Tuner travels to Canna to fix piano nobody can play


By Alexander Lawrie

Heritage chiefs are to spend a small fortune on sending a piano tuner to a remote Scottish island – to tune an instrument nobody on the island can play.

The National Trust for Scotland has organised the epic trip to the tiny Hebridean island of Canna where a century old Steinway grand has stood for the last five years since its last owner died.

But not one of the island’s 19 inhabitants can play the piano, it has been revealed.

Tuner William Gray, 78, has been given the task of making the four-hour ferry crossing to tune the island’s concert grand.

The historic instrument was shipped out to Canna in 1938 by Gaelic folklorist Margaret Shaw who died in 2004, aged 101.

One of the best pianos in the world

Mr Gray admits he is looking forward to the trip to Canna House and the chance to work with one of the world’s finest pianos.

He said: “It is a Steinway and still one of the best pianos in the world.

“It is a beauty and it has some history attached to it, and for me that is its real value.”

US-born Miss Shaw was a collector and editor of Gaelic songs as well as a writer, photographer and recorder of Hebridean life.

She learned to play the piano by ear and was later taught to professional level in New York, Paris and London.

After marrying John Lorne Campbell in 1935 the couple made their home in South Uist before buying the island of Canna.

They presented ownership of the island to the National Trust in the early 1980s and Miss Shaw continued to live on the remote island after her husband passed away in 1996.

At her 100th birthday party with the small community she played Strauss waltzes and Uist lullabies.

The BBC recorded a programme, Among Friends, to mark the auspicious occasion.

Magda Sagarzazu, official cataloguer of the records at Canna House, said: “The paino is in good condition and the temperature and moisture of the house are regulated to help its conservation. Insect traps have also been installed to prevent any bugs getting near it.

“It is just nobody here can play it.”


  1. I was really struck (pardon the pun!) by this uncanny story of the journey about to be undertaken by Mr Gray to tune a priceless instrument that will benefit only the piano and the tuner – who I am in no doubt will spend many hours playing before the ferry comes in. As a pianist myself though a depricating one, I could think of no other joy than to caress the keys of one of the most famous instruments in the whole world, yet it is so far away that I can’t pop over for the afternoon.

    Selfish reasons aside, I am surprised that no juncture was made to ensure the health and well being of the piano which should benefit those who study music on the mainland, in colleges and Universities. What a gift that would have been, to bestow such an instrument of such magnificence.

    Perhaps it might be something for the National Trust to ponder upon. Let it not go to waste, gathering dust, with such emptiness upon it’s soul, and each time it is tuned without being played in between, might there be more problems than one would expect? Vacant, silent years……………………..Maybe musical weekends could be set up to allow those of us who might never get the chance to play upon such a fine instrument as this – the opportunity to do so. Put me down for a weekend, I’ll be first in the queue and only too happy to pay!

    I am not the greatest pianist in the world – that I will admit, but the piano is so dear to my heart. Unfortunately I gave space to electric keyboards and on the last count I think there is five – but not a patch on the real McCoy!

    That’s all I wanted to say – give it up………hand it over to a grateful musical instituion or run musical soirees and weekends. Don’t let it go to waste……..please!

Comments are closed.