Zen and the Art of
Oboe Maintenance

Nora Post

Presented at the

International Double Reed Society Conference

University of Minnesota
Minneapolis, Minnesota

July 30, 1993

Post: In the interest of time I think we should get started. We're missing a few guests who I'm hoping will be walking in at any moment. I'm Nora Post. I wanted to begin by thanking the many participants who are here this morning who have agreed to participate in this panel discussion. As far as I know it's the most distinguished and knowledgeable group of oboe manufacturers and repair specialists who have ever been assembled together in one room. So my personal thanks are very much in order to each participant and to the companies that have helped to support these participants, allowing them to be here with us at the l.D.R.S. There are a few additions and changes in the list of participants included in your program. It is a great pleasure to have Mr. Paul Laubin here. Anne deGourdon from Loree is here in Minneapolis, but did not choose to participate in the discussion. Tom Wheeler of the Yamaha Corporation was not able to make it, but Mr. Ken Taradati and Max Itahashi are here representing the Yamaha Corporation. I'd like to begin by asking each of you to introduce yourself and your company.

Itahashi: (Yamaha) My name is Max Itahashi. I'm the Marketing Coordination Manager for the Yamaha Corporation of America, based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. As a manufacturer. we started our oboe and bassoon activities about three years ago. It is our pleasure to be here as part of the l.D.R.S. organization. Thank you.

Chudnow: Mark Chuhnow, Mark Chudnow Woodwinds, Van Nuys, California.

Klatt: (Forrests) I'm Peter Klatt of Forrests Music in Berkeley. I'm not an oboist, I'm a merchant. My claim to glory with respect to an affiliation with instruments is that I've raised two oboe players, and thus, the only way I could afford them was to buy a music store. I am not a technical person; we do have technical people, but they were so snowed in at the shop that they could not come.
Devito: (Fox) Dominic Devito, Fox Products Company, South Whitley, Indiana.

Friede: (Covey) Norman Friede. I work for Paul Covey, Inc., manufacturing oboes and doing repairs in Baltimore, Maryland.
Beckwith: (Red wing) Gene Beckwith, head of the woodwind department at Red Wing Technical College, one of the few repair schools in existence in the United States today.

Rilba: (Marigaux) I'm the President of Marigaux Oboes in Paris.

Pullen: (Howarth) I'm John Pullen from the Howarth Company in London. I run the manufacturing division of our company, which is located in Worthing, England.

Lesieux: (Buffet) Rene Lesieux. for Buffet Crampon. Paris.

Fossati: (Fossati. manufacturer of Fossati oboes in Montargis, France.

Emery: (Fossati) Pascal Emery. I am at the Atelier du Hautbois in Montargis with Mr. Fossati.

Laubin: Paul Laulbin. A. L.aubin Inc.
(At the end of the introductions, applause from the audience)

Post: Thank you all. The subject is repair. Unfortunately. it's not in any way a simple problem to address. Oops, here comes Philippe Rigoutat, the President of Rigoutat Oboes in Paris. and this is Robert Gilbert coming down the stairs. owner of RDG., Inc, Los Angeles: followed by Heidi Wolfgang, repair; and that's Joachim Kreul. the President of Kreul oboes in Tubingen, Germany (at the end of the introductions, lots of applause from the audience)

