Meet our very own piano man

Norman Motion

When did you start working at Usher Hall and why?

I started working at the Usher Hall in August 1994. The Edinburgh International Festival requested that I tune the pianos that year and I have been the hall’s regular technician since then. 

How often do you visit the Usher Hall?

I visit the hall every time the pianos are required, often tuning before rehearsals and sometimes checking the piano again before performance. Sometimes I pop in during the day if I’m nearby, for social reasons. I do not attend many concerts purely to protect my hearing from loud noise (including applause!) as it can irritate my tinnitus. 

What do you enjoy most about carrying out piano tuning at the Hall? 

I enjoy working on the three amazing Steinway Model D Concert Grand pianos. They are in absolutely top condition because they are so well looked after and serviced yearly. I also have some very good friends working in the hall, from technical staff, to office staff, to attendants (cleaning staff.) 

Do you think there is anything unique or special about the Usher Hall? 

The Usher Hall is very special. The acoustics are world class, the architecture is beautiful, the front of house decor is so tasteful and the staff throughout are professional and helpful. 

Have you had any personal interactions with any famous faces since working there?

I have had the privilege of working with many world famous artists over the years including Alfred Brendel, Marta Argerich, Christian Zimmerman, Jean-Yves Thibaudet… sometimes working with them on any fine adjustments they may like to the mechanism or tone of the instruments. 

What motivates you to carry on at the Usher Hall?

My motivation to carry on working for the Usher Hall is working on the pianos, trying to do the best job and also seeing friends when there. 

Are there any other interesting anecdotes or stories from your time at the Hall?

Working with Alfred Brendel always included tuning and then possibly an hour or two working on the tone of the piano with Alfred directing the adjustments. One time I thought I would try to save him some time so tuned and toned the piano for his arrival. He tried the piano, frowned, looked at me and said “Every black note is different!” Sheepishly I replied “My chromatic scale may not be as even as yours.” In running up and down the keys I was accentuating the black keys more than the white. He did see the funny side thankfully.