The Doc Project

A 500-pound piano's about to go through this guy's window, thanks to 'Doctor Piano'

Patrick Kahn did what anyone in Halifax does when they need a piano moved, tuned, or in any way serviced: He called Doctor Piano, aka Gary Trenholm, who learned piano tuning at the Halifax School for the Blind.

Patrick Kahn's beloved family piano is in for a dramatic homecoming, thanks to the piano whisperer of Halifax

Patrick Kahn starts removing the window frame so his beloved piano can be maneuvered in. (Leigh Brown)

My colleague Patrick Kahn recently moved to Halifax from St. John's, N.L., with his wife — and they weren't travelling light. Kahn also moved the piano that's been in his family for over 30 years.

He inherited it when the family home was sold in 2009. He had it in his recording studio in Toronto, then moved it to St. John's, and now he's settling it down in Halifax.

But moving the piano was not going to be an easy task. Kahn and his wife found the perfect apartment in Halifax, next to the Halifax Commons, a popular urban park that often hosts concerts.

"It's the nicest apartment we've ever lived in," Kahn said. "And this apartment checked every single box... except for the piano, apparently."

It's a beautiful apartment, but it's on a second floor. And the stairway is narrow. Kahn noticed this when he first checked the place out, but kind of brushed over it.

"I felt like the stairway was a bit narrow, but there's a very high ceiling, so I thought that's probably good enough for the piano," he said.

Turns out, it wasn't good enough. They were going to need some help.

So they called Doctor Piano, the biggest name in the Halifax biz for anything piano related, including moving. Owners Gary Trenholm and Paul McPherson have been in business since 1977.

Gary Trenholm in the Doctor Piano showroom in Halifax. (Gianna Lalonde)

'People tend to be more attached to a piano'

"Here, it seems like Doctor Piano is the go-to company for this kind of thing," Kahn said. "Given the specialized nature, I know I wouldn't have gone with any other company."

With over 40 years in business, no challenge is new to Gary Trenholm, and that's because pianos carry, in Trenholm's experience, a lot of emotional weight — as well as actual weight. 

"People tend to be more attached to a piano. It's right up there with the family home," he said. "People have a very difficult time separating themselves from the old piano that Grandma had. I'm not sure why, but it doesn't seem to happen with armchairs."

Trenholm is lighthearted, funny, business savvy, and has one of the best handshakes I've ever experienced. It's evident that he has developed a deep appreciation for the piano, and knows them inside and out.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Trenholm and his partner have built this business up from university days, having learned all about what he calls the "king of the instruments" in high school.

I never thought for a second I was ever going to make a career with it.- Gary Trenholm, on the success of Doctor Piano

Who learns about pianos in high school? Well, for Trenholm, it all started with a series of eye injuries he sustained as a child, and a subsequent infection that caused him to eventually become fully blind.

Opportunity knocks

In Grade Eight, Trenholm attended the Halifax School for the Blind, the first of its kind in Canada. The school opened in 1871, and by 1918, was offering a number of subjects and trades to help blind people transition into the workforce, such as Braille, choir, typing, and piano tuning. 

Trenholm chose the latter opportunity. "It was great," he recalled. "And, you know, I never thought for a second I was ever going to make a career with it."

After graduating, he and his friend Paul McPherson — who specialized in piano restoration — started a small business. They discovered that Halifax was in need of good piano tuners and services. Over the years, Doctor Piano expanded to offer tuning, piano restoration, selling parts and new pianos, and of course, moving pianos.

Which brings us back to Kahn and his piano.

Drastic measures

Trenholm came to visit Kahn's beautiful apartment. He walked up and down the staircase and felt his way around, and knew just by feel that it wasn't going to fit the piano. The staircase is quite narrow, lined with a tall bannister and has a sharp turn three-quarters of the way up.

They assured me that they've done this quite a bit…. just the concept is a little bit freaky.- Patrick Kahn, on Doctor Piano's proposed solution

Trenholm alighted on a different plan: Remove the bay window to Patrick's apartment, hoist the piano up with a crane, and slide it in through the window frame to their second floor apartment. A drastic solution that Trenholm was quite matter-of-fact about.

"We just saddle it up — you know, we get it all harnessed up on the skid with the proper strapping and so forth, and the boom truck picks it up."

Kahn wasn't so sure. "They assured me that they've done this quite a bit…. just the concept is a little bit freaky," he said.

No big deal, just a giant boom truck outside Patrick's new apartment. (Leigh Brown)

Piano moving day came on a sunny winter afternoon. Kahn got the call at work that the movers were ready to go, so we raced to his new apartment. A boom truck pulled up outside the apartment. Patrick grabbed his power tools and got to work removing the panes from the bay window.

Then, he and I stood there watching — with our jaws on the floor.

Trenholm stood in the centre of three men, holding his arms open, and caught the piano as it passed through the window. He gently placed it on the ground. 

Patrick Kahn preps his window for the arrival of his beloved piano, with the help of Gary Trenholm and the Doctor Piano crew. 0:13
Gary Trenholm and the Doctor Piano crew move a piano to the second story of a house -- through the window. 1:36

"When you have the boom truck doing all the work passing it into the window for you, it's an easy job," Trenholm said modestly.

As the movers slid the piano into its designated spot, Kahn was visibly relieved."This means a lot to me," he commented. "It's another opportunity to keep the piano in the family and keep my connection to doing music. It's a real obligation — once I move the piano with a crane, I better play it each day!"

There is a new sense of peace in the room now that the piano has come home. As Trenholm says, nothing scratches an itch like an acoustic piano.

"Artificial flowers will just never replace real roses," he commented. "They'll simulate, but you know, they just don't have all the ingredients that a real rose would have."

To listen to "A Piano in the Sky," click on the Listen link at the top of the page.

About the Producer

Gianna Lalonde was raised in Edmonton and Ottawa but calls Halifax home, where she balances making art and working in the arts. Gianna presently works on the teams behind OBEY Convention, the Halifax Independent Filmmakers Festival, and Side Door Access. In Ottawa she worked in artist relations at Kelp Management (Andy Shauf, Lido Pimienta, Michael Rault) and has co-produced MEGAPHONO Music Festival and Conference, the National Community Radio Conference, and Arboretum Music Festival. Gianna has a B.A. in Ethics with a minor in Journalism from Carleton University and has been the Station Coordinator at CKDU 88.1FM in Halifax. Her music project is called Gianna Lauren.


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