[nfbwatlk] FW: Don Mitchell

Les lfitz50 at gmail.com
Tue Apr 14 17:09:17 UTC 2015

I enjoyed working with Don for five years it was a great experience for me I
learned a lot as well.

Les Fitzpatrick
Piano Technician

-----Original Message-----
From: nfbwatlk [mailto:nfbwatlk-bounces at nfbnet.org] On Behalf Of Denise
Mackenstadt via nfbwatlk
Sent: Tuesday, April 14, 2015 9:19 AM
To: Mike Freeman; NFB of Washington Talk Mailing List
Cc: Clark County Chapter, NFB of Washington List
Subject: Re: [nfbwatlk] FW: Don Mitchell

What a nice article. I am fortunate to know Don. 

Sent from my iPhone

> On Apr 14, 2015, at 8:59 AM, Mike Freeman via nfbwatlk
<nfbwatlk at nfbnet.org> wrote:
> From: Utterback, Connie [mailto:Connie.Utterback at clark.wa.gov] 
> Sent: Tuesday, April 14, 2015 8:04 AM
> To: k7uij at panix.com
> Subject: Don Mitchell
> Don Mitchell keeps pinballing around, student to student, project to
> project, with a near-permanent grin on his face and only the occasional,
> gentle collision with an equipment cabinet or piano bench.
> "I just bounce around and never stop," he said. "It's how I keep my
> figure."
> Mitchell wants never to stop, he added, but he's facing the inevitable
> days - and so is the small specialty school that's been his way of life
> decades. His retirement isn't imminent, but at 66 he thought it wise to
> the School of Piano Technology for the Blind know that he doesn't have
> more years in him.
> "My wife keeps saying I've been working hard for 40 years," he said.
> "Actually, it's been 43, but who's counting?"
> Preparing for the future only makes sense, agreed Cheri Martin, the
> new executive director. Martin has worked for several local nonprofits and
> recently went hunting for a new challenge after eight years as executive
> director of the Parks Foundation. Now she's looking to conduct a national
> search for Mitchell's replacement and then guide the two of them through
> what she figures will be a two-year training and transition phase. (The
> Parks Foundation is searching for a new executive.)
> Having two teachers on staff simultaneously will cost the ever-underfunded
> facility some extra bucks, she acknowledged. So she's happy to announce
> the school just won a grant of $78,963 toward that succession plan - about
> two-thirds of the total cost, she figures - from the Gibney Family
> Foundation of Vermont.
> Ultimately, though, Martin envisions growing the school so there are two
> three permanent teachers working with a dozen students at once. For many
> years now it's been just Mitchell and a half-dozen students.
> "Six for Don is just too many," she said. Furthermore, she added, any
> with a single instructor is just one disaster away from a school with
> The position won't be easy to fill, Martin and Mitchell both said.
> Technicians and tuners are one thing; teachers are another, Mitchell said,
> and it's pretty rare to find all those skills in the same person. "If this
> was easy, I wouldn't have a job," said Mitchell, who started out as a
> student here (and just never found his way back out, he quipped).
> Martin also whispered that - despite a board of directors stacked with
> old-school piano lovers - the School of Piano Technology simply has to
> true to its name by catching up with the piano technology of today. That
> means electronics, she said.
> "I think we need to be teaching that too," she said. "I've been trying to
> figure out how. We need to stay relevant. We need to make sure our
> are going to be successful - otherwise, why are we even here?"
> According to the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey, the
> employment rate for visually impaired adults is far lower than for
> nondisabled adults (38 percent versus 76 percent, approximately) and the
> poverty rate is far higher (31 percent of the visually impaired live in
> poverty versus 12 percent, approximately).
> According to the school's website, 69 percent of graduates have gone on to
> employment in piano service in places like universities and instrument
> shops, where fleets of instruments take regular poundings. Many others
> their own private piano-tuning businesses. According to the school, there
> are 17 million pianos in America today - and just a few thousand certified
> technicians for them.
> Unique
> Visibility is Martin's other main challenge. The School for Piano
> for the Blind is the only one like it on the planet, she said, but even
> people in Vancouver don't know what it is. When it was founded in 1949 by
> Emil Fries, the place's name really was The Piano Hospital - and there's
> still a placard saying so on the side of the building - but Martin pointed
> out that piano repairs are a small part of what happens here today.
> Emil Fries was a blind piano tuner and teacher at the nearby Washington
> State School for the Blind; when his employer phased out its piano-tuning
> program, Fries reportedly sold his possessions and mortgaged his property
> order to start his own piano-tuning school. Nowadays, the school he
> offers a two-year course of study, the first half covering residential and
> commercial piano tuning and maintenance, and the second covering grand
> pianos, real-world experience and business operations. Meanwhile,
> reconditioned pianos are for sale in the front showroom.
> Each school day begins with class time, then each student goes to work on
> individual projects. When The Columbian visited, one student was
> an entire upright piano as a final exam while another was tuning up a baby
> grand that Mitchell had carefully de-tuned. Others were refurbishing
> piano-key hammers and other equipment, and one was painstakingly working
> level an entire keyboard. Mitchell spent his time zigzagging back and
> among them all, checking the work by hand.
> Martin said she's keen to spread the word about the place - especially to
> powerful potential allies like Salvador Brotons, the globetrotting maestro
> of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. Martin used to play piccolo in the
> symphony, and she believes Brotons would be a superb informal ambassador
> the school - if they can only get him to spend a few hours visiting and
> learning what goes on there.
> Front page of the Columbian.  Would you please forward to our list?
> Stuck on a feeling'
> Most of the students who attend the School of Piano Technology come from
> pretty far afield - all over the United States and all around the globe.
> Iceland, Belize, India, Korea and Trinidad are just a few of the nations
> people have left behind to spend two years in Vancouver.
> Chelsea Carter, 25, is from Nashville - "where every other person is
> songs," she said. She's enjoying developing the saleable skills she needs
> make money that she can reinvest in her own music studio, she said.
> But first she's had to defeat "a lot of self-doubt. Every one of us seems
> suffer from that." At the piano hospital, she said, she's found hope. "You
> develop some quite impressive skills. It fees like I'm making progress.
> going to be someone who can stand up and be counted."
> Jim Jackson, 39, lives in Portland with his wife and 19-month-old toddler.
> Like Carter, he said struggling with a lack of self-confidence is all too
> typical for visually impaired people in a seeing world.
> But, also like Carter, he's finding that the skills he's building in
> Vancouver are building his belief in himself, too. He spent too long
> rebelling against the very idea of "going into one of those 'blindness
> fields,' " he said - but denying his reality wasn't working out so well,
> said with a laugh. Now, he's envisioning starting his own piano-tuning
> company in Portland, he said.
> "I am tired of telling my story that keeps me the underdog," he said. "I
> want to be the hero of my own story. I want my son to have a dad that he
> will be proud of."
> Then Mitchell arrived to feel his way along Jackson's keyboard-levelling
> project. "Stuck on a feeeeling," he crooned as he checked, "your levelling
> is gooood ..."
> "This is the most social and connected group of people," said Martin. "The
> camaraderie is really what I fell in love with." It wasn't the job she
> thought she wanted, she said, but she emerged from her first visit certain
> it was a great fit. "I'm so inspired by the way they learn and the fun
> have," she said.
> Connie Utterback
> Legal Secretary
> General Felonies-Drug Units
> Clark County Prosecutor's Office
> Phone:  360-397-2261 x 5961
> Email:  Connie.Utterback at clark.wa.gov
> This e-mail and related attachments and any response may be subject to
> public disclosure under state law.
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