My own personal interest in this subject arose after an event that occurred last summer which I would like to mention as we get started. I wanted to buy a milling machine-a second milling machine to replace what I owned at the time, and I wanted something that would be incredibly precise. According to many people, there are three top technical schools in this country: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. I lived in the town next to, Stevens, and the machinists at Stevens said that they might be able to sell me the milling machine I was looking for. I got a .$10,000 milling machine with everyone's blessings for$750.00. the reason for the bargain price was that the machine shops were being dosed down permanently. About 99% of the graduates from Stevens are engineers. This means that when these students graduate, they will never have worked with machine tools. They will never have used a milling machine or a lathe. What they do know are computers. and all those rooms being emptied of machinery were going to be the new locations for yet more banks of computers. The message was not lost on me. The kinds of things you do with your hands are becoming obsolete. What we have right now is a kind of white collar repair world. The guy who fixes my computer does his repairs in a white shirt with a tie. If I fixed oboes dressed like that, I would last five minutes before everything would go into the washing machine. What a difference! Superb repair, real artisanship in so many areas is a dying art. Working with your hands in our computer age is regarded by some people as a less desirable, less prestigious thing to do. Someone who restores furniture for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, for instance, a master watchmaker-this is the end of it, There doesn't seem to be a generation coming after the old guard. It isn't even a question of paying for these services-it's a question of finding someone with the skills. The problem in the oboe world is that we have the same problems that everyone else has. So, in my opinion, the whole issue is much more complicated than who can pick up a screwdriver and learn how to use it. The issues deal with manufacturing, the needs both the players and repair people, as well as commercial considerations such as profitability. So, during this presentation I'll be asking questions touching on some of the most important issues of this problem. I'd like to begin by asking some of the repair people here how and why they got started, I'd like to begin with Heidi Wolfgang.

Wolfgang: I was raised in a very mechanical family, I don't think we ever had a repair person visit our home. If it broke in our house, we fixed it ourselves-we still do! So it obviously helped to have a mechanlical background. As I went through school-Interlochen and Eastman-I saw that it was very difficult to find someone to fix my instrument. As we grew up and graduated from school, I realized that none of my classmates were getting jobs in the playing world. I was anxious to be able to support myself! So, I decided that repair was something that was right up my alley. I went to the repair school run by Gene Beckwith-he was my teacher-and after I left there, I worked for Bob Gilbert in Los Angeles, and apprenticed with Bill Robinson there. So, I was able to find a way to incorporate making a living with playing the oboe.

Chudnow: Like Heidi. I was an aspiring musician, though I didn't get nearly as far as she did. I realized soon that it was going to be very difficult to make a living as a musician. I had always tinkered with my own instruments, and figured that repairs might be a way to remain affiliated with musicians and the music field. I went to repair school at Western Iowa Tech. After that I worked for Bob Gilbert and apprenticed with Bill Robinson, who was quite a craftsman. I also had the opportunity to work for Loree for a brief period of time. Later, I opened my own store.

Post: Dominic Devito, I have a question for you. What do you think the qualities are that a person needs to be successful at either repair or manufacturing?

Devito (Fox): Listening to Mark and Heidi, you can already see. Some of the qualities are a sense of independence, and a relentless pursuit of perfection. You really do need some mechanical abilities. Sometimes that isn't enough-you also need the guidance of a very skilled craftsman to show you the way. But I think if you have those qualities, you will succeed. We certainly look for those qualities in the people we hire. Even with that, though, it takes two years to train someone to learn the skill of assembling oboes. Repairing oboes takes even more skill. So. it's a long process, it's an art form, and I stress to everyone that quality work costs money. If you want quality, you have to expect to pay for it.

Post: John Pullen, Howarths in London is both a manufacturer and a repairer of oboes. There is a repair staff in London and a separate manufacturing plant in Worthing. What do you think the differences are in terms of the demands and the qualities you need for someone who is good at production work compared to someone who makes a good repair person?

Pullen(Howarth): Right...in production, I think that one of the most important qualities is patience, because a lot of making oboes is not a lot of fun. It's a lot of repetitious jobs. For the majority of people who go into manufacture, that's the first thing that finishes them off, and makes them want to go into repairs. They find repair to be a lot more interesting. What I would like to add to that is that I sincerely believe that to be in repair, one needs to have worked in manufacture for at least two or three years. I think that combination makes the ideal person.

Post: Mr. Fossati, we spoke together-on the plane to Minneapolis, as a matter of fact-about the idea that there is repair and there is great repair. What are the qualities that you think make a really great repair person?

Fossati: As far as repair is concerned, it's a lot more delicate and intricate than manufacturing. A good repairer should have worked in oboe manufacture somewhere. Of course, there's also the fact that some players might have financial problems, and you are forced to adapt the repair to the finances of the person concerned. So, you have to be a bit flexible. With all the challenges of repair, you've just got to have time and patience.

Post: I'd like to address the next question to Mr. Beckwith. What do you think are the main stumbling blocks to attracting more people to repair, and what do you think can be done about it?

