Minnesota college is home to elite program in musical instrument repair

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RED WING, MINN. — The most intimate relationship a musician may have is with a precious instrument. And when that relationship breaks down, an elite group of students here can fix it.

At Minnesota State College Southeast, about 85 students are learning to repair musical instruments. Most of them choose from among three specialties: band instruments, violins and guitars (whose students also learn to build guitars).

It’s a rare chance to learn these special skills. Only three schools in the country offer band instrument repair, according to school spokeswoman Katryn Conlin, and no other college offers violin repair. The rarity of the programs here attracts students to Red Wing from across the United States and Canada.

At age 18, Sarah Jensen of Clearfield, Utah, has already been working for several years in the instrument repair shop of her dad, who graduated from Red Wing in the 1990s. As she refurbished a tray of saxophone keys and pads, Jensen said she loves seeing the joy on people’s faces when they get their instruments back.

“I’m autistic,” she added, “and I think in certain ways. I like puzzles. For me, the saxophone is a 3-D jigsaw puzzle, and I love it.”

Michaela Alderink of Fairfax, Minn., had been working “a lot of not-fun jobs.” At age 33, she decided to enroll in the program after she opened her clarinet case from high school one day.

When she got a whiff of the wood and leather and metal inside, Alderink said, “I realized that I could be surrounded by this smell the rest of my life.”

Many of the students are musicians; some have advanced degrees in performance and have played professionally. But musicians often have to cobble together a living. Learning repair skills can be a welcome addition to income from playing