by Dale Jezwinski, Repair Department Manager
Okay, Story Time: Picture it…Sicily, 1922 - but if Sicily were Minnesota and it were actually 2009. For me this was a year of many firsts: the first year of my undergrad, the first year learning how to survive the frozen tundra that is the Midwest USA, and the first year that I found out that my instrument actually needed regular repair and maintenance to, well… function.
Throughout my early years of playing, I never understood the importance of having my flute serviced. Like many of us, I was still learning how to play the instrument and focusing on my studies and technique; so, if I sounded bad or was having issues with the response of my instrument, I figured the problem was with me and that it was just something I needed to work on.
Unfortunately, this was not entirely correct. Though there definitely were things that I needed to work on, my flute eventually fell more and more into disrepair, causing it to slowly wither and decay into an unplayable, sad potato of an instrument. It even got to a point where, because I was constantly thinking that I was the problem, I grew frustrated with my lack of progress and nearly called it quits from music altogether.
About halfway through high school, I was presented with a false panacea to all my problems - a new, intermediate model flute. One which I had b e g g e d my parents for as, up to that point, I had been playing on a hand-me-down, student model flute from my older sister. Now, let me tell you… when I got this new flute… I thought everything was solved. I thought, “WOW, this is what I must have been missing! No more potato flute for me! I must have just needed a new instrument because now, I sound amazing!”. All my problems must be solved, right? … right?
W R O N G
I had been Bamboozled! Hoodwinked™! Beguiled® by the unmistakable allure of a shiny new instrument. Now, the instrument itself did allow for much more musical growth as it was not a sad potato instrument, but it also was in ~* like-new *~ condition; I was no longer fighting the instrument to get the sound and response I wanted out of it and, in turn, continued on believing that everything was fixed, still not understanding that part of the problem with my last instrument was that it had fallen into such disrepair due to not getting serviced regularly.
Fast forward to where we began this story, the first year of my undergrad, and my “new” flute was now about two years old, being played VERY hard, and not being serviced. The flute had fallen prey to the same, slow potato-ification as my first flute. It slowly fell deeper and deeper into disrepair due to my general ignorance about repairs, and started causing me many, many issues.
Thinking, because it helped so much the last time, that all I needed was to buy a new flute, I asked my teacher what his thoughts on the matter were. I did not have funds for another flute and was extremely worried that I would need one so soon after getting a new one. To my complete shock - and justifiable embarrassment - my teacher took one look at my flute and told me, “I don’t know how you are making a sound on this instrument, when was the last time you had it repaired?!”
Now, me being be, and with my mother’s voice booming in the forefront of my memory to the tune of, “you better take care of this flute if we are buying you a new one,” I immediately broke down and began pleading with my teacher that I thought I was taking care of my flute, and that I always swabbed the flute out and wiped it down after playing. To my HORROR, he laughed and told me that that was simply not enough, that flutes need maintenance to work properly over extended periods and that I didn’t necessarily need a new flute, but I really needed to go see a flute technician.
Kindly, my teacher gave me a referral to his flute technician and I made an appointment as soon as I could. Once evaluated by a technician, the flute was in rough shape, but not the worst. Naturally, being an anxiety riddled mess, I was… mortified. I was so embarrassed about getting all the way to college without realizing that my flute needed repairs. The technician who worked on my instrument was extremely nice about the whole ordeal and explained to me everything that needed maintenance on a flute. They mentioned that, like a car or any other finely-tuned performance machine, musical instruments need maintenance and regulation to perform at their best. Instruments simply have degradable and highly delicate parts which, over time, with or without constant use, will need to be serviced.
For myself, coming from a family who works in the car business, this was a classic, Homer Simpson-style, “DOH!” moment. When the technician made that comparison, it all clicked and made complete sense for me; you would never buy a car, drive it thousands of miles and never have the oil changed; nor would you have that car sit in a garage untouched for months or years and expect it to start on the first try. Intricate, finely-tuned machines need maintenance. Period.
Additionally, and as with most things, the finer the machine, the more expensive the machine, the more intricate the machine, the more specialized or high performance the machine, the more imperative it becomes to maintain the machine; Not only to keep it at its highest performance capabilities, but also to safeguard it against more costly repairs at inopportune times.
Speaking specifically on the flute - the higher quality the flute, the higher specialization is needed to have that flute properly serviced. Specialist technicians go through years of training, multitudes of certifications, and hours upon hours of meticulous work to be able to service the high end flutes of today. Repairs can be costly, yes, but regular maintenance repairs are almost always less expensive than emergency repairs or full overhaul repairs, and costs are reflective of the specialization of the technicians working on the instruments - and thus reflective of the quality of repair you will receive on the instrument.
Looking now at today, one of the most common things that I run across in my job as the Repair Manager for the Flute Center of New York (FCNY) are people who, just like I was, are simply unknowledgeable about why maintenance matters on their instrument, when that maintenance needs to happen, and who they should go to for said maintenance. Many of us still fall into the trap of thinking that we are the problem, when more often than not, especially if you haven’t been regularly servicing your instrument, it could be a repair-related issue that is holding you back. For these reasons, and more, we always strive to help educate and provide support to all of our clients when it comes to maintenance and repair needs.
Flutes should be seen for maintenance every 12-18 months regularly - or sooner if anything seems to be amiss. An annual maintenance or yearly check-up, such as a Clean, Oil, Adjust (COA) service, helps to keep your instrument in peak performance condition, while simultaneously mitigating the need for more costly repairs down the road. FCNY offers a full suite of expert repair services for nearly every type of flute, as well as yearly concierge service plans to help serve the flute community with all its repair service needs. FCNY also employs some of the most highly skilled, continuously growing, and qualified technicians in the industry, who - beyond being highly skilled - are great people who understand the needs of every flutist and are here to support the community. I personally would no longer trust my instruments, or their repair needs, to anyone else.
For more information on our full list of services, as well as contact information for scheduling appointments, please visit our website at: https://flutecenter.com/pages/repairs-page-new
We hope to see (help) you soon.