Beckwith: (Red Wing) I think that a lot of people just assume that they can't do it. It's amazing to me to meet musicians who are also fine mechanics and engineers who think they can't fix an instrument! However, I'd like to back up just for a moment. Having traveled to London, I was on a teaching exchange in London in 1984 and, of course, I had the pleasure of visiting the Howarth factory in Worthing. I tend to disagree a little bit because I have worked with both the European and American mindsets on repair. They approach it differently in Europe, and I think we approach it from the repair standpoint. I disagree with the fact that the person who is going to become competent has to know how to manufacture an instrument. This is one of the things that takes place in the school at the British repair school, Newark Polytechnic College. One of the premises they use is that the students build a Boehm System clarinet as part of the program they do the same thing at another British school, Merton Technical. There's more learning to build than learning to repair. I think that the foreign students we've had at our school have generally believed that because they hadn't apprenticed in actual manufacture-of actually making either parts or instruments-they were not qualified to become a repair technician. Now our whole approach is different in this country in that, yes, I think you can teach repair. I think you have to have those attributes that most everyone here has spoken of: patience, musicianship, you need to be an acoustician, you need to have a good sense of music, intervalic relationships-all of those things that the Europeans take much more seriously than we do in our music education in this country. All of those attributes, plus the mechanical end and, of course, the desire and independence and willingness to work. But I think an important part of this is that a musician is used to that, because you do cloister yourself in a practice room and just do the scales and do the basics to at least get the mechanics of performance down before you actually play something. I think this is exactly the same way it works in repair-the patience that it takes to do it over and over and over, and to improve on that.

Post: Thank you. The next question is for Mr. Fossati. One problem all of us have is that it would be great to have wonderful repair staffs, but how do we fund teaching someone if it takes them two years before they're really of good use to us making oboes? It's a tremendous problem. What we really need is an ideal apprentice system, and you have a training program at your factory in Montargis. Could you tell us about it?

Fossati: All of the French companies have the same ideal, I think. When we started ten years ago, we didn't have workers who were qualified, so we obviously had to start from scratch with our personnel. We trained apprentices, and while this is the French system of doing things, it was really very difficult because at the end of an apprenticeship, there is no kind of state diploma to be given.

Post: I should back up for one second. This is a very interesting question that Philippe Rigoutat and I spoke about a lot earlier this year. It's wild that in France-the oboe making capital of the world-there's no official way to be certified as a master artisan. France is a country where having the right diplomas and papers means everything, and they have no program for instrument building! That means there is no real way to get trained workers, which means that the responsibility really goes back to the manufacturers; that's expensive and difficult. If there were an official apprenticeship program, a maker could train someone with government financial assistance, which would be a tremendous advantage. It's so ironic that France has no system whatsoever. Philippe Rigoutat's father, Roland Rigoutat, went to school as an oboe player. His diploma was as an oboe performer. because there was no way to do anything in school for what he wanted to do, which was to make oboes. Oh, I'm so sorry to interrupt you.......... 

Fossati: I'll go back So we had to say that we were a training center. This is a sort of legal way of twisting the law in France. We have a two-year training program, and the government gives us grants for part of this. We train people as we need them. In other words we don't just train twenty-five oboe repairers. We train the workers that we will need for our own use. Also, French instrument repairers who are already working in oboe repair can come and work a few weeks at our factory to see how we do things.

Post: I'd like to ask Mr. Itahashi of Yamaha: how do you teach and train your workers in Japan? I'd like to ask this of Rene Lesieux as well, since Yamaha and Buffet are the two companies with the the largest numbers of workers as well as biggest productions represented here.

Itahashi: (Yamaha) Training is mostly on the job training, although we do designate certain time for the beginning workers, to be sure that they have a basic knowledge regarding the manufacturing field. We
don't, for example, put a high school graduate into manufacturing from Day One. We have to take training time before he or she can go into the real manufacturing scene.

