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Tuscaloosa Man Among Diminishing Breed of Blind Piano Tuners

There's much to look at in Henderson Huggins' backyard workshop. On a recent day, the piano tuner and repairman had exotic tools and mechanical parts on tables, and a baby grand awaited work.

There was even a television tucked away in a corner, though Huggins has never watched it. In fact, he's never seen anything in the workshop: He's been blind since he was a young child. At 56, the owner of Huggins' Piano Service is among a diminishing breed of sightless tuners and restorers trained at schools for the blind around the country.

"When you tune a piano by ear you get a sweeter sound," Huggins said of a task now often performed with an electronic device. "I'd hate to see the trade fall by the wayside."

Few schools for the blind still offer young people instruction in the field. The Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind, from which Huggins graduated in 1976, halted its piano-tuning program in the late 1980s.

For years, the bread and butter of blind school vocational training included piano tuning, basket weaving, chair caning and broom making.

But technology has allowed schools for the blind to offer training in a broader range of occupations, said Lynn Hamner, director of advancement at the Alabama Institute.

Hamner said she knew of an Alabama State Trooper who lost his sight in the line of duty but has been able to stay with the force at an office job using computers with voice-recognition software.

"Kids have so many more choices than they did 20 or 30 years ago," Buddy Gray, another blind tuner who lives in Tuscaloosa, told The Tuscaloosa News in a story Monday.

That's a positive thing, said Gray. But he also worried about losing the tradition of teaching blind youths the craft of piano tuning and restoration.

"What will the legacy of the blind piano tuner be in 40 years?" he asked.

Gray, 48, is owner of Buddy Gray Music Service. He hires drivers to ferry him and his employee, Mickey Teubner, who is also blind, to jobs as far away as Florida.

Huggins, who lost his sight to glaucoma as a child, got a job right away after graduating from the Alabama Institute. A few years later, he opened his own business.

With help from his wife, Salarano, who drives him, Huggins tunes pianos as far away as Montgomery. A tuning costs around $65.

"I like the challenge," Huggins said of the trade he's been plying for more than two decades. "To take one of those wrecks and make them play."

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