Good as new: Instrument repair shop gives musicians quick fix

Good as new: Instrument repair shop gives musicians quick fix

Good as new: Instrument repair shop gives musicians quick fix
April 26
11:47 2018

Technicians who repair instruments at UNT are rarely surprised — or bored.

Horns that have been run over, bells that have been squished “like a taco” and instruments stuffed with questionable objects often come through their doors.

“I’ve pulled out live ammunition out of an instrument before,” brass repair technician Justin Cooper said. “I didn’t know it was live at the time.”

Located at the Music Annex, UNT’s instrument repair shop is a place where students and faculty can come for quick and convenient repairs. Most minor repairs are free of cost for UNT students, but major repairs may cost a fee. Because of the sheer amount of music majors, technicians are also specialized according to the type of instrument, from woodwind and brass instruments to pianos.

A saxophone is in the process of being repaired in the instrument repair shop on campus. The shop operates out of the music annex and works with all kinds of instruments. Paige Bruneman

“The main reason is because we have so many music majors and not [one] full-time music store in this area,” woodwinds repair technician Ann MacMillan said.

For students who have a stacked schedule due to juries and recitals, the shop is a helpful stop without having to drive longer distances to other shops out of town.

“The shop is definitely important,” cello performance junior Emma Bittner said. “The nearest place to get a quality repair besides here is in Plano, and most of us can’t give up our instruments long enough for that sort of repair. Here, you can drop your instrument off after you’re done practicing for the day and pick it up the next morning for most repairs.”

The shop itself helps out an average of 10 students every day but can vary depending on the time of year and type of repair. MacMillan said students often arrive at the shop in a panic because their instruments are the central part of their performances and daily classes.

“I always laugh when they say, ‘Oh, you saved my life!’” MacMillan said. “[Students] are so appreciative because for them, it is kind of life or death. If they have a jury, they’re real nervous, and if their instrument doesn’t work, it’s scary.”

After the repair, MacMillan said it is still nerve-wracking to see students perform the instrument when she attends their concerts.

“It’s also scary because I’ll work on an instrument and then I’ll go to the concert,” MacMillan said. “I’ll be there like, ‘please work, please work, please work,’ and when it does work, it’s very satisfying.”

MacMillan has been at the shop since 1997, working as the only technician at the time. As the demand and amount of students grew, she became full time and was joined by a team of technicians who helped expand their services even outside of work.

“[After] three years, I was realizing that this was getting too much for just part time, so they moved me to full time and then we started doing outside customer work,” MacMillan said.

Growing up, she said she was always interested in solving problems and building things together.

“Even as a kid, I was a take-apart-er,” MacMillan said. “I loved the finished feeling of sanding wood, [smoothing a] crack or having a saxophone pop. I just feel really good.”

As she graduated high school, MacMillan knew she wanted to her career to be in music. She soon began her apprenticeship to study and practice instrument repair. She also pursued other avenues, like teaching.

“I started out right out of high school, but I got a music education degree, taught one year of band and then I came [to UNT] to get my master’s,” MacMillan said. “I kept thinking that my path was going to be teaching college, and even during my doctorate I had an interview at a college to teach trumpet.”

That ended up not working, and MacMillan had to change plans. She said she did not like solely working that position. She began looking for something that would marry her passion for instrument repair with her love of teaching, which came to her in the form of UNT.

“I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this,’” MacMillan said. “That’s when I finally just stopped and was like, ‘OK, just concentrate on this,’ and this [repair job] opened up right after that. It was the best of both worlds. You get to teach kids and work on great instruments for great musicians.”

Now, MacMillan continues to work with UNT’s students and faculty while also teaching at places like SMU and the Interlochen Center for the Arts.

Throughout her time here, she said the work she does at the shop comes from a place of passion and love for the process.

“We can [strive to] not just making it work, but [to making it better],” MacMillan said. “Even little things: let’s get the intonation fixed, let’s get everything else checked out. It’s really an art form if you look at it that way. There’s a lot of repairmen who don’t care, they just want it playing. But this is a real art form.”

Featured Image: A student picks up equipment in the instrument repair shop on campus. The shop operates out of the music annex and works with all kinds of instruments. Paige Bruneman

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Amy Roh

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