EPISD senior instrument repairman Alfredo Navarrete works with practiced ease on a tenor saxophone from Franklin High School, checking each of the 23 keys and adjoining rods for functionality.
Navarrete is just one of six repairmen who spend their days making sure the instruments students play are in tip-top shape.
“I am making adjustments, making sure the pads are still in good shape,” Navarrete said. “We repair and maintain all the instruments that are owned by the District. Right now we have about 400 instruments in the shop.”
He speaks with the same gentle care he uses to handle each of the instruments that come through the District’s repair shop.
The shop is located in the gym area of the Fine Arts Building — the site of the original Zach White Elementary on Doniphan Drive. The gym still has basketball hoops hanging from the ceiling, but instead of athletic equipment, the place is filled with instruments and tools.
Navarrete and his co-workers ensure schools do not have to send their instruments out to private shops for repairs and upkeep.
“The District has approximately 12,000 instruments, everything from piccolos to bass drums,” EPISD director of fine arts Michael Phillips said. “The ability for the District to purchase instruments and then rent them out to our students at a fraction of the cost is a huge service to our community.”
Each repairman specializes in a particular type of instrument, working in one of the brass, woodwind or strings workstations. The District also has a technician who goes out to the campuses and works on pianos.
“Maintenance is the key. It would be hard to put a price on the quality of the craftsmanship and dedication these men have to the students of EPISD and the District,” Phillips said.
Timothy Lyons handles brass instruments, readying a $5,000 Schmidt tuba for the ultrasonic cleaner, a machine that uses high frequency sounds and special detergent to clean the instrument, making the brass shine like new.
“You get to help the kids, and every day is interesting,” Lyons said. “There is never a time we are not busy.”
Their work starts when teachers come in with instruments that are in need of repair. Instruments are entered into the shop’s computer system, tagged and readied for inspection. Each school has their own spreadsheet detailing what instruments are being worked on and who is doing the repairs.
“We have to look at each instrument and make sure we can repair it,” Navarrete said. “Repairs can range from 30 minutes to one or two days depending on the repair so every minute counts.”
Time management is definitely important, especially with string instruments that make up the bulk of the repairs, which is why there are two string workstations in the shop.
Rogelio Lopez glues an open seam on a violin, a relatively simple fix, but he says some of instruments need more intensive repairs like neck replacement or sanding and refinishing.
“It takes a lot of patience. We do everything from working on the instrument itself to rehairing bows. I love working with my hands,” Lopez said.
A love he says he developed working on his 1966 Chevelle, and just like when he works on his car he knows at the end of the day his patience and hard work pays off.
“I heard the students play at Coronado,” Lopez said. “It’s a gratifying feeling to know you had something to with that.”