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Universal instrument has soul

By Carol Sones Shelter - | Mar 10, 2021

PHOTO PROVIDED Piano technecian Mark Phillips in his Muncy area workshop where he repairs, rebuilds and restores the 12,000 mostly moving piano parts. In the background, an 1896 Steinway “C” Concert Grande, including painting, will be restored to its former opulence.

MUNCY-Alone in the quietness of his workshop, or among hundreds entertained in a concert hall, Mark Phillips continues to experience the best of both worlds.

Phillips, a piano technician, began his career under the tutelage of his father. “As youngsters, my brother and I were responsible for cleaning his workshop. As time progressed our tasks grew to working on pianos and some of their 12,000 mostly moving parts such as removing and replacing old felts,” he said.

Phillips parents, Wilbur Webb and Fae (McMillen) Phillips had been Montgomery natives where the son believes his dad gained experience in woodworking as a cabinet maker in a local factory. As the son was born after his parents moved to the Philadelphia area, he cannot be certain of the Montgomery connection.

In Philly, the dad found more opportunities to use his expertise in cabinet making, woodworking, finishing and painting which led to employment in a piano and organ workshop. Eventually, the father began his own business hiring several employees. As the second generation, Phillips says, “though my work is tedious, difficult and time consuming, I admit being a bit of a perfectionist.”

At concert halls, the technician isn’t seated amongst the audience, but lingers back stage awaiting intermission. “Often the musician will indicate some adjustments be made before continuing the program. Musicians are very meticulous and have great hearing abilities.” Phillips notes that, “Several musicians can play the same piano and each creates entirely different sounds, thus the universal instrument has soul.”

Becoming acquainted with pianist and writer George Winston has been a highlight in Phillips work. “When Winston’s regular technician was unable to come to Williamsport where he does live-stream recordings, I was recommended. I like what is defined as a ‘folk style’ type of his playing,” Phillips said.

Winston has sold more than 15 million albums, his compositions are said to extend solace with idiosyncratic grace. The traveling road warrior gives nearly 100 concerts annually.

A member of the International Piano Technicians Guild, Phillips travels extensively when contacted by music departments at several institutions of higher learning. Some such sites have been Ithaca College and Cornell University in upstate New York. In the Philadelphia area he was sought out by Haverford College and Villanova University as well as the University of Pennsylvania. At the latter, he is awed by the architecture of the Anneburg Center for the Performing Arts.

Until he launched his own business, Phillips was employed by Sides Music Store in Williamsport who sometimes call on him to share his 30-year experience. Located in his own shop in rural Muncy, the technician tunes, repairs, rebuilds, restores and moves pianos of all makes and models.

In some of his efforts, Phillps has cooperated on projects with John Ravert of Watsontown, a widely known teacher, musician and conservator of merit.

Currently, Phillips is restoring the opulence of an 1896 Steinway “C” Concert Grande piano. As he also enjoys painting, he will touch up the artwork on the yellow finish.