School of Piano Technology
by Craig Frohna
Herbert Frohna was my father. He
was quite a remarkable man. Nothing I can do or say can express my
appreciation and gratitude I have for him. The teaching I received in his workshop regarding
piano tuning and repair, the lessons learned about being the best I can be,
and life lessons in general, have never been forgotten. Yes, as far as I'm concerned, there was a Herbert Frohna's School of Piano Technology and I was his pupil for
30 years. Thanks Dad. What a ride in life you have given me.
Herbert Alfred Frohna was born October 28th, 1915 in Thalheim, Germany. In May of 1927, at the age of 11, Herbert, along with his mother, sister, and three of his brothers, came to the United States of America, settling in Milwaukee, Wi. His father and another brother arrived 4 years earlier.
Self taught to play violin in Germany, he got serious about playing shortly after arriving in the states. It was obvious that he showed great potential, and in 1930 at the age of 14, he was introduced to violin teacher Lenore Auer, at The Wisconsin Conservatory of Music located on the east side of Milwaukee. She was so impressed with his musical abilities, she purchased a violin for him, to be paid back weekly by income he received from working part time in a book bindery. It was an expensive violin so it took a long time for him to pay her back, but he did.
He performed in many violin recitals at the Conservatory (Milwaukee Journal 5/20/1934) and did a lot of accompanying for soloists for the Milwaukee Maennerchor, one of many German choirs in Milwaukee, and for many vocal soloists and pianists at the Conservatory (Milwaukee Journal 2/26/1939) (Milwaukee Sentinel 3/8/1939).
In 1943 at the age of 29 he was drafted into the US Army. He rarely ever talked about his time in the service but he did say he saw more of Europe in 3 years than he did living there for 11 years. He said it was his music that kept him sane. He did lots of solo work and accompanying. His name appeared in an article in The Paris Society News on 9/3/1945.
It was in the service that he befriended a man named Casey Schneider. I know he was from Wisconsin but not the Milwaukee area. Casey taught the basics of piano tuning to my father over whatever down time they could find. Along with playing violin when he could and learning a trade, time went by quicker than it otherwise would have.
Returning to Milwaukee in 1946 he worked full time for Leroi Air Compressors, located on Teutonia Ave in Milwaukee, joined the Waukesha Symphony and started tuning pianos part time. Quitting the Waukesha Symphony in 1951, he joined the Milwaukee Symphony. In 1959, Leroi moved its operations to Sidney, Ohio. Making more money working there than with the Symphony and tuning pianos part time, we packed up and moved to Sidney.
Although a great little city, the music culture was limited at best. To say the least, Dad missed the Symphony. He met Shelby Cartwright, a piano teacher and accompanist, originally from Detroit. They enjoyed each others company (musically) and spent lots of time playing music together. They even made a reel to reel tape which I have. The sound quality is not that great but you can hear the talent they both possessed.
Dad also teamed up with Carol Nott, a very accomplished pianist who was on the faculty at Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Oberlin, Ohio. Even at a very young age, I actually looked forward to the numerous three hour drive, one way, to watch and listen to them play. Carol was a dear friend of Van Cliburn and it turned out that one evening, we all got to meet this famed pianist at Carol's home in Oberlin. All I remember was listening to these three "stars" talk and play music, and one of them was my father. To this day, The Carol Nott Piano Pedagogy Prize is awarded to an outstanding graduating senior for continued study in piano pedagogy.
After living in Sidney for 8 years, Dad just had to get back to Milwaukee to do what he did best, play in the Symphony and tune pianos. So he traveled to Milwaukee in June of 1967, auditioned for the Symphony, received the good news that he passed the audition, and in August of 1967 we headed back to Milwaukee.
Dad played in the Symphony until 1974 when all the traveling the Symphony did got to him. He had been tuning pianos part time throughout his life and at this point he decided to go into piano tuning full time. Thanks again Dad. You're with me everyday.
Herbert Frohna 10/28/1915 - 4/5/1986
Dad's 1st and only violin which he played in
The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra