As the giant 716 member Allen High band from North Texas marches in the Jan. 1 Rose Parade, something to consider: who fixes all the horns and tubas if they get banged up on the road?
James Bowie High School, in nearby Arlington, Texas, recently launched a unique program to teach kids how to repair instruments.
Joe Strohl teaches instrument repair there, and he’s going to show me how it’s done. First, he puts a battered, silver-plated baritone horn on the work table and hands me a hammer. I whack it.
“Good!” Strohl said.
I hit it again.
“Beautiful,” Strohl said this time.
Almost done. I bash it once more, strategically, on the bell.
“All right,” Strohl said, approvingly.
Don’t feel bad, he added. This horn’s a volunteer.
“It’s been around a long time,” Strohl said. “We’ve like done quite a bit of repair. This is actually one of our demo horns that we get to do this sort of thing on.”
Instructor Joe Strohl indicates a proper solder repair on a brass instrument. (Photo credit: Bill Zeeble)
“We get instruments that are freight damaged,” Eaton said. “We get instruments that….(he sighs)…stuff happens.”
These instruments help students learn to make them sing. Repair expert Strohl comes borrowed from Music & Arts, a Maryland-based band instrument retailer. He tells 17 year-old student Noah Patrick that brass dents are among the most common problems. He remembers one mom who brought in her son’s trombone.
“She picked it up off the bed,” Strohl said, “stuck it up in the air and the trombone slide caught in the ceiling fan and just bent it into a 90 degree angle. That was a new experience.”
This class is a new experience for Patrick.
“Honestly,” Patrick said, “school’s just not really my thing. I’ve always kind of liked building stuff and putting it together. Since I love music, I figured why not do this?”
A dented horn is almost restored. Finer finishing tools will complete the “new” look. (Photo credit: Bill Zeeble)
Jeremy Earnhart, with Arlington schools, came up with this program.
“It’s like blacksmithing and it takes a number of years,” Earnhart said, “so after two years, our students will be apprenticeship-ready.”
And, Earnhart said that instrument repair techs can make up to $70,000 a year. The current generation of people with those skills is aging. Without ready replacements, the industry could be singing the blues.