April 2024FeaturedInterviewsIssues

Women’s Musical Instrument Repair Collective

Interview with Marcy Mahowald and Michelle Spindler from Women's Musical Instrument Repair Collective:

Can you tell us about the origins of the Women's Musical Instrument Repair Collective? What inspired its formation? 

The idea for the Women's Musical Instrument Repair Collective began six years ago when we found ourselves working together in a repair shop predominantly staffed by women. We realized just how rare and significant such an environment was in a field traditionally dominated by men and had both experienced firsthand the challenges and struggles that come with being women in the industry. These experiences ignited a shared passion for creating a space where women could come together, support each other, and thrive in the world of musical instrument repair. After talking about it for years, fueled by the desire for inclusivity, empowerment, and the desire for other women to feel the support we found with each other, we finally decided to officially establish the Collective.

How many members are currently part of the collective, and what backgrounds do they bring to the table? 

Currently, the Women's Musical Instrument Repair Collective is in its early stages, but we're proud to say we have 85 members and counting. What makes our collective so dynamic is the diverse backgrounds and experiences our members bring to the table. We have women with decades of experience in the field, seasoned professionals who bring a wealth of knowledge and expertise. At the same time, we welcome women who are just starting their careers, eager to learn and grow within the industry. Additionally, we have members who are simply curious about exploring the world of musical instrument repair, unsure if it's the right path for them.

What are the primary objectives of the Women's Musical Instrument Repair Collective?

Our collective will serve as a valuable resource for women across the spectrum of experience and interest in the field. We recognize that the dropout rate in this industry is high, and one of our primary goals is to combat this trend by providing support, mentorship, and encouragement to help more women not only enter but also stay and thrive in the field of musical instrument repair. We aim to create a more inclusive and supportive environment where women feel empowered to explore, pursue, and excel in the field of musical instrument repair.

In what ways does the Collective aim to support women in the musical instrument repair industry? 

The Collective is dedicated to supporting women in the musical instrument repair industry in a variety of ways. Our first initiative is to provide a supportive community where women can connect, share experiences, and offer mutual support. This network will serve as a valuable resource for knowledge sharing, advice, and mentorship.

Additionally, we aim to provide practical resources to help women excel in their repair careers. This includes offering educational opportunities such as classes and clinics where members can enhance their skills and expand their knowledge base. We would like to eventually be able to provide a community library of online videos and tutorials as additional resources. We also aspire to establish scholarships for repair schools, making it more accessible for women to receive formal training and certification in the field.

For us, recognition of women's contributions to the industry is absolutely essential. We will strive to highlight and celebrate the achievements of women in musical instrument repair, shining a spotlight on their talents, innovations, and successes. By amplifying their voices and acknowledging their expertise, we aim to inspire more women to pursue careers in this field and break down barriers to their advancement.

How did you and other members of the collective get started in the field of musical instrument repair? Were there any significant challenges or turning points in your journey? 

Our journey of starting the collective was not without its challenges. One of the most significant hurdles we faced was the actual task of finding women to invite to join the collective. In an industry where the majority of recognizable names are men, identifying and reaching out to potential female members has proved to be quite challenging.

Each addition to the collective is met with a sense of delight and accomplishment. It is incredibly rewarding to see the collective grow as more women join our ranks. Each new member brings with them a unique perspective, skillset, and experience, enriching our community and strengthening our collective mission. Despite the initial difficulties, the process of building the collective has been immensely gratifying, and we continue to be inspired by the growing camaraderie of our members.

What kind of training or education is necessary for someone interested in pursuing a career in musical instrument repair? 

Career paths in musical instrument repair can vary greatly from person to person. While some people may choose to pursue formal training at a repair school, others may opt for apprenticeships or are self-taught . The most important aspect, regardless of path, is access to mentorship and resources.

Formal education at a repair school can provide a solid foundation to beginning a career in instrument repair. These programs offer structured curriculums and hands-on training opportunities under the guidance of experienced instructors, but can limit the learner by a high student-to-teacher ratio. However, because the learner has already invested in themselves, employers are more willing to hire a beginning tech with repair school experience thus gaining you a foot in the door.

