Hendersons carry on family tradition in highly skilled profession of piano tuning

21-year-old piano tuner David Henderson, co-winner of the Bluthner Cup, is a member of Derry's well-known Henderson Music family

I PHONED Henderson Music in Derry to speak to David, a remarkable young man who is co-winner of the Bluthner Cup together with his great friend Julian Dendy – the first time this prestigious award had been won jointly since its creation in 1985 by Whelpdale, Maxwell & Codd, world famed importers of Bluthner Pianos in Leipzig.

The cup is awarded to young piano tuner-technicians who are at a higher level than their peers and are exceptional in this highly skilled profession.

On the line, his uncle Brendan "repair man and Jack of all trades" and I had a great chat. Brendan told me how proud the family is of David's achievements and then we talked about the family itself going back to Hugo Henderson, a native of Co Donegal and a renowned piano tuner in the early 1930s, journeying throughout Ireland working on every instrument from grand pianos to well-played family uprights.

His family grew up with music all around them, all played piano, so it wasn't surprising when his son Brian opened up Henderson's Pianos in Derry in the late 60s alongside Brendan, tuner and technician.

Hugo fathered a dynasty dedicated to the music business. Today, under the title Henderson Music, they stock all musical instruments, with pianos still at the forefront, selling, as well as maintaining and tuning.

At the moment seven brothers, sisters, aunts and uncles work in the business and they enjoy what they do. It's not unusual to find a rock band in the shop playing their hearts out or people jiving to a live band in the corner.

When 21-year-old David was growing up he often went with his father Brian during his travels tuning pianos but the boy didn't really enjoyed it; it seemed unlikely he'd keep up the family tradition.

“But through time I began to actively work together with my father before heading off in 2014 to Nottinghamshire and a three-year piano tuning, maintenance and repair course at Newark, the only place of its kind in the UK. I was 18, nervous of being on my own and having to stand on my own two feet,” David said.

He soon made friends and immediately impressed with his knowledge, based on the experience he'd gained working with his father on historic pianos such as the Mueller-Schiedmayer grand in Omagh, on which the 19th century Irish composers for Tales of a Travelled Piano – An Irish Story were recorded.

He was learning a unique style of precision engineering.

Shims, Varnish and Button Polish

“What was new to me was rebuilding pianos. In my second year our task was to completely rebuild a small Welmar Upright and in June it was the completion of rebuilding a Morley semi-concert grand which was a lot bigger job," David recalled.

"This involved stripping the mahogany instrument down to the carcass and then the intricate business of building it up again.”

He talked of shims, varnish, button polish. white hard polish, hammers and silver steel strings set to the exact tension. All this took place in an old refurbished police station.

“There couldn't be any place better for tuning purposes – each cell was a soundproof tuning booth. Thankfully there were no locks on the doors.”

David has three brothers, two in engineering and one the sales manager in the company, spending his day surrounded by guitars, flutes, drums – in fact, just about every musical instrument you can think of. His sister is a district nurse so David is the only one of his family to continue tuning. And he has plans.

“I'd like to go to New York.”

To tune pianos?

“To follow in my father's footsteps. He went there in 1986 and called in on the world famous Steinway organisation and told them about the business back home in Derry. Next day offered him a green card to work with them in America. He couldn't accept as illness in the family meant he had to come home.”

David would be a gift to the organisation, where craftsmanship is paramount and each Steinway is hand built with 12,000 parts.

And he's no mean pianist! He has achieved his Grade 7 piano exams already. I said I envied him being able to play. I'd said the same to Uncle Brendan who immediately challenged me.

“Try. Music teachers used to be old witches but today they are as young as their pupils and it's fun to learn.”

He'd just sold a new piano for £3,800 but told me I could pick up one more cheaply, even second-hand – he's determined I join the orchestra that is Henderson.

Help For Family and Friends

FOLLOWING last week's article on addiction, this letter from a mother who is coping with compulsive gambling and alcoholism in her immediate family. Thankfully these family members are in recovery at the moment; however, she has one relation who is also addicted but is not in recovery.

She makes a very valid and important point.

Dear Anne,

I totally agree with your article, especially about the amount of ads on TV. It's not even safe to watch Emmerdale without an ad for bingo popping up.

However, when I got to the end and saw the phone numbers for AA and GA I kind of got a bit angry. What about the families of these addicts? Would have liked to have seen numbers for Al-anon and Gam-anon. The need for help for the families is as important for us as help for the addicts, especially if they both seek help jointly.

From grateful member of Gam-anon.

Thank you for pointing that out. More information from Gam-Anon, contact 0794 0226 0648 or 0781 7080 384, both after seven, and Al-Anon, 028 90 682368 or email Apparently more and more people are making an initial contact with Al-Anon in this way.

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