Lesieux: (Buffet) What I would also like to answer to Mr. Itahashi is the following: In Japan you also have two private schools to train people for musical instrument manufacture; these schools are very, very good. Buffet in Japan actually trains some of these students, so we get to pick up some of the best from these schools! Also, of course, at our factory in France, we train people for our own production. We train the people, like Fossati, according to the needs of our production. We have the best workers train the others.
Post: What is the total number of employees at Buffet?

Lesieux: (Buffet) At the Buffet factory in Mantes-la-Jolie, we have two hundred workers, including the people who work in the office.

Post: Mr. Laubin. you and Paul Covey are certainly among the smaller manufacturers represented here. I'd like to ask: how do you teach people?

Laubin: We haven't had to do that for a number of years, but we're reaching the point now where we will have to. I'll have to replace a key maker, and I'll bring him into the shop, and we'll sit him down-or her-next to the key maker that we have now, and he'll learn to make keys from him. But I'd like to go back to repairs for a moment-my feeling is that a competent repair person does not have to be that familiar with the manufacturing end of the business.

Chudnow: I agree, because I repaired oboes for many, many years before I had the chance to go to Loree. Of course it certainly helped-it gave me new facilities and knowledge, but I don't think it actually changed the quality of the repair work. There were certain techniques that I picked up, but I don't think the actual quality of the repair work itself improved. I understood the manufacturing process more, but I think as a competent repairman I could certainly look at the instrument and figure out how it's put together. Also, the technology with computer driven production has had such a big influence on manufacture, and that's not even applicable to what we are doing when we're back there still using a file and a hammer.

Post: Talking about training workers, I have one question for everyone. All of us either have a business, work for someone in the business or are in manufacturing. All of us do something related to oboe repair, selling or manufacturing or we wouldn't be here. Is there anyone here who has no problem finding qualified workers? (complete silence... ) How many people have a problem finding qualified workers?

(every hand on the stage goes up) OK. That tells everyone
quite a bit right there. Mr. Rilba, I'd like to ask you a question. Marigaux has two locations: there's the factory in La Couture where all of the manufacturing of the oboes is done, and then there are the offices in Paris where repairs, as well as the final testing of new instruments are done. Your repair staff has increased quit considerably over the past ten years. Tell me about it.

Rilba: (Marigaux) Fortunately, the company has grown nicely. We now have five people in Paris for the repairs, as well as to prepare the oboes for the master tuner. I think that we have some very good people, all of whom have been trained at Marigaux, and I really believe that is the best way to do it. They know the Marigaux way, and they know exactly what the musicians need, since so many of them come to Marigaux! But I would like to comment on something you mentioned earlier. As far as I am concerned, I don't think we have too many problems in finding workers in France. Every week we meet young people who want to learn how to repair instruments. We cannot take everybody of course, but we can train them exactly the right way. Naturally, it is in our interest to have good repair people spread throughout the country, but we really don't have a big problem. On top of that, when you consider that France is a small country, we have Selmer, Buffet Crampon, Fossati, Rigoutat, Loree, Marigaux-I'm sure I forget somebody-probably the main one, or a competitor! (laughter). You know, it's so easy for the musicians in France. They just have to pack the oboe and send it back to the factory. So, the French musicians are probably a little bit spoiled, you know. For the tiniest little thing, they phone us and they come. It's very easy for them, and reasonably easy for us.

Chuhnow: Nora, I just want to respond, because I think your question is finding qualified people. I think in France they're in a unique position where they do have so many manufacturers that people are coming to them for work. The oboe makers can pick and choose and have the finances to subsidize that person's education at their factory.

Rilba: (Marigaux) It is part of our investment.

Chudnow: Exactly!

Rilba: (Marigaux) We don't need big expensive machinery. If one day, as I hope, you will visit Marigaux, you will see that we have the necessary machinery, but not very expensive machines like computer machines.

Chudnow: But the real investment is in time and in people. Dominic was saying that to a certain extent, gets back to money. It takes money to train somebody, because they will not be making their own salary for many, many years. I have to take my time to teach an apprentice. Fox does take people in and train them, and I know that Paul Laubin was saying that, yes, maybe in a few years he's going to need a key maker. But we don't have the big companies here to educate people, so we have to rely on the schools.

