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上海盲人调音师:以音乐特长谱写生命乐章 - 2017年03月10日

Disability no hindrance to fine tuning piano

BLIND people in Shanghai are more likely to find work as masseurs, but Zhang Zhenyu walked a different path.

The 38-year-old, despite the disability, runs a successful second-hand piano dealership in Jing’an District.

Eloquent and quick-minded, Zhang is living his dream and doing something that he knows he is good at.

“All talk and no work is the problem of many blind people. What they actually need to do is to take a step forward,” he says.

Being a music enthusiast and educated as a piano tuner at Shanghai School for the Blind, Zhang started off as a masseur too but quit the job after a few years.

“My hands were stiff after working 10 hours a day, and I didn’t want to fail them yet,” says Zhang.

According to Shanghai Blind People’s Association, there are only a dozen visually impaired people who are working as piano tuners at the moment. That visually impaired people can do a great job tuning piano is no longer in doubt, but those who have no eyesight at all usually need some support from others, which discourages prospective employers.

With the help of a few school friends, Zhang started a band in 2008. Local media hailed them as “the first all-blind band to perform in Shanghai.” The band’s name — GLOW — stands for “glad, love, optimistic and wish.”

Zhang wishes they could eke out a living playing music. “A band like this can never compete with normal groups because we can only perform from a small selection of repertoire which is readable to us,” he says.

It was then that Zhang decided to venture into a trade he was trained for at school — a piano tuner.

He enjoyed an easy start as word about his business spread fast on online forums.

“The customers were more curious rather than confident about blind piano tuners. And soon they found out that we are just as good as our colleagues who can see,” Zhang says.

“Sympathy from people doesn’t necessarily give you an edge in this highly competitive business,” he says.

Zhang, who always sought help from master tuners, was lucky to catch the attention of veteran Gao Heping, 68, who has been working as a piano tuner all his life. Gao joined him in his business with a patented invention, which, Zhang says, significantly upgrades the performance of upright pianos.

While a standard upright piano should allow clear-sounding key beating eight times per second, Gao’s “piano regulation” allows up to 12 times that is comparable to a grand piano. Many people keep upright pianos at home because they take less space although they’re inferior to grand pianos due to structural differences.

“Just because they’re blind, they need to be better at the same job than others, to break the prejudice from society,” says Gao. “I respect Zhang’s effort and I’m willing to help him to do better.”

Gao trained weak-sighted Chu Liang, Zhang’s classmate, who’s also a piano tuner, on the technique. The two now work with Zhang in the studio.

Zhang says they sell about 20 pianos in a month.

“I rely on word of mouth and customer loyalty. So fast expansion is not an option, although I have been approached by quite a few investors,” he says.

Zhang says he will gradually employ more blind people and hopes to make their technique “exclusively” mastered by visually-impaired people.

But Chu, who is Gao’s first apprentice, says it might be difficult for an entirely blind piano tuner to master it completely because he has to be able to see something to precisely work out some details.

“Many people have told me that it was not easy for us to achieve what we have today, assuming that we’re never supposed to be as good as normal people,” Zhang says. “Compared with people who can see well, we have our limitations, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t become top professionals.”

Zhang, meanwhile, has not lost touch with music. He gave a flute concert — his first — at Shanghai Oriental Art Center in 2015.

On March 11, he will be back with a second performance with more blind musicians and choir singers at the Wuliqiao Community Cultural Center.

“Love and Hope 2017”

Date: March 11, 7:30pm

Venue: Wuliqiao Community Cultural Center, 600 Longhua Rd E.

Tickets: 80-120 yuan

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