ADDISON COUNTY — Helen Weston has always lived a life of music.
She grew up in Bristol playing more instruments than she has toes. Her parents Ken and Vivian Weston of Bristol and her five siblings all play a medley of instruments. She studied concert piano and music theory in college, and she taught music to local children at Starksboro’s Robinson Elementary School and Lincoln Community School.
Despite her happy existence as a hometown music teacher, something was burning deep inside of Weston: For years she dreamt of running her own business.
One day, she was working at her parent’s house when local piano technician Ed Hilbert of Hilbert Pianos happened to be tuning the family’s grand piano. Somewhere between the sharps and flats of the notes, Weston found what she was looking for: a new career.
Still, in her mid-40’s she was faced with a challenging decision: She could either go back to school — spend the energy, time and money to become a piano technician — or she could continue on her current path that she wasn’t finding completely satisfying.
“So are you just going to think about it and not do it, or are you really going to go for it?” she recalled asking herself. “I love teaching, but there was this thing inside of me that said this is what you have to do.”
She then spent months of studying how to tune and repair pianos on her own, and Weston was hooked. She took a trip to Boston’s North Bennet Street School, which specializes in developing high-quality craftsmanship for hands-on trades.
There, the intermingling aromas of different woods and eager minds that greeted her in its Piano Technology program reeled her in. In 2009, she enrolled.
In Weston’s first year at North Bennet Street, she learned basic piano technology, and in her second year, she and a partner gutted a 7-foot Steinway Grand Piano that was made in 1874.
While the meticulous endeavor of rebuilding a piano might daunt most people, Weston relished in it — fascinated by the varied sets of complexities that each piano presents.
“Before we even take anything out, we have to take measurement upon measurement upon measurement,” said Weston. “All the strings have to be measured. All the pins have to be measured ... all these bolts and plates, we had to know exactly which way the grain runs on the soundboard to understand how the sound travels.”
This past June, Weston graduated.
She also at around the same time completed what she called “a series of three exhaustive examinations covering all aspects of piano technology” to become one of fewer than 2,500 registered piano technicians with the Piano Technicians Guild — a national organization that sets quality standards for piano technicians.
But as much as she loves her new line of work, Weston’s equally as thrilled that she took a chance, learned something new and grabbed life by the horns. And according to Weston, she’s only one in a number of local women in their 40s who have returned to school to further their dreams. One of Weston’s friends just began studying for her master’s degree this year, and another friend is on course to attain her nursing license next year.
Weston has some advice to those thinking of following their muse.
“If I can do it anybody can. Take two years out of your life to learn something completely new because you want to,” she said. “I don’t regret it for a second.”