Devito (Fox): And it's not so much paying the trainee the income, it's the time it takes a skilled worker, a valuable production person, to train that new person, and that's the biggest expense from our point of view

Chudnow: Right. If I'm looking for somebody. I can't even consider someone who doesn't know anything.

Klatt: (Forrests) Several years ago the State of California approached our repair shop and inquired if we would participate in the physical rehabilitation program of an injured state employee. They offered to pay us our hourly shop rate to spend "X" number of hours with that individual. We also agreed to it for philanthropic purposes as well, because the person happened to be one of our customers. But that was probably the only time that we'll ever do this' because the repair time that had to be sacrificed in order to train this man meant that we simply couldn't get our work done!

Post: This is always the problem. Yes, I wanted to ask you one more question, since you have a fine example of available repair in France. If your repair had to exist independently from the Marigaux company-completely separate financially and physically-would they be able to survive financially with a decent salary?

Rilba: Considering that there are five of them, I think it would be difficult for them without the support of the entire company. That's for sure. Of course, they have a terrific reputation, and maybe three out of five could manage to make a decent living just doing repairs.

Pullen: (Howarth) Yes. I should add that at Howarths, our repair department consistently loses money within the company.

Chudnow: I don't think there's a business here that will say it is able to make money in the repair business.

Klatt: (Forrests) Absolutely none.

Chudnow: I don't think it's possible. To do it right takes a long time.

Audience: I disagree. Maybe you all have to raise your prices!

Gilbert: (RDG) You try to get more than forty bucks an hour out of a professional musician! (laughter)

Lesieux (Buffet): There's something else here that's more important, I think. If we train people-people from our country, foreigners, etc.-we are also training people in the spirit of our company. If Loree trains someone, it's in the spirit of Loree. If Buffet trains someone, it's in the spirit of Buffet. This is so important, because the spirit of the workers has a lot to do with the spirit of the musicians. It's terribly important to have good relationships between the manufacturers and the players. If we have a good rapport with the players, that means that we can improve the quality of our instruments constantly.

Post: Exactly. I'd like to ask a few more questions about the manufacturers doing the repairs. It's great, for example, at Marigaux, where someone is available to do it. As Mark Chudnow said, we don't have the same thing in this country, because we don't have the manufacturers. The flute world provides some interesting lessons. The few people who did quality flute repair work in New York, for example, have either died or left the area. At this point, most of New York's professional flute players go to the manufacturers in Boston-Haynes, Powell, etc.-for their repairs. There are also flute makers in the Mid-West who are so busy with production that they've announced that they will no longer repair their own instruments. It would be great to live in Paris and pop down the street to have an oboe looked at. It's a lot more difficult here. If a trend emerges that manufacturers simply do not have the time to do all this repair work, we are going to be in much worse shape than we already are. Dominic, I know from my friends at Fox that you are overwhelmed all the time. People are working overtime all the time, and at the end of the month everyone at Fox is basically crazy trying to meet production demands for the month. You can't become a repair company and, even if you wanted to, you don't have the people to do it! As you make more and more oboes, more and more will come back for repairs.
Dominic: But we do try to take the time to do repairs. We have to! If we're in the business of making instruments, we also have to be in the business of servicing our own instruments. It's difficult, but we are really trying.

Klatt: (Forrests) Nora, the critical shortage of repair talent is primarily in the more sparsely settled parts of the country. The more metropolitan areas can usually attract the services of skilled technicians-Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Baltimore, Chicago. The big problem is in Boise, Idaho, or Modesto, California, where there isn't enough work for a fine technician, even though the cost of living may be lower.

Gilbert: (RDG) Peter, when's the last time a qualified repair person came by and said they would like to work for you and you had to turn them down because you didn't have enough work? I'd give anything to have one person come by once a year asking me for a job!

