The Last Repair Shop
November 17, 2023 5:01 AM   Subscribe

There's a special place in heaven for those who keep school instruments in working order.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:02 AM on November 17 [5 favorites]

In an ever-increasing list of 'lifetimes I would live if I were immortal', building and repairing instruments for children is a definite top n choice. There's so much to learn!
posted by Acari at 8:20 AM on November 17 [5 favorites]

I am fascinated by the lives of these people who work to give kids the gift of music.
posted by ob1quixote at 10:03 AM on November 17 [2 favorites]

This was really enjoyable to watch. Thank you for sharing it.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 10:25 AM on November 17

A long time ago I read of two guys from the UK who every summer used to take a big U-haul round the flyover states and other out of the way places, buying up every brass instrument they could find from junk shops, yard sales and the like. It didn't matter how broken or beat up, they bought them all.

When they'd filled the truck, they put it all in a shipping container, sent it back to the UK, and spent the time until the next trip renovating their haul. There were usually a few gems they could sell for a good price, but most were turned into serviceable band and school instruments.

It seemed a really cool idea, but I guess it would be a lot more difficult to do now.
posted by 43rdAnd9th at 10:37 AM on November 17 [1 favorite]

If money were no object and production weren't a concern - what sort of crazy coolness could humanity get up to?
posted by drewbage1847 at 10:44 AM on November 17 [8 favorites]

I really needed this today. Thank you.
posted by spindle at 10:48 AM on November 17 [1 favorite]

Nice follow up to last month’s Joe Pera Talks You To Sleep episode!
posted by rickw at 12:41 PM on November 17

When the girl looked at her violin, and then she looked at the camera with the most serene and happy expression I have ever seen, she said: "I love the violin."

Me too! Me too.

Now I need to dry my eyes :-)
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:44 PM on November 17 [1 favorite]

My parents gave (made me take) me piano lessons as an elementary student and I randomly experienced suzuki violin in my public school kindergarden (some weird grant?), but I first approached a flute in middle school at an LAUSD school. And then went to a magnet music school that one had to audition in for high school. And played in college music pits and beyond. And AP music theory classes really did help everything else.
Anyway, I had no idea LAUSD is one of few school districts still providing free instruments to kids.
I had piano lessons because an inherited baby grand (still) sits in my parents living room. But how would I have even discovered my love of the flute without someone shoving it in front of me?
LAUSD has a gazillion problems, but knowing they're still providing instrumental opportunities to kids fills me with warm feelings.
posted by atomicstone at 12:45 PM on November 17 [6 favorites]

That was an amazing short. So well done! I loved it when I realized that the soundtrack actually incorporated what was being talked about.
posted by flamewise at 12:59 PM on November 17 [1 favorite]

I took flute at an LAUSD middle school too, atomicstone! I turned out not to love it all that much but I was able to try it for free, which was amazing. Kids are so hard on instruments but it never occurred to me to wonder who fixes them when they break. LA Unified truly is one of the most incredible bureaucracies I've ever encountered. Did you know they not only have a huge cohort of school nurses but also a handful of pediatricians with MDs who work for them full time to respond to medical questions that require a Real Doctor?

My kid goes to public school elsewhere and we have to rent instruments from a third party. I'm constantly so unimpressed with the logistics capacity of our smaller suburban school district after growing up as an LAUSD kid. Educating kids at scale is a hell of a thing. Even when it doesn't work that great it's incredible it runs at all.
posted by potrzebie at 1:19 PM on November 17 [3 favorites]

I mean, "they" also shoved a ton of single and double reeds and brass and percussion in front on me but I naturally excelled at flute embouchure (and, man, I loved excelling) so I stuck with it and fell in love. I don't think I realized what an opportunity was placed in front of me. (YOU COULD TAKE HOME A BASSOON FOR FREE, ON YOUR OWN WORD)
posted by atomicstone at 2:17 PM on November 17 [2 favorites]

A bit of a tear-jerker, and also concrete evidence of the sheer weight and kinetic force of a diverse America that's eventually going to smash fascism here. Loved it.
posted by ryanshepard at 2:23 PM on November 17 [2 favorites]

LAUSD provides their students with instruments for free? (for certain instruments I'm sure).

