Friday, January 30, 2015

Repair Technique

Rachel checking pad seating.

What's does it take to become a repair technician?  In a previous post, we shared an overview of the path our technician, Rachel Baker, took to train professionally (follow this link to read that post).  We had time to chat with her again about this topic and discovered that formal training is an important foundation, but there is more to it than facts and procedures...

Rachel told us that one of the most important skills a good technician will have is "puzzle solving skills."  For example, if she gets a flute in the shop, she will normally have information to some degree about problems with the instrument, but she will need to determine what exactly is causing the problem and how to fix it, which she says can be "like solving a puzzle." She shared that in addition to the procedures she has learned in school and the gauges she uses to check her work, it all boils down to the "feel, look, and sound" of the instrument.  The "feel" is particularly important, and it is an acquired skill that takes time to develop.  She said it is important to be able to feel how the flute is working.  She will need to feel where a problem might be and also feel when everything is finally working properly.  Another example she shared is that she repadded a flute, and when she was finished, she checked the mechanism but could feel that something wasn't quite right with one particular pad.  Her gauges showed that the pad was seated correctly, but she could still feel that the way the pad was hitting the cup was different, and she could also hear a difference when the key closed.  Come to find out, there was not a problem with the pad -- it was actually the tone hole!  The tone hole was leaking where it was attached to the body and needed to be resoldered.  As we can see, it really can be like solving a puzzle -- and the technician's acute senses are critical for diagnosing and repairing problems.

Rachel began her training as an apprentice in a local music shop (for two years) and then went on to earn her associate's degree in repair.  She went back to work at the shop after graduation, and three years later, she started at Powell.  She has now been here for almost eight years.  She told us that becoming a skilled repair technician "really does take time, and when you first start out, someone always checks your work so you can develop your skills."  She said, "It's always possible to repair an instrument to make it play, but there are fine little subtleties to making something play really well."  She has developed her skills over time and realizes that the ability to see, hear, and feel these subtle differences takes you to a "whole different level" as a repair technician.  Finally, she says, "And you really do have to care -- really.  People's lives are hanging in the balance!  Auditions for jobs, school -- there's much more at stake, so it's not like you are just 'fixing something'." We're so glad she shared that thought with us, because it really does help illustrate a very special perspective...

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