Beckwith: (Red Wing) Going back to what we said earlier about the differences between the approach of the European and the American manufacturers, it's always been true in Europe that they will repair their own instruments. Some of the small companies here, yes, they have traditionally repaired their own instruments. Go back to the flute makers in Boston-they all repair their own instruments. With the larger manufacturers in this country-and we visit them all on an annual basis, so we know what goes on-production is such that they simply cannot afford to offer a department for repair. They will take care of warranty work and In-House things. If you think an instrument gets through a factory without getting damaged or dinged-up before it actually ends up on a show floor, you are naive! So they have their own departments to handle these things. But they certainly cannot handle the volume of instruments that would be coming in for repair. That falls upon an entirely different industry, called the repair industry. Right now, I could employ every person in this room! That is what the demand is. We turn out thirty-five students a year, and we are the largest school of its kind in the United States, and probably in the world. We cannot turn out enough people. My phone rings all the time! You must have somebody! By the end of May, they are gone. If they are warm, they are gone!

Taylor: (Buffet) I get calls every week from our our Buffet dealers throughout the country who are begging for any leads for a qualified repair person. The most sought-after repair people are for woodwinds and strings. It's interesting to hear all this. There's a great deal of altruism that has to go into an apprenticeship program. If you are a small shop specializing in oboe or bassoon, for example, and you are training someone, you also realize that you are training someone to come up in your footsteps, and your objective has to be that they have to be as good at this as you are! And if they do turn out to be as good as you are, you've just created your own competition (laughter). So, there's such a sense of altruism and generosity about the entire aura and spectrum of music that has to be dealt with here, too.

Audience: In France, it's easy. They know where the repair is. Here, it's a question of advertising. But if you go to a place, get burned, even by accident, Nobody's ad means anything. How does the player find the repairman who is best suited to them? That's a very difficult thing to do in this country.

Post: I disagree. I think it's word of mouth and in a community as small as the oboe world, everybody knows everybody. You sit down in a rehearsal, and somebody just had their English horn fixed by Heidi Wolfgang, for instance, and they tell the other players that it never played better in their life. Well, Heidi's phone is going to ring. We're a big country, but it's a very small oboe community. We get repairs from all over the world every day, and it's all because everyone knows that we do it right. Period. It's that simple. And I've never advertised for repairs in my life! The big problem is turning away all the work I can't take!

Audience: As an independent repairman in a city where there are several fine established repairman-Philadelphia-I would find it beneficial if I could present my work to a group like this; you could give it your stamp of approval, and it wouldn't always be word of mouth. I do really good quality repair work, and I would like to get that word out.

Wolfgang: I find a lot of parallels in the automobile industry. You can go to every dealer, and they all have their plaques up on the wall with the Stamp of Approval. But that certainly doesn't mean I'm going to take my car to that guy unless I have some sort of personal connection. The same thing with doctors, or any profession. It's always word of mouth. Even with that Stamp of Approval, it's still difficult.

Post: On the positive side, because so many of us have too much work, if we know of reliable, good quality people, we are delighted to recommend their services. I do that all the time for the instruments I can't take, and I'm always looking for people. It's great to be able to recommend someone, and know they will do a good job. I think we're all happy to do that.

Friede: (Covey) I think another important issue is the marriage between repair and manufacture. There is such a thing as preventative building. There are places on the oboe, for example, that should have post-locks on them in the first place, instead of a repairman putting them on after two years, when the posts move. If we do that in the first place, the player will be happier. They may not know that, but if the post-locks were not there, they would know! So, by repairing all the time, and always having broken instruments around, you can incorporate that into your building. Our shop is so small that we can have a personal relationship with every customer. We repair instruments other than our own-since there are so many of them out there-and we learn from other manufacturers, and I hope they do the same with us! Paul and I decided that we would stay small partly so that we can have a personal repair relationship with the player. That needs to be there.

Audience: Nora, a lot of this is baloney! Most of the manufacturers in the United States don't care if a retail dealer has a repair shop or not. I call your attention to the biggest dealer for Powell Flutes in the United States. He doesn't have a repair shop, and he doesn't even have business hours! The largest dealer for Fox instruments in the United States has essentially no repair shop at all. I think this is absolutely wrong, and I think this should be stopped!

Friede: (Covey) Thank you. I agree.

