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Tickling the ivories at Robert Lowrey Piano Experts LEASIDE PEOPLE - MEET YOUR NEIGHBOURS

A young Robert Lowrey (far left) in front of the first location of Robert Lowrey Piano Experts at 322 Sutherland Drive.

A young Robert Lowrey (far left) in front of the first location of Robert Lowrey Piano Experts at 322 Sutherland Drive.

Even if you haven’t been inside, you probably know Robert Lowrey Piano Experts at the west corner of the strip just south of Eglinton, east of Brentcliffe.

This well-known piano emporium is well worth a visit. Here you’ll find a number of “affordable” pianos, made by Pearl River, Knabe and Heintzman. Pearl River, the largest manufacturer in the world, makes pianos in Indochina and China, Knabe is European, and those of us of a certain age will recognize the Heintzman name as Canadian.

You can also dream of owning “hand-made” pianos made by Bösendorfer and Fazioli – costing up to $300,000. It was a Bösendorfer in the news recently as a gift to Tapestry Opera, where the Robert Lowrey company arranged for the move through a third-storey window into the Balmer Studio. You might also be drawn to the digital pianos made by Rolland and Yamaha. They have the advantage of staying in tune, not being as hard to move, and not nearly as expensive.

Full disclosure: My parents bought a reconditioned Gerhard Heintzman piano in the 1940s, which moved with me into our Leaside house in 1970. And who kept it in tune? Someone from Robert Lowrey, of course.

Growth of the company

It was when the Heintzman company moved to Hanover, Ont., that Robert Lowrey acquired four of their top technicians who didn’t want to leave the city, including Harry Hagman, who was Anton Kuerti’s personal technician, among his many other jobs. One of the current piano technicians at the company, Paul Hansen, spends a lot of his time installing piano disk systems in grand pianos as custom orders. This is a modern, more elegant variation on the old “player pianos,” and many purchasers want this feature.

Is there a Robert Lowrey? Of course, and he grew up on Airdrie Rd. in Leaside. His father, also Robert, was from the Isle of Man, who after fighting in the First World War moved to America – first Alaska and then California – and became a member of the Shell Orchestra. One of the stops for this touring orchestra was Toronto, where Robert met his wife-to-be. After their marriage, he became a piano tuner, since being a musician was precarious employment for a family man at that time.

Today Robert has fond memories of going to the movies on Bayview where the entrance fee was 15 cents, and the popcorn cost a dime. He also remembers climbing the barbed wire fence at what was then the end of Eglinton Ave., very near his property, to swim in the Don River – where you had to watch for water rats and “bad guys with BB guns.” Young Robert attended the University of Western Ontario and got a degree in English, hoping to be a musician or writer, but he also had piano tuning skills, which proved more lucrative.

Lowrey started his company in the family garage on Airdrie, moved briefly to the old post office building at 322 Sutherland, and then on to his present location in the mid-’70s. “There were a number of difficult years,” he told me, but in 1985, he installed a $40,000 elevator to the second floor, enabling the company to expand. Now there are customers from Ottawa, North Bay and many places in between, since the number of companies selling pianos has decreased. As Robert says, “It is not a business for sissies.”