School bands play on thanks to instrument repairman


 

January 17, 2015

In this photo taken Dec. 16th, instrument repairman Jeff Schieble works on a flute at his home workshop in Sheboygan. For 25 years, Schieble has been the sole woodwind and brass instrument repairman for nearly every school district in the Sheboygan area, providing services for dozens of schools.

SHEBOYGAN - If it weren't for instrument repairman Jeff Schieble, Sheboygan area band directors say they'd likely be spending a lot more time, effort and money on their school music programs.

That's because the 57-year-old Schieble, of Sheboygan, performs a rare trade that typically only big cities boast, but one that's vital to the survival of many students' music education.

For 25 years, Schieble has been the sole woodwind and brass instrument repairman for nearly every school district in the Sheboygan area, providing services for dozens of schools.

"He's very valuable," said Shirley McDole, co-owner of the Plymouth music store Dreams Unlimited. "Otherwise, we'd really have a distance to travel for repairs."

Schieble subcontracts with Dreams Unlimited, which services instruments for the Sheboygan, Sheboygan Falls, Kiel, New Holstein, Plymouth and Elkhart Lake-Glenbeulah school districts, as well as for a number of private owners. He also repairs instruments for the general public through Monument Music in Sheboygan.

In addition, he works directly with the Sheboygan, Kohler, Sheboygan Falls, Plymouth, Cedar Grove-Belgium and Oostburg school districts, as well as Sheboygan Area Lutheran High School, repairing everything from flutes and clarinets to trumpets and tubas.

In this photo taken Dec. 16th, a trumpet is all cleaned and ready for reassembly in the home workshop of instrument repairman Jeff Schieble in Sheboygan. For 25 years, Schieble has been the sole woodwind and brass instrument repairman for nearly every school district in the Sheboygan area, providing services for dozens of schools.

"I absolutely love what I do," Schieble told Sheboygan Press Media (http://shebpr.es/1wgyMSw). "It's just fun seeing that smile on a kid's face when the instrument is working right. I mean, you know how hard it is to play a musical instrument ... and then if it's not working right, well then it's impossible to play."

After first exploring other music-related careers including teaching music in a traditional classroom setting and playing trumpet professionally in a band in Las Vegas Schieble ultimately decided on his current vocation.

In 1988, he completed a nine-month repair program in Red Wing, Minnesota, followed by a one-year apprenticeship in Chicago and then moved back to Sheboygan where he first learned to play trumpet at Grant Elementary School under the direction of Rodney Gibson to start his business.

Perhaps part of the reason there are few instrument repairmen is because the job requires specific training and years of experience. Schieble said he still encounters some repair issues that stump him.

The job also requires tedious fixes and demands a quick turnaround.

"Generally, things always break the day before a concert," Schieble laughed.

In this photo taken Dec. 16th, old instruments that are no longer usable are a source for some spare parts for instrument repairman Jeff Schieble at his home workshop in Sheboygan. For 25 years, Schieble has been the sole woodwind and brass instrument repairman for nearly every school district in the Sheboygan area, providing services for dozens of schools.

Schieble says he regularly devotes 40 hours, seven days a week, to repairing instruments in the basement of his home. Additionally, he gives private lessons to students and organizes and directs Generations Big Band, a group of about 20 area musicians of all ages who perform in schools at least two times a year.

Schieble cares for tens of thousands of dollars of inventory among all the schools.

In Sheboygan alone, South High School band director Wade Heinen estimates that the district owns a couple instruments that were purchased in the '60s or '70s that are valued in the $10,000 range.

Schieble said instruments aren't made like they were decades ago, so it's worth it to hang onto a quality piece of equipment.

"A good, quality trumpet, brand new, starts at about $700," Schieble said. "You can go on the Internet and find one for $199 and it lasts for six months and then it dies; it's unrepairable.

"People buy a $200 trumpet and bring it in for me to fix, and I tell them I can't fix it," he continued. "They all look pretty, but it's actually really poor-quality metal."

For that reason, Schieble said he's glad to provide his expertise to schools and parents when they're shopping for an instrument. That's something he's done frequently for students and parents at South, said Heinen.

In this photo taken Dec. 16th, instrument repairman Jeff Schieble works on a flute at his home workshop in Sheboygan. For 25 years, Schieble has been the sole woodwind and brass instrument repairman for nearly every school district in the Sheboygan area, providing services for dozens of schools.

Even a good instrument will eventually wear out though, especially in schools, said Schieble.

Last school year, Heinen said Schieble volunteered hours of his time taking inventory of every instrument in the Sheboygan Area School District to let teachers know which ones were beyond repair and how much life others still had.

"He literally checked over 1,000 instruments between all the schools," Heinen said. "He was a tremendous resource for us so we're not spending money on things that we shouldn't be spending money on. ... He's not beyond saying, 'I could easily fix this, but this is not the best way to spend your money.'"

Schieble says it's a fulfilling career, especially when he gets to see the fruits of his labor.

"Some of the schools I get to walk in on rehearsals," Schieble said. "I love it. ... Especially the younger ones, the 12-year-olds, when they're just starting out and they're honking on that thing and it's like, 'Wow, I can remember that and how hard it was just to get a sound out of it.' And then they play their first concert and they're beaming and it's a great learning experience."

Associated Press