On the other hand, apprenticeships offer a more immersive learning experience, where individuals work directly with experienced repair technicians in real-world settings. These opportunities are more rare, as apprentices tend to be expensive and time consuming from a business perspective. As we mentioned earlier, dropout rates in repair can be very high, and thus are both expensive and risky to business owners. Apprentices are also typically limited to learning whatever comes into the shop on a given day. While this may lead to knowledge gaps, the hands-on approach allows apprentices to quickly gain practical skills and knowledge while benefiting from the mentorship and guidance of seasoned professionals.

Regardless of the educational route chosen, having access to a mentor is invaluable in the journey towards becoming a skilled instrument repair technician. A mentor can provide guidance, feedback, and support, helping individuals navigate the complexities of the craft and develop their skills more effectively. Ultimately, the key to success in the field of musical instrument repair lies in a combination of education, hands-on experience, mentorship, and access to resources, all of which contribute to the development of expertise and proficiency in the craft.

How can individuals or organizations support or get involved with the Women's Musical Instrument Repair Collective?

Individuals and organizations can support and get involved with the Women's Musical Instrument Repair Collective in several ways:

Joining the Collective: Women who are passionate about musical instrument repair or who simply want to support women in the industry can become members of the Collective. By joining, individuals will gain access to a supportive community, resources, and networking opportunities.

Sponsorship: Organizations and businesses can support the Collective through sponsorship. By providing financial or in-kind support, sponsors can help fund activities, events, and initiatives aimed at empowering women in musical instrument repair.

Contributing to the Learning Library: Individuals and organizations can contribute to the Collective's learning library by sharing resources, such as books, articles, tutorials, and educational materials related to musical instrument repair. This helps enrich the collective knowledge base and provides valuable resources for members.

Volunteering: Individuals can volunteer their time and skills to support the Collective's social media, activities, and events. This could involve helping to organize workshops, clinics, or networking events, or providing mentorship to fellow members.

Spreading the Word: Simply spreading awareness about the Women's Musical Instrument Repair Collective and its mission can make a difference. People can share information about the Collective with their networks, on social media, or within their communities to help attract new members and supporters.

Overall, there are many ways for individuals and organizations to support and get involved with the Women's Musical Instrument Repair Collective, whether through membership, sponsorship, contributions, volunteering, or spreading awareness. Each form of support helps further the Collective's mission of empowering women in the field of musical instrument repair.

Michelle Spindler is a dedicated professional with over 15 years of experience in musical instrument repair, specializing in flute repair. Her journey into this specialized craft began in 7th grade when her band director brought a flute into the bandroom for repairs. Intrigued by the process, Michelle's curiosity was piqued, and she quickly realized that flute repair was her true calling. 

Armed with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music Education from Eastern Michigan University, Michelle found her path into instrument repair through Badger State Repair. She spent eight years as a flute technician at Quinlan & Fabish Music Company before joining Flute World in 2018, where she currently serves as senior technician. Michelle meticulously tends to the repair and maintenance of flutes, ensuring optimal performance for musicians worldwide. 

In addition to her technical expertise, Michelle is passionate about mentorship and education in the field of instrument repair. She generously shares her knowledge and experience, serving as a mentor to aspiring technicians who aspire to follow in her footsteps. 

Marcy Mahowald's journey into repair began unconventionally, with her first job detailing airplanes at her father's shop, sparking her interest in hands-on work and attention to detail. However, her first love was music. When she found out she could meld the two together, she was hooked. That led to her pursuit of a degree in Music Performance at Stetson University, Marcy furthered her education with a degree in Band Instrument Repair at Minnesota State College Southeast. 

In 2018, Marcy joined the team at JL Smith/Flute World, where over the next 6 years she advanced from apprentice to Director of the Instrument Service Department. Her dedication and talent propelled her forward, earning her roles of increasing responsibility. In her current capacity, Marcy oversees all aspects of instrument service, ensuring not only top-notch quality of work but also individual technician development, 

Beyond her professional achievements, Marcy remains deeply passionate about music and craftsmanship. She shares her knowledge and expertise with burgeoning technicians, serving as a mentor and inspiration. Marcy's journey is a testament to her persistence, resilience, and unwavering pursuit of excellence.

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