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TUSD instrument repair shop spreads the joy of music one fix at a time

The TUSD musical instrument repair shop is one of just a few across the country that exclusively services instruments for schools.
TUSD instrument repair shop
Posted at 2:00 AM, Apr 10, 2024

TUCSON, Ariz. — There's a small team at the Tucson Unified School District making a big difference for thousands of students.

Just like topic of the documentary short that won the Oscar this year, The Last Repair Shop, Tucson is one of just a few cities nationwide with an instrument repair shop specifically dedicated to schools. Here, it's part of TUSD.

On any given day, you'll find things buzzing in the shop at the Lee Instructional Resource Center near Reid Park.

Inside, you'll find their teacher liason, Cliff Weston, who keeps track of the thousands of instruments coming in and out, and two full time musical instrument repair technicians. David Morgan, and the lead, Sean Randel. Randel has worked there 27 years.

"We mainly oversee the instrumentation," Randel explained. "So, brass, orchestral, percussion, some of the electronic instruments for the district. Updating inventory, making sure inventory is done, maintenance of the instruments, repairs of the instruments when they get damaged."

That's no small task. The district provides instruments for every single student in their bands, across all 89 of TUSD schools. Randle says collectively, they have about 12,000 instruments. When those instruments break, it's the repair shop team to the rescue.

"We go in and repair it, or it comes down here to our shop," Randel said. "We work closely with our teachers, making sure that they know how to spot a broken instrument. So we do a lot of teaching to our teachers on how to do maintenance and some small repairs also."

While the district buys the majority of their instruments, about a quarter are actually donated by families or local music stores. When those donations come in, they go right to the repair shop.

"So when people are out there spring cleaning and they have an instrument that they might want to donate, we have the repair shop to be able to take those apart, clean them for use, and get them out for students," Randel said. "We take in just about anything that a band class would use. So anything woodwind, like clarinets, flutes, trumpets, trombones, violins, violas. We've been having a lot of cellos donated. We can also use any kind of electronic pianos. We just had a very nice electronic drum set actually donated last week that went out to one of our middle schools, so we can use just about anything."

Even if the instrument isn't working, it doesn't matter. It can still be put to good use.

"They can be in any condition, because even if it's something that's broken beyond repair, we can use the parts a lot of times," Randel explained. "So we stockpile old instruments, mainly to use them as parts so we can fix existing instrument stock."

If the instrument truly can't be used to make music again though, it'll still be able to make art. Randel says sometimes, they actually give old instrument parts to the district's art department, who often encorporate them into sculptures or displays.

For Randel, it's a job really creates a full circle moment.

"I grew up through the TUSD. I remember being in fifth grade and getting my first horn that was a handout instrument, and it's really fun working for the same school district that brought me up through it," he said.

Randel worked as an apprentice in the TUSD shop under the man who started it. Over the years, learning the intricacies of every instrument, he's also learned how to play them, so he can fully make sure an instrument is working once he repairs it. It's how he's helping to spread the joy of music, one repair at a time.

"It's such a feel good when you go out to the schools with a batch of new instruments and you see their eyes light up, Randel said. "It's been really nice the last few years because we've been able to do that a lot more. We're seeing a lot of the programs expand since COVID, and really a lot more participation in the music. It's been really fun."

If you have an instrument you'd like to donate, you can drop it off at the Lee Instructional Resource Center in Midtown, or at any TUSD school.

If you can't fit the instrument in your car, you can reach out to the repair shop to coordinate a pickup, through the TUSD Fine and Performing Arts department at (520) 225-4900.

Your donation is tax deductible, and as you now know, it can make a big difference.

Claire Graham is an anchor and reporter for KGUN 9. She grew up in Tucson and graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in musical theatre. Claire spent a decade in Washington state, where she worked in journalism, met her husband and welcomed their baby boy, before moving back home. Share your story ideas and important issues with Claire by emailing or by connecting on Facebook and Twitter.