away | Frog takes a dive|
Want fries with that?
A clear-sounding piano.
the favorite sound of Robert "Bob" Qualls '28 (MA '29).
to those who know that the 95-year-old Frog has been tuning pianos for
more than 70 years.
still might take note : In most cases, Qualls has never seen what he's
"I was about
11 years old when I lost my sight completely," said the small, neat Oklahoman,
settled in a recliner wrapped in a lime-green afghan jauntily cinched
with rainbow-striped elastic. "We lived out on the farm west of Marlow,
and I was playing out in the barnyard with a hay fork with the handle
taken out. I was throwing that down, hearing those tines sing, and that
thing flew up and hit me in the right eye. That blow probably started
my retina to deteriorating and finally got my sight."
led him to a skill that would become his vocation for most of his life.
He learned to tune pianos while attending the Oklahoma School for the
Blind in Muskogee. Those skills -- along with some scholarships and volunteer
readers -- helped him work his way through TCU. He earned a bachelor's
degree in English in 1928, followed by a master's degree in philosophy
an education wasn't easy for a man who may have been TCU's first blind
student. "When I first went to TCU, Dr. Kenneth Bonham '26 took it on
himself to take me around campus and tell me, 'This is Clark Hall, this
Goode Hall, this is the gym, this is Brite College.' I didn't have any
trouble getting around. I still think I could get around if they hadn't
changed it so much."
the days when student enrollment just topped 1,000 (1,016 in 1924). When
room, board and tuition were a little more than $500 per year. And before
electronic readers -- a handy device Bob marvels at -- were ever imagined.
hasn't been Qualls' only source of income, but for him and his wife Layleth,
who passed away in 1987, it has been their main livelihood.
me to my appointments and we got along pretty well until I lost her in
1987." (They had two sons: Robert is a retired music teacher and lives
in Aurora, Colo., and George is an administrator with the department of
rehabilitation in Wisconsin.)
his business from his yellow clapboard house on a busy thoroughfare in
Enid. At his peak, Qualls worked on four or five pianos a day and counted
among his customers local piano stores, Phillips University at Enid and
Northwestern Oklahoma State University at Alva. Tuning TCU's pianos even
helped him pay his way through the University. Today, Qualls still tunes
on a limited scale.
I don't advertise as much as I did, and I've outlived all my sponsors."
His workshop out back appears cluttered and dusty, but he can quickly
lay hands on the tools he needs to re-cover keys or re-felt actions.
"As a rule,
there aren't many people who take care of their pianos like they should.
They get the idea that if you don't play them, they don't get out of tune,"
he explained, as he pulls instruments from his leather bag to adjust an
aging Schumann. "I tell 'em that a piano's made out of wood, and when
that piano takes on moisture, it swells, and when it dries out, it shrinks.
That's what puts pianos out of tune."
years, the smiling technician has tuned the finest makes of pianos and
has developed his favorites. "I like Steinways. And I like Mason and Hamlins
-- I tell people that they're the Cadillacs of the industry. And Kawai
and Yamaha build good pianos."
seven decades of tuning pianos, Qualls has also managed to pick up a tale
Nero was practicing and broke six strings on a nine-foot grand out at
Phillips. I went out about an hour before the concert and got about three
of them on. I was so nervous because people started coming in and the
curtain was open. We got those strings on. Of course when you put new
strings on, they won't stay in tune for 10 minutes hardly. So during intermission,
I had to go back up there and tune those six strings. I got a lot of exposure
enough, Bob doesn't play the piano himself.
"If I was
that smart," he said, "I'd quit tuning and start playing."
Mann is a freelance writer and lives in Fort Worth with her husband Travis