Sing Us a Song, Piano Man

Getting down to work: Nate Dybevik rehabilitates pianos

“The piano is a very common but mysterious instrument. Many people have them but they know nothing about its parts or mechanisms inside. I want to take some of the mystery out” of the inner workings of the instrument, says composer, musician and piano restorer, Nate Dybevik. To achieve his ends, he is creating a “piano museum” at 1310 Martin Luther King Way, where visitors can watch as he rehabilitates a Haynes baby grand piano and a vintage Bechstein upright from Germany.

Lest you suspect the 25-year old Dybevik of being a prematurely gray aesthete with piano dust in his hair, guess again. He may be a musical wunderkind – the kind who began playing the classics at age seven and writing original compositions by age 12 – but he is also a singer, an accomplished jazz pianist, a sweet guitar picker in the style of Leo Kottke and Mississippi John Hurt, a composer of film and commercial scores, and a floater in the Seattle/Tacoma indie music scene. We’d have trouble defining the man if he didn’t help us out (did we mention he makes graphic art, as well?).

Nate Dybevik took up guitar picking while teaching English in Korea (there was no room for a piano in his apartment).

At the moment, he is working on a recording of guitar pieces; you can get a sampling here:

Spaceworks Tacoma is supporting Dybevik’s work with a six-month Hilltop residency that will allow him to consolidate his creative activity, which has been spread across three worksites citywide. He says his new storefront will offer a public space for electro-acoustic performances as well as a drawing studio. The centerpiece, however, will be the piano museum. “Instrument making is an art that doesn’t really lend itself visually,” he says, “but I think [it] could if presented right….Recently I went to the Musical Instrument Museum in Arizona, where I observed thousands of captivated people observing and reading about musical instruments from all over the world. People really have an interest in instruments, no matter how simple or complex they are….Who do you know that doesn’t like music?

To learn his craft, Dybevik is apprenticing under Obi Manteufel, an internationally recognized and controversial innovationist in the rarified world of piano restoration. Manteufel, whose work was championed early on by concert pianist Byron Janis, is also Dybevik’s classical music instructor. For two years, the pair have been rebuilding an 1876 Centennial Steinway, one of a handful in existence.

When Dybevik isn’t re-bushing felt, fixing broken hammers or re-pinning loose whippens, he can be found mixing and mastering a collection of country-style guitar pieces he recorded in the spring. And jamming with drummer Gary Kawamura, with whom he is forming a band. To the delight of listeners, he can’t keep his hands off instruments. “Musical instruments are those mysterious objects that bridge the gap from mind to ear,” he muses, “and the fascination people hold for these objects is almost as strong as the passion that these people hold for music itself.” Nate Dybevik, at 1310 Martin Luther King Way, through December 31, 2011.

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