In creating his pianos, Sante Auriti usually works alone from a Steinway & Sons workshop in Queens, N.Y. But this week he is on display in Manhattan, sitting on his work stool next to the big front windows of Steinway Hall, where passersby can see what Todd Sanders, Steinway's vice president of sales and marketing, calls Auriti's "pure magic" hands.
Thirty years ago, Auriti was working in a clothing factory in Germany. Today he is working just down the street from Carnegie Hall, under a domed and painted ceiling that looks like a cathedral's, with marble pillars circling the room and paintings of musicians hanging on the walls like icons.
A native of Italy, Auriti came to New York in 1979. When he found out Steinway & Sons was hiring, he took a job helping on the workshop floor, although he'd never been a woodworker: "I just look for a job because I don't know the language; I don't know anything. I just needed work to support the family."
He stumbled into a craft that is actually artistry, and artistry that he loves. He watched the employees working with the machinery and soon he was filling in for them and moving up. "Every time they needed somebody at a new machine or to move up a little bit, they offer me the job," he said. Ten years ago he reached Steinway's highest level of craftsman---through a love for his work, a meticulous attention to detail, and (he says more than once) because he's responsible. If something isn't right, he fixes it before he passes it on to the next craftsmen, who will pay for his errors.
He is making a Louis XV Steinway piano today, and he leads me down the hall to a side room that shows the finished product with its $100,000 price tag. The completed piano glows with a silky rosewood veneer, but the one he's working on now is still dull and chunkily hewn. So he uses a hammer and chisel to chip the maple wood into a rough curve, then uses a plane to smooth it as long curls of wood fall away. He blows the dust away and squats to eye the curve, making sure the slope is perfect.
While he makes some of the world's finest pianos, he doesn't know how to play them. "I wish," he says, but he's never had the time to learn. Auriti works while a customer sits at the grand piano next to him, filling the hall with the Steinway's rich tones---tones Auriti, with his hammer and chisel, helped create.