About 20 years ago I was faced with the problem of staying in the music field without being forced to live under a bridge in a park. That is, I needed to find some way to earn a living that would allow me to continue to play the trombone and euphonium whenever the opportunity arose.
I had never seriously considered freelance playing as the answer for me personally, and a recent experience in a private elementary and middle school had demonstrated that the answer to my employment problem was not in classroom teaching on a secondary level or below. I had received an M.A. in music history from Queens College and done considerable work towards a Ph.D. at the CUNY Graduate Center but, because of population demographics, this was a low point in hiring for college teaching jobs. Although it appeared that writing a dissertation and finishing the work for a Ph.D. might be rewarding in many ways, it might not necessarily lead to employment.
I had long been interested in the history and functioning of musical instruments, and I gradually realized that there might be some sort of future in the repair and modifying of musical instruments. At the time I began thinking about this, one could enter the repair field either through a sort of apprenticeship or through one of the few schools that existed. Since I was used to attending school and was unable to find an apprenticeship situation, I chose to attend Five Towns College in Long Island.
As it turned out, school gave me a basic knowledge of repair techniques but did not quite prepare me to immediately begin working independently, which was my ultimate goal. It prepared me to work for someone else and gradually learn more advanced techniques. However, I came out of repair school during a recession and had difficulty finding a job. I eventually overcame the problem of further learning by working part time for a friend, observing him and other repairmen, and experimenting on junk instruments on my own.
Although I had learned something about brass, woodwind and string instruments in school, I gradually became a specialist in brass instruments, which occasionally also includes the metal parts of a contra bassoon and metal pegs on string basses.
My normal brass work includes everything from the usual small soldering jobs and trombone slide work to exchanging valves or installing additional valves on trombones, or even once installing an additional bell and valve section on a trumpet. I also still do some student woodwind work.
I now work full time in my own shop, but I remain active as a performer on trombones, sacbuts and euphonium in many different venues. This means that I not only repair and modify brass instruments, but I also perform on them when the opportunity arises.
Anyone interested in a career in instrument repair may want to contact one of these schools:
- RED WING/WINONA TECHNICAL COLLEGE — Hwy 58 & Pioneer Rd., Red Wing, MN 55066; phone: (651) 385-6300 or (800) 657-4849, fax (651) 385-6378; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- RENTON TECHNICAL COLLEGE — 3000 NE Fourth St., Renton, WA 98056; phone: (425) 235-2352; fax (425) 235-7832; e-mail: email@example.com
- WESTERN IOWA TECH COMMUNITY COLLEGE — 4647 Stone Ave., Sioux City, IA 51102; phone: (712) 274-6400; fax (800) 352-4649 (in Iowa) or (712) 274-6412
- KEYANO COLLEGE — 8115 Franklin Ave., Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada T9H 2H7; phone: (780) 791-8980 and (800) 251-1408; fax (780) 791-4952; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org