Beckwith: (Red Wing) One of the things that should be brought up in the context of the marriage between manufacturer and repair is that you cannot make an oboe in Paris, send it to Minnesota in January and expect it to work! (gales and gales of laughter)

Post: That's right. Not one key will go up and down when it arrives! Of course, you are anticipating several of my next questions. Is there a manufacturer here who can give us an example of a case where a relationship with a dealer who could not offer the right support services for your instrument hurt your reputation as the maker? Or do you choose your dealers in such a way as to avoid this problem?

Rilba: For Marigaux personally, my first question to someone who wants to import Marigaux oboes is: Do you have a competent repair shop, and where have the people been trained? I would also like to add something to your comment about good repairmen and bad repairmen. Of course, we have some bad repairmen in France. But the point is, a musician goes (because he doesn't know), but if the repairman does a bad job, he disappears. One musician talks to another, and that's that. Only the good ones survive.
I'd like to make some closing comments on several different subjects, and I hope you will all please feel free to interrupt me if you would like to add something. I said repair was a complicated subject. Many of you in the audience are now seeing what I mean. The first topic I want to talk about is the long-term, good quality relationship between manufacturers and dealers. This is what creates the possibility of good repair. If a maker is selling to someone who doesn't know what a screwdriver is, eventually bad things will happen to everyone all the way around. I would like to point out that there are many ways that we can all help each other. One excellent example of a very well-run company in my opinion, is Yamaha. Their dealer agreement is outstanding. They insist that you must have the technical capabilities and facilities to support their products. They check you out very carefully (I know!). For the smaller makers, it's less formal, but the same thing happens. With the reputable makers, you must be able to provide the support services that your players need. That's an ideal-it's a great way to build a strong and loyal dealer network. On the flip side, I'd like to offer a case in point of another oboe manufacturer who has about five hundred dealers in the United States. He once told me that of his five hundred dealers, only twenty-five know what a screwdriver is, and only about four know how to use one! I asked him why he doesn't support the dealers who know how to service his oboes. His answer was after twenty five years, all he has learned is that every dealer will just screw him. (Audible gasps from the audience). So, why support a dealer, why do anything for anyone? My philosophical response to something like that is that when you expect nothing from everyone, that's exactly what you are going to get in life. Buddha had a great saying for this: When you don't trust someone, you make them untrustworthy. That's so important.

Friede: (Covey) Nora, why is it that you are linking dealers with repairmen? Why can't there be great repairmen out there who aren't necessarily dealers?

Post: Of course there are great independent repairmen. It's just that there aren't enough of them. We could use hundreds of Heidi Wolfgangs in this country, and we don't have them! As most of us know, repair is a losing proposition financially. It's frightening to me that the most highly skilled oboe repair people in this country don't make enough money to have decent shop spaces-99': work out of their homes or their basements. And they all have working spouses, or they wouldn't be able to do it at all! That's frightening for the future, and that's why the idea of manufacturers supporting the people who can provide the repair is so important. I know that in my own business, it is the profit generated by the sales of instruments that allows me to provide the repair services I want to give players. Without those profits, I could not possibly offer what I consider to be several public service aspects of my business, of which repair is certainly one. I can assure you that repairing oboes at $40.00 an hour doesn't even make a dent in what it costs an hour to run a corporation these days. Despite the fact that I have more work than I could ever take, I wouldn't have a roof over my head if I just did repairs unless, of course, I married a wealthy neurosurgeon who could support the whole show! Short of a neurosurgeon, I am going to rely on new and used instrument sales to allow me to offer the repairs my customers need. 

Friede: Yes, let me make a comment on this. Someone like you, like Heidi, has made a commitment. There are so many people out there who say, "Oh, I'm going to learn how to fix my oboe. Could I come down on Tuesday evening for two hours to learn how to do that?" Yeah, right. You could stay for three years and you could learn a lot, but no, you can't learn it if you are not willing to make a commitment. To be a good repairman, you need to be a good player, but you have to make the commitment. We see a lot of players who don't want to make the commitment-they don't say: "This is really what I want to do, and I want to be good at it!"

Laubin: I could add something to that. I have offered many repairmen the opportunity to come into my shop and learn some of the techniques I use for crack repairs, padding, etc. at no charge. I'm willing to donate my time to be sure that there are repairmen who can improve their skills. Over the years, only two people have taken me up on this. So, I suspect you also have repair people out there who are not interested in improving their craft.

