Fine Lifestyles Magazine - July, 2010
Billy Joel, Liberace, Angela Hewitt...
Jolly says many of the top concert technicians— including him—do not play the piano. He says that is a benefit. “I tend to be very analytical. Note by note. Approach the piano one note at a time, one finger at a time. It's a very patient sort of one-on-one test. If you go through the piano 88 times to make sure everything is exact, you end up with very few complaints from the pianist.”
For their essential, but largely anonymous, work, piano technicians might receive thanks from the artist or a credit on the back of a record jacket. The real reward, says Jolly, is being involved in the field of music. “Human beings are tied to music whether they want to admit it or not.
|"The more you raise the standards, the healthier business becomes."|
It's possibly the world's first recreational activity, you know, primitive man taking a piece of stick and banging it on a log rhythmically. They were certainly doing that before they laid out a soccer pitch.”
The rise to the top
Thirty-five years ago, Roger Jolly was a trained engineer tired of sitting in an office, and dreaming of a more peopleoriented career. As a singer, he naturally gravitated toward the music business. While watching piano technicians at work, he felt he could do a better job. “Being trained as a singer, you learn very quickly about tone and about projection, and that's what I work with on a piano.”
In May 1980 Roger and his wife Marie opened their first Yamaha Piano Centre store in Saskatoon. In competition with nine other stores, the Jollys worked tirelessly to make inroads in sales and servicing, and show the teaching and technical communities that they were operating at the highest level of technical service. Once word got out, says Jolly, business took off, and the couple opened a second store in Regina. Over the past three decades, Jolly has been salesman, technician, rebuilder and designer, and earned world renown. His reputation makes him an in-demand speaker at prestigious institutions, universities, and major international conferences and workshops, where he lectures and gives master classes.
He has even developed a new way of making bass strings that can generate more power out of the bottom end of the piano. They are euphemistically referred to in the industry as “Jolly Loops”, and have received international attention. “To the point,” exclaims Jolly, “that a Czechoslovakian company has copied the idea, as well as a major American company, and a Korean company that I do regular consultancy work for.”
As technical design consultant for the world's largest piano manufacturer, Samick Music Corporation, Jolly was given free reign to upgrade the design and manufacturing of the company's Knabe grand pianos. The case and belly work is done in Samick's factory in Asia, which uses computer-driven equipment for superior quality. Production is then completed, by skilled hand, in Tennessee.
Jolly established a three-year training program at the factory in Tennessee. There, apprentices can learn how to tune a piano to a level normally found only in the most expensive pianos out of Europe. At home in Saskatchewan, Jolly trains technicians to the same high level.
He says that piano technicians traditionally don't share knowledge in a small market. Using the Regina and Saskatoon stores for training workshops has helped break that paradigm and raised standards across the province. “The more you raise the standards, the healthier business becomes.
Jolly also praises his in-house assistant, Shaun Everett. “After 15 years I should stop referring to him as my apprentice,” admits Jolly, “but I'm not going to! Shaun is one of the best technicians in the province. He has to be or I wouldn't put up with him that long.”
Sharing the gift of music
For all the international attention, the Jollys still reside in Saskatoon, and Roger talks mostly about his work here at home. He is the contract technician for the Music Department of the University of Saskatchewan, and spends a great deal of time assisting clients in Regina, Saskatoon and across the province.
Since 1995, Roger and Marie have contributed scholarship money and donated pianos and keyboards to the Heart of the City Piano Program, through which piano teachers volunteer to give free lessons to at-risk youth. The program originated at an inner-city school and is now found in many Canadian communities. “You see a 14-year old girl suddenly start to get serious about music lessons instead of working the streets—the program has proven itself, in no uncertain terms. A lot of kids have their lives turned around.
Jolly jokes that he's a typical type-A personality, and a workaholic. He watches the calendar carefully because with so many engagements, there is bound to be the occasional double booking. After being invited to be feature speaker at a convention in Italy this July, he was forced to reschedule some other commitments because, he says, “there's no way I'm going to turn down that Rome gig!”
It’s just one more international locale to add to the resume; Jolly has already lectured and given master classes across Canada, and in Australia, New Zealand, Norway, the United States, Czech Republic and Korea.
“Yeah,” he laughs, “it's an interesting sort of existence.”