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Piano Tuner Preserves Utah Family Legacies

SARATOGA SPRINGS, Utah – It’s not always about how a piano plays. As one Utah County man has discovered, it’s also about what the piano preserves.

Matthew Johnson never expected when he began tuning pianos that one day he would help to preserve family legacies.

Roughly a decade into fine-tuning his craft, Johnson now also rebuilds and restores old pianos and he’s finding most of those clients have a deeply sentimental reason for having the work done.

“Every piano has a story to it,” Johnson said. “A lot of memories are made around the piano.”

Johnson, who operates MJ’s Piano Tuning & Repair, said often someone has passed on and the piano has wound up in the house of a family member who wants to keep the loved one’s memory alive.

Sometimes, there are even surprises.

“One time, I found a note from a father to his daughter that she actually never saw,” Johnson said. “She got emotional when she saw the letter. It was right before he passed away. He wrote it and gave it to her, but it somehow never made it to her, but it made it through the cracks of the piano.”

Callie Oppedisano brought Johnson in to work on the piano she inherited from her grandfather when he passed away.

The piano dated to 1885 and she believed it came into her family’s possession beginning in the early 1950s.

“Really, this piano was the first piano most of us ever played,” Oppedisano said. “We’d all go over to my grandfather’s house and we’d play the piano while the adults visited for holidays or after church.”

When William “Hod” Sadler passed away on Jan. 1, 2019, at the age of 102, Oppedisano said her family — which included Sadler’s 14 kids, 64 grandchildren and 113 great-grandchildren — decided her house was the best place for the piano.

She said it was a “treasure” to have it restored.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my grandpa and my grandma and the family they raised with that piano,” Oppedisano said.

Johnson got his start when he tuned his own family’s piano when he was a teenager.

He said he always had a good ear for what was in and out of tune. He initially taught himself how to tune pianos by watching YouTube videos, reading articles and buying himself a tuning kit on eBay.

Johnson had already tuned 50 pianos before he served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Afterward, he trained as a student at Brigham Young University and as a professional.

Moving into tuning, repairing, and restoring pianos full-time is something Johnson had called a “leap-of-faith,” but he said he was grateful his work and expertise have made a difference for so many families.

“It’s pure joy, honestly, that I see in their faces,” Johnson said. “To be able to bring something back to life is something that’s very satisfying to me.”

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