Sydney Bruenen PT ’23, PA ’24

June 23, 2024
Meredith Fidrocki

“My life’s purpose’”

Basic Piano Technology ’23, Advanced Piano Technology ’24
Age 24

Medford, MA

A self-taught pianist, Sydney graduated from Nova Southeastern University with a bachelor’s in theater and music in 2022. She was making a name for herself in the South Florida theater scene, but the more she learned about the NBSS Piano Technology program, the more it felt like the missing puzzle piece to her career.

What did you do before coming to train at NBSS?

I grew up in Central Florida. My parents are wonderful and they wanted me to try a bunch of different things. The one thing that always stuck for me was music. I fell in love with it. It was the thing I kept coming back to. 

I did choir and theatre, played euphonium and trombone, and I’m self-taught on the piano. My family didn’t have money for piano lessons. So I taught myself through a combination of learning by ear and finding free versions of sheet music online once I learned to read music in middle school. I practiced on a kid’s keyboard for four years and got an electric keyboard when I was 13. A lot of my vocal techniques I learned from watching hundreds of YouTube videos.

Sydney working on the soundboard of a grand piano

I went to Nova Southeastern University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in theater and music. While in college, I acted on stage in addition to doing technical work and set-building as a student worker. And I was finally able to get piano lessons as part of my degree.

The summer before I moved to Boston to attend North Bennet, I was working professionally as a stage actress with a company in South Florida. The main production I worked on was Summer Shorts, performed at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami.

When/how did you discover your discipline/field?

I always wanted a piano. And I thought, if I get a piano someday, I want to figure out how to tune it myself. How hard could it be? So I started researching piano tuning on YouTube. Turns out, it’s super hard! 

The more I looked into it, the more I thought learning this trade would fit well with my other career plans. I could act and not have to worry about the sporadic nature of the market or show life. I could build my own schedule. It’s a decent moneymaker. When I want to start a family, it could give me space to do that.

I contacted a music director I’d worked with during a production at school, and she let me come observe her piano being tuned at home. Her tuner, Karl Roeder, a Registered Piano Technician based in Pompano Beach, Florida, immediately started talking to me about North Bennet. For my music degree internship, I shadowed him at his shop and in customers’ homes. I ended up taking a course online, and the more time that I spent with him and learning, the more I knew that if I wanted to commit to this, I needed to go to North Bennet.

Why did you choose to invest in training for a new career?

I felt called to pursue it. But I’m not the type of person to take a leap of faith like that without knowing for sure that I love it. However, the more I learned about it, and the more I was doing it, the more I was sure this was my missing puzzle piece. I had so many questions. All I wanted to do was to learn more. I had a gut feeling that this was where the universe wanted me to go. As soon as I moved to Boston, I knew it was the right choice.

Sydney working on a piano

I remember explaining to my dad that learning this trade also meant I could have health insurance, a steady income, and I can retire someday. I would have the freedom to make choices. And that is so important. My family and friends supported me 100% of the way.

Music saved my life growing up. There wasn’t one defining moment but it has changed me, and brought me my best friends. It is a way of connecting with people. The act of performing is this pinnacle of connection. With piano technology, I get to be a steward of connection and music. I’m bringing music into people’s lives. I’m bringing them into this world. I’m working on their instrument or filling their needs. 

All the clients and everyone I’ve ever talked to working in the field are so passionate and emotional about their instruments. And they trust me with them. That is wonderful to me. I consider it to be my life’s purpose—spreading music and changing people’s lives in a positive way.

What are some ways you have felt supported during your time at School?

When I first looked up North Bennet and saw the price tag, I thought I had no shot. But I was lucky enough to receive financial aid, which was a major deciding factor in attending. I’m incredibly grateful for what I got. There are options, and I want people to know that.

The curriculum here is incredible. The teachers know exactly how to teach everything. They have years of experience, and they monitor our progress closely. Our class sizes are also small, so we get plenty of personal one-on-one time with the teachers. 

In first-year Basic Piano Technology (PT), it was about, ‘What’s the right answer to this question?’ In second-year Advanced Piano Technology (PA), it was about, ‘How are you going to make this decision?’ I am now confident in my ability to walk into a room and whatever comes my way, even if I don’t know the answer right away, I know I can figure it out.

The School did a great job of making sure that we had support as students, especially as new students who had just uprooted our entire lives to come and chase this dream.

How do you feel at the end of a full day in the shop?

I am physically and mentally exhausted. But I’m fulfilled and full of gratitude. My threshold has increased, and I’ve learned how to take care of my body. Every day I go home and I think about what I learned and what I accomplished. And there’s always something on that list.

What’s next for you?

I’m interning for a month with Sing for Hope, a New York City non-profit that paints donated pianos in brilliant colors, then places them around the city for people to play. They then donate the instruments to local public schools. I’ll be maintaining the pianos while also educating the public about the organization’s mission. 

Sydney working on the soundboard of a grand piano as an Advanced student
Sydney working on the soundboard of a grand piano as an Advanced Piano Tech student

After that, I’m moving to Philadelphia to work for Allied Piano. Their business is booming, and I will be working with an incredible technician. I am so full of gratitude.

What is one of your favorite places for lunch near NBSS?

Thinking Cup. They are just wonderful.

What is one of your favorite places at NBSS?

Two places. One favorite is the second-year shop. They have everything that you could ever want. That shop is my happy place.

My other favorite is the first-year program practice rooms. Every morning, I would get to School at 7:30 am and I start my day by singing. It’s a way for me to do what I love every day, on the instruments that I love. I would play chords and sing. I love music by Sara Bareilles, Ben Platt, Ruth B, and lately Harry Styles and Billie Eilish. There’s a warm place in my heart for those practice rooms and the way they comforted me along this journey.

What’s one of your favorite places in or around Boston?

The Arnold Arboretum and Mount Auburn Cemetery are both beautiful. I’m all about the way Boston prioritizes green spaces.

What’s your favorite, tool, machine, or material?

We get two six-inch flat, metal rulers—one marked in inches and the other in millimeters. There are no tools I have used more than those little rulers. They’re so simple, and I always need them. When I can’t find them, it’s like everything is wrong.

What is one of your favorite experiences at NBSS?

The day I got my Registered Piano Technician (RPT) certification. Some of us choose to pursue the RPT certification with the Piano Technicians Guild and we have to pass a series of tests. During the test, which is graded in stages, you also can also get a Certified Tuning Examiner (CTE) certification if you score above 90 on every section of the exam. 

I wanted to join the Guild not only because I wanted to improve the community of piano technicians to make it more welcoming to others, but also because I wanted to prove to myself that I had the skills to earn the certification. An excellent technician who graduates from this School or even pursues years of concentrated training doesn’t need this certification to be successful. But for me, it was about the personal confirmation.

The day that I took my exam Will Roper PT ’19, my Teaching Assistant at the time, kept coming in to show me my score at the end of each section. And every time my scores were above 90. We were in the final part of grading and it reached a point where it didn’t matter if I got everything from that point wrong. And then the next note, it reached the point where I was going to be a CTE. 

I was sitting on the bench and started crying. Will and the other two instructors were smiling, even though no one could say anything yet officially. It was a sweet moment. I could feel their pride and I was proud of myself. It was one of those moments that I hold so dearly in my heart.

This story is from our Summer 2024 issue of Benchmarks magazine. View more issues.