AudioVision

From Southern California, public radio for your eyes.

The warehouse of broken instruments

Every time a trumpet valve gets stuck or a violin bridge gets shattered in a Los Angeles school, the instrument inevitably makes its way to a warehouse downtown.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has a single music repair shop for all schools where technicians tune pianos, bang out dents and re-string instruments.

It used to be a well-oiled machine with a staff of 25 sending out repaired instruments out almost as quickly broken ones came through the door. Between budget cuts and a recent spree of retirements, only six repair technicians remain.

That's left a backlog of more than 2,600 instruments. They line long shelves in the warehouse, stack up on palettes and litter the floor around technicians' workspaces.

The shop has been around since 1960, but many of the people who used to work there recently retired. The district now relies on these retirees on a freelance basis. Six of them take instruments home by the dozens, repair them and bring them back to the shop.

The art of horn repair has changed very little in the last 100 years. The technicians still use hammers, huge metal dent removers, fire and wrenches to tune, bash and bend the instruments into shape.

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