Kyle Ternes, who retired this past summer after more than 27 years with the N.D. State Highway Patrol, recently launched a new career tuning and fixing pianos here in the Lake Region.

Kyle Ternes, who retired this past summer after more than 27 years with the N.D. State Highway Patrol, recently launched a new career tuning and fixing pianos here in the Lake Region.

“I know there are pianos in town that need some love,” Ternes said. With Dean Petska retired after more than 30 years in business locally, until now piano specialists from Carrington and Grand Forks have had to fill the gap.

“Lots of people enjoy music,” Petska observed, “but not a lot of people can make music. You have to have an ear for it and some mechanical aptitude. Kyle definitely has the ear for it. His musical ability is unbelievable.” Ternes worked with Petska to learn the ropes, or more literally – the strings.

“Tuning and fixing pianos has served as a sideline interest,” Ternes said, “but now I’m ready to make it Chapter Two of life.” Ternes said his first exposure to pianos began at age 18, when he began selling and delivering pianos for Wylie Music in Bismarck, now Jacobson Music. He and his manager worked with several professional tuners, and he said he was “very fascinated” as he “watched with deep interest what they were doing and how they were doing it.” He had no formal lessons, but found that in selling pianos, being able to play them was beneficial.

“If you could demonstrate,” Ternes said, “they could hear it.” So he taught himself during those two years as a piano salesman while he attended classes at Bismarck State College. At 21, he joined the state highway patrol and found himself without time to devote to the piano. And then family life beckoned.

He met and married Allison Haugen (she brought him a homemade pie when he moved to town), and they went on to have four musically gifted children of their own. All four can read music and play piano, but according to Ternes, none so far has gotten the bug to fix pianos. “They’re bored by the repair side of it,” they just want to play. Along with Petska, Kyle’s older brother Kevin Ternes has served as a mentor for piano questions. Kevin has been tuning pianos in the Minot area for 37 years, and has been, according to Kyle, “one of my best resources.” Kyle said he’s been diligently honing his piano expertise for almost two years. He devoured an extensive home study course in a three-ring binder given to him by his brother. “I learned a great deal from that,” he said. “but you can only learn so much from reading books. You have to sit with the piano.” So Ternes did that, too, with different pianos around the community.

“Father (C.F.) Wilhelm graciously allowed me to practice on the pianos [at St. Joseph Church],” he said. A piano at the Knights of Columbus Hall was slated for the dumpster, so Ternes “took it all apart,” and experimented to fix its brokenness. “That piano is now ready to play a concert,” he said with a smile. He actually played that piano for a ladies’ sorority event Tuesday night, after Lara Prozinski heard about his “Name That Tune” entertainment at the local Knights of Columbus ValenDine Dinner in February. “I realize I’m learning,” Ternes said, “and it’s a new trade. I plan to do this for 25 years and learn up to the last day.

“Most of my colleagues take a law enforcement path after retirement. It was a wonderful career, but I just wanted to write some different books, to do something different.” Devils Lake resident Trish Schindele hired Ternes to tune the piano that “just sits” now that her daughter Rachel is off to college. “The best part for me,” she said, “is when it’s all done, and I sit there and listen [to Kyle play]. It’s my own little concert. This is definitely Kyle’s calling. He’s fantastic.” After Ternes tunes the pianos, he always plays them. “Oftentimes most pianos sound really rugged,” Ternes said, “and maybe haven’t been serviced for a long time. After spending a couple hours tuning, when the piano comes back to life, it sounds beautiful — It’s extremely rewarding.”

Kyle keeps adding to his piano tool arsenal. “I am continually adding tools which are unique to piano adjustment and repair,” he says.  “I’ve added quite a few items to my tool bag and supplies just this past couple of weeks, actually!” Kyle credits his wife for her support. “Allison has been so supportive and so awesome,” he said. “She sees that I enjoy it.” Kyle and Allison and their children serve as music directors for Saint Joseph Catholic Church. “Music is a beautiful stress reliever. Music can even change the mood in a home. If you’ve had a bad day, that can change if you play piano for a few minutes.” Ternes, who also teaches on a contract basis for TrainND, said he’s happy he now has time to do piano tuning and repairs — and more playing — in the community.

“I’ve played piano for over 30 years,” he said. “I feel like I’m 21 again. You never run out of music.” Kyle and his son Andrew Ternes, who’s finishing sixth grade, will be playing at the Lake Region State College graduation May 10.