- Associated Press - Sunday, May 14, 2017

BEAUMONT, Texas (AP) - Robert Zoschke hovers over an aging Baldwin grand piano, a set of tools on the bench beside him, carefully adjusting the felt-covered hammer and strings like an experienced surgeon suturing veins.

“The piano can have the same life span as a person,” Zoschke said. “Just like us, it needs adjustment, maintenance, sometimes things need replacing. It’s the thing I enjoy the most about what I do - bringing the instrument back to life.”

The Beaumont Enterprise (https://bit.ly/2q3UEbq ) reports Zoschke, 53, owns Beaumont’s last brick-and-mortar business devoted to fixing and tuning pianos, a fading art much in demand when his father, Marvin Zoschke, opened the Baldwin Piano Center in 1955 in the heart of downtown. More than 60 years later, the son’s skills continue to benefit the best musicians in Southeast Texas.

“The term piano tuner does not capture what he does,” said Chelsea Tipton, conductor of the Symphony of Southeast Texas for eight years. “He’s an artist. He doesn’t just tune a piano, he brings an aesthetic beauty to the sound. Few can do what he does.”

Zoschke’s skills have become less requested in an age of popular music played on more affordable electronic keyboards. Digital pianos line his sales floor, a reminder of a changing industry.

“It’s the technology that ran a lot of other businesses like mine out of business,” he said. “I’m it. Not that I wanted to be. But I don’t care what anyone says, there is no substitute for the sound a grand piano can make.”

Zoschke learned the trade at a young age, sitting next to his father, who, after taking part in 73 combat missions in World War II and finishing his music education, moved to Beaumont after a salesman convinced him he could be successful opening a piano store.

“Back then, the piano was the TV in the home, the thing everyone gathered around for entertainment,” Zoschke said. “In every catalog and department store they sold them. It was the hot ticket item, the big screen of today.”

In 1960, Marvin moved the store to its current location.

“My mother didn’t believe in baby sitters,” Zoschke said. “She would just drop me off and I would watch my dad work. It’s where I have many of my first memories.”

The store’s popularity was bolstered by Marvin’s prowess in Beaumont’s music scene. For two decades, he played as a violinist in the Beaumont Symphony Orchestra, serving as concertmaster, the first violinist, for nine years.

“His father was a wonderful violinist and an even better man. He had a great sense of humor,” said Jimmy Simmons, Zoschke’s former band director at Lamar University, whose name now adorns the music building. “He was a wonderful caretaker of music in this area, and Robert has been able to fill the hole that he left.”

Marvin died Jan. 20, 2011 at 89.

Before he died, he told his son, “We finally meet our demise, but the music survives.”

“I worked with him for over 30 years before he passed,” Zoschke said. “It wasn’t tough taking over the business, it was tough being here without him.”

It’s the music, though, that helps him remember his father.

“People have stories they tell me about my him, 40, 50 years back, about how he worked on their piano or the way he played,” Zoschke said. “It’s nice to know he left such a memorable impression on people.”

Zoschke is forming his own impressions among area musicians.

“I remember playing late one night and pulling the action (the device that connects the keys and the hammer) right out of my piano because I thought I could fix it,” said Jacob Clark, Lamar’s assistant professor of piano. “He came to my house right then and helped me put it back in. Not many people would do that. He really cares about what he does.”

Zoschke’s influence can be heard all around Southeast Texas - in houses, churches, schools and the Julie Rogers and Lutcher theaters.

“What he does greatly impacts our performance, and more importantly, allows the pianist to play to the best of their abilities,” Tipton said. “It’s a living organism, the piano. It breathes. That’s the exciting thing. There is a certain life that you have to maintain.”

“I have a strong affection for my piano, partly because of the work he’s done with it over the years,” Simmons said. “A piano he works on feels like silk under your fingers.”

Zoschke does more than just fix pianos, he teaches others how to play.

Every Tuesday, a group of his students meet at his store and run through classic pop music they’ve learned together, some over several years.

Bill Graber, 84, peers at sheet music through his thick glasses, playing along to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” as Zoschke keeps time with supporting chords.

“Well I’m a long way from being a pianist,” said Graber, who began lessons two years ago. “I used to fool around in my youth and our three kids took lessons, but nothing stuck. I like being close to music. I like the way it makes me feel.”

Joel Jones, 50, who joined the class almost seven years ago, said music has become his therapy.

“Here comes that rainy day, and I’ll play a sad song and I’ll almost make myself cry, but in a good way,” Jones said. “It’s a beautiful thing. I think it’s important that people experience that kind of feeling.”

Zoschke’s legacy can be felt in the room of students - a lifelong journey to keep the music alive and in tune.

“It’s like another language, and it’s a language that is universal,” Zoschke said. “Everyone can be moved by music. Almost any aspect of life has music, and that’s not going to change.”

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Information from: The Beaumont Enterprise, https://beaumontenterprise.com

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