MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Wednesday, November 7th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.
Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.
Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the latest in our occasional series: What Do People Do All Day?
Maybe you played in your high school marching band or orchestra. Maybe you have a child who’s involved in music. And if so, then you know instruments can break. They get dropped, a key gets stuck, or they’re just out of tune.
REICHARD: You may have tried fixing the problem yourself only to find, it isn’t as easy at it looks.
WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg visited an instrument-repair technician to find out more about the people helping musicians make music.
AUDIO: [Sound of tuba playing]
SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Windy Shaffer’s cheeks puff as she pushes air through her massive golden tuba.
AUDIO: [Sound of tuba playing Winnie the Pooh]
WINDY: Most people will name their instruments, especially the bigger instruments get names. So this here is Harvey.
Windy’s love of instruments like Harvey began in high school with a saxophone and… spit.
She was 16, and her marching band saxophone, needed fixing, so she took it to a repairman. Windy was fascinated by his work.
WINDY: And I volunteered to clean the spit out of trumpets, and what happened a couple of weeks later, he handed me a Piccolo and said, take it apart, put it back together, I’ll show you how to fix it.
Windy went on to study instrument repair at one of the three technical schools in the country offering that degree. Now for more than 20 years, she’s been unclogging, oiling, replacing, and restoring instruments. She calls her business Windy’s Winds.
Windy works out of her living room… which looks more like a garage. Dozens of tools hang on the walls. Hammers, pliers, drills, and screwdrivers and boxes of springs, screws, and washers.
AUDIO: [Sound of Windy naming tools in her shop]
She also owns tools unique to the trade, like three dozen different-sized pipes. She uses them to fix dented instruments.
Depending on the problem, Windy can spend hours, days, or weeks on each instrument.
WINDY: I really want to fix everything the way the instrument itself deserves.
Today, Windy sits on a tall stool at one of her two workbenches. She’s examining a 90-year-old clarinet.
WINDY: It’s got to look as good if not better than the day it was purchased by the time I’m done with it.
Restoring an instrument includes repairing broken keys, tightening loose connections and replacing old parts.
WINDY: So here I am on our top key on the clarinet. It’s called the register key, and it is the one that gets the most water, the most damage, the most wear and tear.
With a tiny screwdriver, she removes the key. Now she can replace the circular cork pad that seals the hole so air can’t escape. The better the seal, the better the instrument sounds.
WINDY: So what I’m gonna do now is put in this synthetic pad.
With glue and a hot clamp, she attaches the new pad.
Windy fixes saxophones, clarinets, flutes, and snare drums. Trumpets, stringed instruments, and the less common oboes and bassoons.
And, like a doctor, she has to understand the anatomy of each instrument in order to figure out what’s wrong.
WINDY: You have to learn all the names of all of the pieces. Then you have to know the methods on how to fix it, but you also have to physically be able to manipulate it and understand how and when and why it works.
After she’s replaced the old parts on the clarinet, Windy says it’s bath time. For some brass instruments, that is.
AUDIO: [Sound of Windy opening instrument case]
Windy opens a case revealing a euphonium in need of a good cleaning.
WINDY: You can smell that lovely old brass smell, brass and spit and grease. That is not necessarily unpleasant, but I will like the smell of it better when I’m done fixing it.
Which brings us back to the spit. Since saliva is acidic, it reacts with metal. As people blow into their euphoniums, trumpets and trombones, they deposit a lot of spit. And over time that causes a calcified buildup inside.
WINDY: And it will literally eat holes through the instrument, if it’s not cleaned from the inside out.
So Windy removes the slides, keys, and valves from several dirty instruments. Then she carries them down to her basement for a spa treatment.
She has a large barrel filled with a water and phosphoric acid mixture. She soaks the instruments…
AUDIO: [Sound of running water]
…and after a few minutes removes them and rinses them out.
WINDY: OOO!! It’s kind of satisfying all that gunk is no longer in there.
What comes out of the instruments is green, black, and red-tinged water. Windy’s also had more substantial items come out like ball point pens and a jingle bell.
WINDY: I actually got some Canadian money out of tuba one time. A couple Canadian dollars inside. It was pretty crazy.
Speaking of dollars, Windy says often there aren’t a lot of those in this business. But it has other compensations—like knowing she’s helping young people make music.
Each year, Windy teaches students at local schools how to maintain their instruments.
WINDY: So I try to teach them how to oil their valves the best and how to grease the slides and how to put a flute or clarinet together correctly without bending things.
And for Windy, repairing school owned student instruments brings particular joy.
WINDY: I’ve always appreciated when I get to work on a school instrument because I know it’ll affect not just this kid but the next 10 kids. So I actually get a touch more lives when I take good care of school horns.
Last year, Windy went through a battle with breast cancer. That struggle has made her more determined than ever to help people keep making the best-sounding music they can.
WINDY: Every time we want to enhance something in the world, we add music. It teaches discipline, it teaches follow through. On top of the musical creative art of producing something that is time sensitive and usually very gratifying to the soul.
MUSIC: [Eh Cumpari]
For WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg reporting from Spanish Fork, Utah.