Chau-Giang Thi Nguyen, a concert pianist and artist who goes by “Coco,” moved into a new Soho duplex this spring that offers a dream layout for any New York City musician. At the front of the apartment, a row of double-length bay windows stretches the height of both stories, pouring light into a hardwood-floor alcove just wide enough to accommodate Nguyen’s sleek black Steinway Model B grand piano—the perfect spot to sit and practice for her Carnegie Hall solo debut this fall.
However, as in so many seemingly perfect New York City apartments, there was one rather daunting hurdle standing in the way of her grand vision: stairs.
Many moving companies refuse to handle pianos altogether, afraid of being blamed for damaging an expensive instrument as it twists and turns through doors and across hallways, up and down creaky stairways, its hundreds of tiny, ancient parts jumping and jiggling around inside. Instead, movers will often decline to even touch a piano, simply instructing clients to “call the piano guy.”
The piano guy is Carl Demler, a 76-year-old German immigrant who is one of the last remaining New Yorkers practicing a once common trade: the delicate, and perhaps unenviable, craft of piano moving. At Nguyen's home last spring, Demler amounted to an unlikely sight –a thin, white-haired chief quietly but firmly directing his crew of burly men as they struggled to coax the Steinway into cooperation.