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Finding the right key to music and life: Billings piano tuner lends an ear to clients

Posted at 4:57 PM, Dec 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-21 09:50:20-05

BILLINGS – As Christmas approaches, families will gather, some around the piano, listening to beautiful Christmas tunes.

Wendell Wilson, 85, has made it his life’s work to tune pianos and get pianos in tip-top shape.

“I’ve been tuning pianos for 60 years,” Wilson said.

He’s a traveling piano tuner, with license plates that read “ILTUN4U”.

“Four years ago I did 54,000 miles. I went to Williston North Dakota, I did Sidney, Glendive, all this area. This year I’ll do about 25,000,” Wilson said.

Encouraged to tune pianos by a church parishioner way back when, Wilson hasn’t stopped since.

“Bought an old piano full of mice, I cleaned it out. That’s how I started,” he said.

But even before that, the piano was Wilson’s passion.

“When I was 17 years old, I was at an academy and they had a piano in the parlor, and I would just start picking out songs and I would do ‘Three Blind Mice’ and it went from there,” Wilson said.

Now, he can tune by ear.

“When I started, they didn’t have apps in your phones, they didn’t have machines. So I learned to tune by ear,” Wilson said.

With ears wide open, his attentiveness goes beyond the keys and chords.

“I used to be in counseling. Did a lot of counseling. And I will get into homes and have people that have nobody to talk to. I’m just a piano tuner, so they open up,” Wilson said.

His openness is making a difference.

“I’ll take time and listen, but I will not divulge it to anybody what they’ve said. And they become very close. I’ve even had people call me after I’ve tuned their piano and say, ‘you know Wendell, I’d like to talk to you. I got something I want to talk to you about.' And we talk,” Wilson said.

“He’s a wonderful person and has such a great heart. He’s more than a piano tuner. He comes into your life and he makes a difference,” said Maddie Carter, who met Wilson one year ago when she called on him to tune her piano.

“I actually went through a 2-year-old Facebook thread to find Wendell’s name. Looking for people recommending, it was hard to find a piano tuner,” Carter said.

Carter has been learning from Wilson since then and now handles the piano repairs.

“I later found out from my grandmother that I have a great grandfather and a great-great-grandfather who were also piano tuners, so perhaps it’s in my blood,” Carter said with a laugh.

With Carter’s passion for piano and those deep musical roots, Wilson knew she’d be a reliable piano partner.

“Our main goal is wanting to help other people, wanting to make other people happy,” Carter said.

“Taking care of people and helping them enjoy the instrument and enjoy that and visit with them, it’s been a real blessing in that way,” Wilson said.

Wilson has more information about piano tuning appointments on his website