His workshop is a graveyard full of the remnants of pianos and pipe organs.
With the skill of a surgeon, 68-year-old Keith Byrkit of David City, works diligently to bring these century-old instruments back to life. One of the pieces in the repairman’s possession is an 1864 Steinway Square grand piano, built only three years before Nebraska became a state. How long has he been working on it?
“Too long,” the owner of Byrkit Piano Service said.
This second career Byrkit undertook started in 1990. Since then, this passing interest turned into full-on businesses. Previously, he worked in music education for 29 years. Byrkit, who is originally from Clay Center, was an instrumental and vocal teacher for David City Public Schools before retiring in 2011. In addition to teaching, he served as the director for the Butler County Community Choir for many years.
Now repairing pianos full time, Byrkit usually works on three pianos daily. It's also pretty common for him to travel to Lincoln or Omaha for house calls. Although most of the projects worked on in the past three decades were simple tune-ups, he once worked on a Steinway Piano Model D worth $210,000. He said he enjoys working with his hands, but the best part of the job is satisfying customers.
“It’s enjoyable. It makes people happy because I come in and their piano isn’t in very good shape, its tuning’s not good,” Byrkit said. “So I tune them up and do some repair work on it, and they enjoy it and are happy.”
On a couple of occasions, the repairman has refused to work on a project, citing the lack of the customer's willingness to pay the cost of a full restoration. Unfortunately, not all pianos can be saved. Byrkit said sometimes it costs $7,000 to fix up a piano that would only be worth $500 once completed. That was the case for one of the craftsman's most unique creations. An old piano left in his possession was converted into a wine bar. He said he plans on putting it on full display in his home someday, but for now, it resides in the workshop.
Although he’s talented in repairing pianos, his wife, Vicki Byrkit, prefers his musical talents. Byrkit has performed with The Columbus Jazz Orchestra for the past six years and is its band director. The group’s next performance will be held from 4-5:30 p.m. on Feb. 23 the River's Edge Music Festival at Ag Park in Columbus.
“I like his piano playing, that’s what I like,” she said.
While Byrkit said he knows he’ll have to someday retire from his second career, he plans on running Byrkit Piano Service in David City for as long as he can.
Eric Schucht is a reporter for The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.