Post: Well, isn't that exactly what Mr. Fossati was saying earlier, that there is good repair and there is bad repair, and not everyone is competent? But let us continue. Talking about the survival of dealers who can service what they sell, we have to think about the challenge of making ourselves attractive to the manufacturers. We have to do the very best we can to advertise and promote the production of the manufacturers who supply us. This is really where the marriage starts. If we can do that, we are hopefully successful enough to be able to afford the quality repair staff we need. I don't have all the answers, but I know it's about earning everybody's trust everyday and keeping it.

Another very important thing is for people who do have the skills to start teaching other oboe players. Mr. Laubin was doing that this morning, Heidi does it, I do it. There's a lot of mystique tied up with fixing oboes, and it doesn't need to be there. Do you all know the story of William Bennett, the flute player? He "homogenized" flutes, like five thousand at a clip at the flute convention at the New York Hilton. He rubbed the clarinet on the girls' leg, and the clarinet had been homogenized by Fido, his dog, and the girl's clarinet was then homogenized! She said the horn never played better! He had people lined up a thousand at a time (at $5.00 a head) for mass homogenizations-since he just couldn't manage private sessions with that many people-and this was the National Flute Association! That's such a sensational example of the mystique! We've got to de-mystify things and start teaching players at least the basics.

Audience: Nora, he homogenized an entire quintet! The homogenization process was done with a hand vibrator and when he was done, the oboe didn't work at all!

Post: Going back to less exotic fare for a moment, I'd like to present a few ideas about what the manufacturers can do to to help support a superb dealer network with highly qualified people.

Audience: Tell 'em!!!!! 

Post: If you can possibly think long-term instead of short-term in this world, it helps a lot to build something for the future. A manufacturer has to use great discrimination in choosing the people who represent and service his instruments. As the CEO of one of the biggest companies in the world said to me last week: "You can't fix your price, but you can fix your distribution!" You can work with the right kinds of dealers.

Friede: Nora, do you think the manufacturers have to sell only to dealers who have adequate repair facilities, or could they sell to dealers who don't have service, but, at the same time, the manufacturer might have another person who they think is qualified for doing the repairs, but who isn't the dealer?

Post: Well, it happens.

Audience: But my point is the manufacturers don't care! They may say that they care, but they don't!

Beckwith: They don't have time to care! Manufacturers are not in the repair business. The only business they are in is the business of making money! This they do by manufacturing musical instruments.

Devito: (Fox) I have an engineering degree, and I could probably make more money doing something else. I love making instruments. So, obviously I'm in it for more than the money

Beckwith: (Red Wing) I think we have to separate the repair and the manufacturing business, because they are entirely different fields. Repair is not an extension of manufacturing.

Post: You know, we've talked a bit about some ideas about what repair people, manufacturers, and dealers can do, and I'd like to finish up by exploring what the players can do-and that's most of the people in the audience. In my opinion, we need to educate the players to understand the mechanics of the instrument better. Some of you might want to consider a career in repair. Players can also support dealers who do adequately service what they sell, as opposed to supporting people who do not provide the service. If I were buying a Korg tuner, I would buy it from someone like Peter Klatt, because his profit goes to help maintain a repair staff, and that has value and importance to me. Every single player can do that. Support the people who support you! That's what it's all about. You all have colleagues, students, friends. We need to educate all these people to support the people who just might be able to make it possible for instruments like the oboe-along with decent cane, accessories, repairs, etc-to survive into the next century. It's important that players send the message to both repairers and manufacturers that you care about the availability of quality repair work. Ultimately, it's in the hands of the buyer. None of us in the business of repair or manufacture control any of this. We make, we fix. So, it's all of you players who are in the driver's seat and it's your decision that will make or break whether the services you need are going to be available in the future or not. I cannot tell you how important I think this is.

I would like to close by thanking all my guests today very much for all of your efforts (including the various members of the audience!). The arguments here, the passionate tempers, well, we've probably all given each other a lot to think about and to talk about, and that's always a good thing. So, again, thank you all