Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Sunday, April 21, 2024
The Observer

Norman Vesprini

Notre Dame's 'piano man' manages over 100 pianos

While he is not Billy Joel’s piano man, Norman Vesprini is certainly Notre Dame’s piano man or, more formally, piano technology program manager. Vesprini joined the University in July 2016 to serve in this newly created position.

“It wasn't until I was a grad student that I discovered piano technology,” Vesprini said. “And then eventually that became my career, and it's really been the perfect fit. And then of all places, I ended up at Notre Dame.”

Vesprini graduated from Central Michigan University with an undergraduate degree in music and piano performance. He later received his graduate degree from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor in music and piano performance. However, at the start of his undergraduate career, Vesprini planned on pursuing engineering.

“I really knew I was doing the wrong thing, so I decided to study piano for better or worse,” Vesprini said. “I don’t know that my parents really liked that idea.”

Although his own children are deeply involved in the arts, Vesprini himself did not grow up in a music-oriented household.

“When I was very little, I asked for lessons, piano lessons,” Vesprini said. “We had a piano in the house. I wanted to play, so my parents got me lessons with a Dominican nun of all people. I stayed with her from my first lesson until I graduated from high school.”

Vesprini noted that having the piano as a source of stability during his adolescence was an interesting experience. Although he had never envisioned it, Vesprini maintained his connection to the piano long after graduating from high school. Following the completion of graduate school, he dedicated nine years to pursuing music and teaching.

In addition to his passion for the piano, Vesprini aspired to start a family, recognizing that his current career path would not support this future ambition. In 2005, an opportunity arose when one of Vesprini’s former graduate school professors offered him a position on the piano technology staff at the University of Michigan.

“I didn't envision it,” Vesprini said. “It kind of just happened that way.”

Vesprini served as a senior piano technician at the University of Michigan's School of Music, Theater, and Dance for 11 years. He has been with Notre Dame for over seven years and intends to retire from this institution.

“I’m here for the long haul,” he said. “I feel really blessed and so fortunate, not only to do what I do and to have a skill but also to do it here at Notre Dame. It's such an extraordinary place.”

While Vesprini initially missed teaching when he first began working in piano technology, he developed similar relationships with students at the University of Michigan and with private clients. Since coming to Notre Dame, he has enjoyed the strong sense of community here.

“To be able to move around to be at all the residence halls, to be in so many other interesting spaces and get to know staff, faculty, students all around campus is really my favorite part of my job,” Vesprini said. 

Vesprini's role is supported by the departments of music and sacred music, the division of student affairs, and the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. As the piano technology program manager, he is responsible for maintaining approximately 110 pianos across the campus, including the 56 in O’Neill Hall and others dispersed throughout the residence halls.

“There's a need for piano technicians generally, but there's really a need for high level concert piano technicians,” Vesprini said. “So there's lots of opportunity, especially I think in higher ed, there's opportunity for people that have interest in working with their hands and being in an interesting career and having a skill.”

Vesprini tunes the pianos according to their usage frequency, maintains their functionality, and oversees the inventory. He notes that the university's piano collection is valued at several million dollars, highlighting that a single high-quality instrument can cost up to a quarter of a million dollars.

Enjoying the dual benefits of traversing the campus to interact with individuals from diverse disciplines and being the first to play the pianos, Vesprini indulges his continued passion for playing. The piano located in the LaBar Recital Hall within the O’Neill Hall of Music stands out as his favorite instrument.

“It's a nine foot Steinway, and it's the newest concert piano on campus,” Vesprini said.

Above all, Vesprini emphasized he enjoys the craftsmanship that goes into making good music.

“I think when you study music at a very high level as a performer, you learn to produce the most beautiful high level work you can produce,” he said. “Performance is a craft at some level, and so I think I take that same level of craftsmanship and approach to what I do in piano technology and try and do my best and get the instrument to be as good as it can be, whatever the instrument is.”