to listen to music. That’s my other favorite place in New York, under his piano.
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.