VOA TV – Broken Instruments Are Music to the Ears of These School Repairmen

LARRY JERNIGAN: “This is a leak light. So if you see light, then that means air is getting through. That means the lower notes won’t play and it’s a chance that it will diminish the child’s playing experience, which we don’t want.”

Larry Jernigan wants children to have a joyful experience with music.

LARRY JERNIGAN: “I think that works.” Charles West feels the same way.

CHARLES WEST: “Actually love my job. Sometimes it seems not, you know, to be work. But it is work.”

LARRY JERNIGAN: “I like the fact that I work around music all day, that my job involves music, it involves the support of music, and it involves the education of music.”

Charles West and Larry Jernigan have worked together for almost 20 years. They fix musical instruments for the Washington, D.C., public schools. Last year, they repaired more than 600 instruments.

CHARLES WEST: “There are two of us here. We do brass, string, woodwind, percussion, piano and electric keyboard. And if you take it outside, you are talking six, seven different individuals to fix what I just stated.”

The two men say they have yet to meet an instrument they could not fix.

CHARLES WEST: “There are instances when we run across an instrument that is just beyond economical repair. So we just strip the parts from that and use those parts to give life to other instruments.”

Both men are musicians and music lovers. So learning to do repairs was easy.

CHARLES WEST: “I have been a musician all of my life. I am almost 50 now and I have been playing instruments since I was six years old. I played in an orchestra here in the city. I majored in music in college. And I played in an army band.”

LARRY JERNIGAN: “I was formerly trained in the piano and guitar. The alto sax, the clarinet, and the flute, I picked up while working here.”

In addition to fixing instruments, the men also go to schools to show teachers and students how to make minor repairs. West believes that children who start early and stay involved with music do well in other areas of their lives.

CHARLES WEST: “I see that in other kids. I see it in myself. I have seen it hundreds of times and it works. They learn teamwork. They learn solo work. They learn camaraderie, they learn patience, and they learn respect.”

But he has concerns about music in the electronic age.

CHARLES WEST: “We are not telling you to throw the PlayStation or the Xboxes in the trash. But this electronic age and this instant age has taken away from the sit down, the patience. There is no patience. And to learn to play an instrument, it takes patience, it takes diligence, it takes time.”

Jernigan says he and West are lucky because they can enjoy music on the job. And they say they really enjoy the performances of D.C. students.

LARRY JERNIGAN: “When I get to go see a concert or go see one of the bands perform, or the children playing, or the choir singing, that is probably the one that gets me the most because we had a big part into making that a success.”

I’m Mario Ritter.