That's a really amazing feature! I can't believe none of my LAUSD relatives took advantage.
Music classes are required in my school district, and you have to pay for your own instrument.
posted by The_Vegetables at 3:13 PM on November 17

Yes, no deposit, no nothing, here's a baritone clarinet for the weekend and goodbye.
posted by atomicstone at 3:17 PM on November 17

Whether every school still has a music program is a different conversation, of course.
posted by atomicstone at 3:18 PM on November 17

Atomicstone, you mean the bass clarinet, I assume? Which is of course the best of all the clarinets and, arguably, the best instrument period.

The bass clarinet is not just hella awesome, it's hella pricy. It's lovely that some of those kids going "ugh the clarinet is okay but why does it have to be so high pitched ew" have the chance to get their hands on a vastly superior option.

To be slightly more serious for a minute, the experience of playing an instrument that you love is so different from learning music with an instrument you don't much care about. It'd be wonderful if more kids had at least the exposure to a broader range of instruments.

contrabass clarinet is also nice. Lower, which is good, but harder to play. Most boring parts I'd ever gotten in band tho, stupid bass lines
posted by Baethan at 7:26 PM on November 17 [3 favorites]

Yes yes of course. Or maybe I invented a new instrument! (I was thinking about whether I should discuss baritone saxophones instead, hence the burp.)
posted by atomicstone at 9:21 AM on November 18

Honestly, I'd like to hear how the logistics work in other places. You show up to beginner band w an already rented instrument? Please share!
posted by atomicstone at 3:06 PM on November 18

You show up to beginner band w an already rented instrument? Please share!

When I was growing up in the suburbs of D.C., you had to rent an instrument from one of a few different private companies that offered the service (the still-going and widely-loved by DC area musicians Chuck Levin's Music Center was the kingpin.) Now, of course, there are also online options.

This, of course, excluded anyone who could not afford it, or at least it did ~30+ years ago.
posted by ryanshepard at 5:07 PM on November 18

Honestly, I'd like to hear how the logistics work in other places.

When i was in fifth grade, when you signed up for band, there was a "tryouts" day, where the band teacher essentially sized you up, asked what you wanted to play and shoved one in your hands for a test squeak or honk. I assume it was partially driven by how many of a certain type were already taken, etc. At the end you were given some stuff for your parents, which included the business card of the music store the school had a deal with (one presumes). We rented my alto sax for a few months before we bought it. I think i stuck with it for three years before it was clear i would forever be 25th chair (not having a musical bone in my body) and definitely was never going to practice enough to get better than that.

We sold the (now slightly beat up) sax soon thereafter, which did not result in an increase in my personal fortune as i expected, my parents reasoning they bought it, they keep the cash. Fair enough in retrospect, but geez.
posted by maxwelton at 5:13 PM on November 18 [1 favorite]

In Ontario, Canada, school music programmes provide the instruments.
posted by fimbulvetr at 5:42 PM on November 18

Ooooh! I taught instrumental music in LAUSD for a couple years in the early 2000s and thought the in-house repair was the coolest thing! I work in a medium sized urban district now that pays out the nose for this, and many repairs just don’t happen. 🫤 I am excited to watch later, thank you for sharing!
posted by charmedimsure at 8:36 PM on November 18 [2 favorites]

Honestly, I'd like to hear how the logistics work in other places. You show up to beginner band w an already rented instrument? Please share!

This varies *wildly.* When I taught in LAUSD and in Long Beach, CA, we provided instruments for all the kids. I have worked in Anchorage, Alaska for 20 years now. The instrumental music program starts in 6th grade here, and I teach a few 6th grade orchestra classes at the elementary schools (my main job is at a 7-8 middle school).

Here, more than 90% of kids in the district choose to start an instrument. The week classes start, we host a huge parent night with instrument demonstrations, parent education (including that we have instruments available for those in financial need, and what instruments can fit on buses etc.), and at that night the folks who rent and sell band/orchestra instruments in town have tables with flyers. At the same time, we’re demonstrating instruments for the whole 6th grade and kids are deciding if they generally want to be in band or in orchestra or in nothing, and guiding students through procuring an instrument (and talking about the ideal balance in a class, shaping some decisions where I can there), sending home flyers, and doing some basic foundational how-music-works stuff.

