In October last year, my husband was hospitalized with a mysterious illness. The worst medical condition he had experienced up to that point was heartburn, so when sickness overtook him so quickly, it was quite a shock. The illness affected his 46-year-old liver, heart, lungs, and spinal fluid. He had a team of competent doctors trying to diagnose him, but they were stumped. They had no idea what they were treating. My husband slept about the first three days of his hospitalization, but when he finally awoke on day four, I left his room for the first time and headed down to the deserted cafeteria.
I found myself and my sweet tea alone at a table. Exhausted and scared, with no real answers about my husband's condition, I sat at that table and cried silent tears begging God to spare my husband. Lost in thought and wrought with emotion, I was brought out of my nervous apprehension by a repetitive pinging sound. I looked up to see a man tuning the piano that sat in the cafeteria. I just stared as the man played the same note over and over (and over and over) while tightening the strings under the lid of the baby grand. As usual, my curiosity went into overdrive. I wondered how the man got into the piano tuning profession or if he went to a particular school for such a thing. Those thoughts led me to wonder if the man had a favorite brand of piano and all the places he had been to tune different pianos. My mind was encapsulated for about ten minutes with the scene before me. It provided a brief break from reality, and I was thankful.
Fast forward to January 2023. I read a post on social media by an old friend from high school. She talked about watching Mr. Jesse Haynes tune her piano in her home. I was immediately taken back to my interest in piano tuning. I reached out to my friend, explained my curiosity, and told her that if Mr. Haynes didn't think a random stranger, such as myself, bordered on stalker-like tendencies, I would love to have his contact information so I could get the scoop on his profession. My friend and Mr. Haynes were nice enough to oblige this nosey story writer, and a date was set for us to meet.
I met Jesse Haynes and his wife, Lula, at a local café where they greeted me with a smile and a glass of sweet tea. Mr. Haynes explained that in the 1960s, he was a bookkeeper for Tristate Mill Service but always longed for a career connected to music. In 1969, he came home and told Mrs. Haynes that he had decided that he wanted to train in tuning pianos and that this would be his profession from now on. Upon hearing this, Mrs. Haynes said, "Well, we're going to starve. Have you lost your mind?"
Pushing toward his goal, Jesse Haynes used his GI bill to fund his training at the Aubrey Willis Piano Technical School in Orlando, Florida. It proved to be difficult training because all of the piano tuning studies Mr. Haynes received from the school were by correspondence. Unable to relocate to Orlando because he still had a family to support, Mr. Haynes buckled down and did what he had to do to achieve his dream.
Part of the requirements for the technical school was hands-on training. The school agreed to let Mr. Haynes work on pianos in Texarkana. Back then, there was a music store on State Line Avenue called G# Sharp Music Company. The store's owner, Gibson Sharp, told Mr. Haynes that he had a lot of pianos in the back of his store that needed tuning to be resold. So, on the weekends, Jesse Haynes got his hands-on training by fixing Gibson Sharp's old pianos. "It worked out so well that Gibson Sharp let me work those broken-down pianos. Tuning takes practice, and that's exactly what that experience gave me."
After graduation, Mr. Haynes began a very successful tuning business in Texarkana and the surrounding areas. He has worked on pianos in people's homes, schools, churches, the Perot Theater, and even on a piano a Branson, Missouri entertainer hauled with him through Texarkana. "Pianos get out of tune & strings get stretched from being played a lot, from not being played enough, and from being moved from place to place."
As technology improved, Mr. Haynes used different gadgets to repair the strings responsible for the instrument's musical sound. There are five thousand working parts in a piano, and he loves taking one that makes miserable sounds and repairing it to its full potential. Mr. Haynes admitted that seeing a piano that has not been taken care of saddens him. Like people, they all need a little TLC, which Jesse Haynes provided to pianos over the years.
Speaking of TLC, Mr. Haynes told of an instance where he tuned a piano for a church on the outskirts of Clarksville, Texas. Several churches combined for revival services in a church building that had been vacated for quite some time. Needless to say, the church piano had not been played in a while. As Mr. Haynes was tuning the piano, he thought he saw something move just beneath the keys. As he sat there trying to decide whether or not he had seen something move, a snake, or at least part of it, wiggled its way from beneath the keys. Thinking on his feet, Mr. Haynes grabbed one of his tools, pinched the snake behind its head, and pulled out all three and a half feet of the reptile. "Along with the tuning, I'm pretty sure I extended the life of the church piano player by pulling that snake out," Mr. Haynes said with a chuckle. It was all in a day's work.
By talking to Jesse Haynes, one can tell he is a gentle and patient man. Tuning a piano takes a lot of practice and patience because it requires a lot of pinging the keys repeatedly until they are tuned to perfection. Mr. Haynes has tried to teach his trade to a couple of younger people, but he shook his head and said, " It takes a lot of work to teach patience to a generation of people who want everything instantly." There is a lot of noise in today's world. "When I tune a piano, I block out all the noise and just listen to the sound. There's a difference in noise and sound," he said. Those wise words come from an even wiser fellow who has become an expert at his craft.
Jesse and Lula Haynes have been married for sixty years. They are the picture of marriage goals. Mr. Haynes has made a living by tuning pianos all over the area for the past fifty-one years, and she has been constantly by his side. Today, at 85 years old, Mr. Haynes still enjoys tuning pianos as much as he ever did. He has learned that you get what you pay for when it comes to pianos, and a Baldwin continues to be his very favorite. Business is good; he stays booked enough that people must wait four to six weeks when they request his services. He also acts as the current pastor of Rhema Baptist Church in Texarkana, Arkansas. Jesse Haynes' love for restoring the sound of a piano, his love for Lula, and his love for the Lord have proved successful in his life.
The doctors could never diagnose the illness that attacked my husband last fall, but he was spared and restored to full health. If there was a silver lining in that horrible situation, it was that my thoughts were redirected and, if only for a few minutes, my curiosity about a piano tuner led me to Mr. Jesse Haynes. He is a salt-of-the-earth man who has received pure joy from a profession he set his sights on so many years ago. Before I left the café, Mr. Haynes prayed for me and called me his friend. That was even sweeter than the tea he bought me.