Filled with precise and richly sensuous detail about both piano playing and tuning, this novel portrays the psychological coming of age of a young man who has decided to pursue a career as a piano tuner.
Narrator Tomura grew up in a tiny mountain village in a remote, depopulated region of Hokkaido. Since there was no local high school, he left home to attend a school in the city when he was 16. The following year a piano tuner named Itadori visits the school. Taken by the man’s bearing and skill, Tomura impulsively asks to be made his apprentice. Itadori advises him to finish high school and then attend a special piano tuner’s school on the main island of Honshu. At the age of 20, when Tomura has finished the two-year piano-tuning course, he returns to Hokkaido to work at Itadori’s musical instrument store. It’s a small operation with just ten employees, four of them piano tuners. The main action of the story covers Tomura’s challenges and adventures over the next two years. Still relatively limited in his experience with music and the piano, Tomura gradually builds for himself an ideal of what it means to be a piano tuner through his interactions with the other tuners: Yanagi, a man seven years his senior who is assigned to be his mentor during his training; Akino, who graduated from a conservatory and worked as a professional pianist for a time but ultimately had to give it up; and Itadori, who has a number of world-class pianists for clients, and is able to persuade them to schedule concerts in Hokkaido.
Among Yanagi’s clients are the twin sisters Kazune and Yuni, still high-school age. A sudden illness makes Yuni unable to play the piano. In shock, Kazune also stops playing, but after a period of time she returns to the instrument, and Yuni determines to support her sister by becoming her piano tuner. The climax of the story comes when Kazune is to play for Yanagi’s wedding reception, and Tomura puts his heart and soul into tuning the piano she will use.
In effect asking whether a perfect, unsurpassed sound that satisfies performer, audience, and tuner alike can be attained, the work addresses the essence and mystery of creation, not just for music but for all forms of creative expression that move the human heart.