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Updated 10:00 AM February 2, 2009
 

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Spotlight: Family man tickles, tunes ivories

Advertisements for performances, piano lessons and auditions line the halls of the Earl V. Moore Building, but opening the doors to the piano technician room reveals a much different side of music.

Assistant Piano Technician Norman Vesprini's office is cluttered with piano keyboards, strings, tools and tuning equipment, all of which he uses to repair and maintain performance, practice and classroom pianos at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance. In the shop, Vesprini says he works on "custom action design," installing and restoring piano keys, strings and hammers.
(Photo by Scott Soderberg, U-M Photo Services)

"It's like a little custom woodworking shop that's piano-focused," he says. Vesprini also oversees more than 230 pianos across campus from practice rooms to Hill Auditorium to the President's Residence.

Piano maintenance tools strewn across Vesprini's desk compete for space with a collection of family photos and images of the pope. A family man and active Catholic, Vesprini says his faith, family and job are the three most important aspects of his life. The Vesprini family has daily "music time" and he writes and plays songs for his children, Leo, 4, Dominic, 3 and Maria, 11 months. Vesprini plays the banjo as well as piano and makes music at his Chelsea home with his wife, Tara, who plays the fiddle and the cello.

The laptop on his desk also proudly displays Vesprini's brood with a slideshow of family photos. When not playing music, Vesprini dabbles in amateur photography and says he loves photographing nature. "I always bring my camera wherever I go. I'm the shutterbug of the family," he says.

Vesprini began his career on the performance side of music as a 5-year-old growing up in Warren. He begged his mother for piano lessons and hasn't stopped playing since, he says. After high school he studied engineering at Kettering University, but transferred to Central Michigan University for music and piano performance. As an undergraduate, Vesprini was in a few eclectic bands with his fellow music school classmates and played at an outdoor festival for an audience of more than 5,000 people.

Vesprini earned a master's in music from U-M in 1996 and taught piano for nine years. From 1996-2000 he taught piano and restored pianos for Pianocrafters Inc. of Plymouth, then taught piano from 2000-05 in New Jersey. He then moved back to Michigan changing careers from teaching to piano technology in order to raise his children and be near his family. In August 2005 he accepted a piano technician position with U-M.

"I like to say that I went from the front side of the piano to the back side of the piano," he says, adding that piano technology is "the perfect synthesis of everything that is interesting to me: music, piano, working with my hands and fixing things."

Vesprini also is working on a modern copy of a fortepiano, a predecessor to the modern piano. Currently learning 300-year-old tuning techniques, he says it's fascinating how little tuning has evolved.

"What I'm doing, tuning stringed keyboard instruments by ear, has been done that way for hundreds of years," Vesprini says.

Vesprini's career may be outside of the limelight, but he says he enjoys knowing that his work contributes to the great performances of students and faculty. "If we can create an instrument that is inspiring for someone to play — that's a great goal," he says.

The weekly Spotlight features staff members at the University. To nominate a candidate, please contact the Record staff at urecord@umich.edu.

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