Nicole and Michael Lipnicki
Behind the story of Michael Lipnicki Fine Pianos is 55 years of experience. That story begins with legendary piano dealer Irene Besse, known by many as Calgary’s First Lady of Music, who also happens to be Nicole’s mom and Michael’s mother-in-law. As the founder of the largest piano store in Western Canada, at one time her shop had a 300-seat piano hall and regularly hosted concerts. In 2002, when the Calgary Philharmonic faced serious financial challenges, she showed her support by hosting a three-day piano sale that enlisted the support of the entire community for the Orchestra. Sports fans might also recognize Irene as the official organist of Calgary; she performed at the 1988 Winter Olympics and was the main organist for all hockey, baseball, and soccer matches for many years. Irene retired seven years ago but still consults for the business that today represents her extraordinary legacy — Michael Lipnicki Fine Pianos.
And this is where the Lipnicki story becomes an uplifting and romantic tale that might interest a screenwriter looking for a Hollywood hit.
Michael is an Ontario-born, Steinway-trained technician who grew up immersed in the piano tuning business. His father and uncle were both piano tuners and both sight-impaired, and as a child, Michael helped them with whatever they could not do. Along the way, he developed an incredible ear, meticulous technique, and expert knowledge of the piano. His skill was soon recognized by customers, who consistently gave him the highest customer ratings, and eventually by the iconic Steinway & Sons – who would send pianos to jazz festivals in the Caribbean, on which he worked. He attended week-long courses at the Steinway headquarters in New York and travelled across North America to hone his skills.
His international reputation grew until the fateful day that Irene Besse invited him to work at her shop in Calgary. At the time, Irene’s daughter Nicole, fresh out of the University of Calgary with a Bachelor of Commerce degree, had just started working in the family business. Every screenplay writer worth his salt would know how to take it from there.
“When I was a child, I had no choice — it was forced child labour!” Michael laughs. “My father and uncle simply needed help as they couldn’t see, and since I was always there helping, I gradually started focusing on rebuilding pianos. It was a lucky opportunity, of course. The sooner you start, the better your ear will develop. Now trained tuners can use machines — it’s a completely different method. Many of them are not aural tuners. I don’t have anything against technology but I’m happy the way it worked for me,” he says.
Michael Lipnicki with pianist Emanuel Ax
Michael Lipnicki Fine Pianos is the premier choice for the sale, conditioning, and tuning of pianos in Calgary for a host of reasons: Michael’s celebrated skill; the tradition of two storied family businesses from Western and Eastern Canada joined under one name; a lifetime of trust built with generations of Calgary families interested in music; and the exclusivity conferred by piano’s biggest names — Steinway, Fazioli, Bechstein, W. Hoffmann, Yamaha, and others.
“I have been fortunate to tune pianos for many of the best, like Jan Lisiecki, Anton Kuerti, Stephen Hough, Emanuel Ax, Krzysztof Jablonski, Leon Fleisher, and Vladimir Ashkenazy,” Michael says. “I have also worked with many great jazz pianists. Every St. Lucia jazz Festival, I was there — tuning for Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Monty Alexander, Dr. Billy Taylor, and even Alicia Keys and Rihanna. What is most important is working as a team and making sure that you give the artist what they ask for. The greatest pianist will give a great concert no matter what. But the better the tuning, the better the performance, because you let them be the best they can be.”
Today, Michael Lipnicki Fine Pianos has seven employees and continues to play a pivotal role in the piano business, as well as continuing to rebuild pianos all over Alberta. Michael looks after the concert grands at the Jack Singer Concert Hall, Rozsa Centre at the University of Calgary, Bella Concert Hall at Mount Royal University, and supported Honens for many years as their tuner of choice.
Michael and Nicole Lipnicki are also longstanding and generous patrons of the Orchestra who provide crucial support to the Calgary Philharmonic by donating their expertise and resources to the Amadeus and Mozart patron program recitals, our annual Cork and Canvas gala, our lecture series Music to My Ears, and other special events during the regular season. Their generosity has been especially critical this pandemic year, during which they made their premises available to musicians for recording purposes where restrictions allowed. Their genuine, unconditional passion for music could not be put on hold one single day over the past challenging months.
After more than a year during which children have had more time than usual to practise piano at home, Nicole is very confident about the future of music in this city: “Calgary is quite unique music-wise,” she explains. “We have the Honens Piano Competition, the world-class Calgary Philharmonic, the National Music Centre, the Calgary International Organ Festival, and so much more. Whether they are professional musicians or simply music lovers and amateurs who enjoy having a piano at home for visitors or entertainment, people really care about their instruments.
“Quality of life, we have just been reminded, is what matters most, and music is such a big part of it,” she adds. “It makes Calgary a vibrant city to enjoy and a lot of arts- champions help to ensure that it continues to be so. To us, supporting Calgary Philharmonic and music in all ways is our mission.”