And then…yeah, in the second week kids pretty much either show up with an instrument rented by their families or have let us know they need help getting one. I am very, very clear and explicit that it is important to me that everyone who wants to play gets to play. If families need help we grab an instrument for them from the “pit,” a big underground ex-bunker on the military base filled with 6th grade instruments, and they can take it home as soon as they get a signed form back to us.

We can usually get kids their first or, rarely, second choice; each itinerant teacher gets an allotment of specific instruments to distribute to students at their their schools based on the poverty level at the school and total school enrollment. We sometimes have to do some horse-trading to make their choices happen but we try hard. I have taught at high-poverty schools where I had a 50-kid beginning orchestra and the district provided all of them, and affluent schools where I didn’t hand any out.

At the 7-8 middle school where I teach about 200 students, I have a separate stock of (currently) 50 violins, 30 violas, 25 cellos and 10 basses. Most years I don’t have to use quite all of them, but this year my classes are overstuffed and I had to call around to friends and get some loaners from other schools. My school is about 55% eligible for free and reduced lunch and about 50-60% of my students use school instruments each year if you don’t count the students who only use a school cello/bass at school- they’re inconvenient, easily damaged, and not allowed on the school bus- but do have their own home instrument they practice on and bring for concerts.
posted by charmedimsure at 9:45 PM on November 18 [5 favorites]

Honestly, I'd like to hear how the logistics work in other places. You show up to beginner band w an already rented instrument? Please share!

Like the other person said, you go to an instrument fitting meeting, where you try a whole bunch of instruments, and the band director makes a determination. Once they tell you what to buy, you go to the rent-to-own musical store. The requirements are very specific in my kids' school - you must buy the exact one on the list. Like ryansheppard said, it definitely weeds out kids who can't afford it, because the rent-to-own price is about $50 minimum, and the clarinet required for 7th grade is $1350 used, and the one for high school is $5k.
posted by The_Vegetables at 6:27 AM on November 19

As part of the rent-to-own experience, they do cover repairs in that $50, until it's paid off.
posted by The_Vegetables at 6:29 AM on November 19

Wow, this is wild to me. It's not like LAUSD is busting with money. I didn't realize what an opportunity was laid at my (and all my friends) feet.
Thanks for telling your stories.
posted by atomicstone at 9:16 AM on November 19

Like ryansheppard said, it definitely weeds out kids who can't afford it, because the rent-to-own price is about $50 minimum, and the clarinet required for 7th grade is $1350 used, and the one for high school is $5k.

…are you at a private school? Or in Texas (where music is weird)? As a public school teacher, that seems absolutely bananapants. Like: I beg families not to buy an instrument at a place where they also sell socks and toilet paper, and tell them if they need something *that* cheap- looking at you with your ridiculously terrible instruments, Amazon 👀- it’s best to get one from the school rather than something that is so poor-quality it will make a kid quit. But besides that, if it will stay in tune we’re good to go.
posted by charmedimsure at 11:45 AM on November 19 [1 favorite]

One afternoon many years ago when our Baltimore neighborhood was a somewhat desolate place - half the houses on the block had the roofs in the basement at the time - I heard the keening, blatting sounds of an ineptly-played trumpet echoing down the street from around a corner. Ran and grabbed my trombone from the basement, opened the front door and skronked into the sky. The unseen trumpeter’s pause was palpable. I skronked again, questioning. A tentative bleat in reply. Skronk again, and full squeal back now. We played Marco Polo for a couple minutes, until the three little kids arrived at my stoop, one with a trumpet likely given that day at school. We blew. We blew like we’d never played before, which worked well since I have no idea how to play the trombone and I’m pretty sure that kid had never played a trumpet. We blew for a few minutes, kids on the sidewalk in front of the stoop, me in the doorway. Quietly nodded respect back and forth before they walked off leaving me to pack the trombone away again. Not a word exchanged, but so much said.
posted by zoinks at 12:02 PM on November 19 [4 favorites]

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