Musicians find her work instrumental
A bowling pin named Max. An acetylene torch for brazing at 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. A 48-gallon Ultra Sonic cleaner?
These — along with plenty of trumpet bells, horn valves and trombone slides — are the instruments of Julie Jurgenson's trade: band instrument repair.
For the last 30 years, Jurgenson, owner of J.J.'s Horn Clinic, has been repairing brass, woodwind and percussion instruments. She estimates she's repaired about 42,000 instruments, and some of those instruments themselves have been more than 100 years old.
"The craft requires many different skills," she said. "Repair techs are a combination of jewelers, sheet metal workers, machinists and musicians."
Jurgenson studied instrument repair in Red Wing, at what is now called Minnesota State College–Southeast Technical. It is one of about five accredited instrument repair programs in North America. (Two others are in Elkhorn, Wis., and Sioux City, Iowa.) She still helps mentor students from this program.
She has had to master strange sounding skills, such as swedging — altering the diameter of metal tubing — and brazing — joining metal surfaces together with a filler of melted metal.
Jurgenson's shop is crammed with tools such as a lathe, drill press and buffer. It also includes drawers filled with the felts, springs and spit valve keys needed to keep instruments in playing condition.
What makes her job both difficult and enjoyable is the wide variety of instruments and models she repairs.
"I enjoy saxophones," she said. "Oboes and piccolos are more challenging, but I enjoy working on them also. I like having the variety of instruments to work on."
Some of Jurgenson's tools, like "Max" the bowling pin (a good conversation piece but also useful for a method of taking out dents), aren't particularly specialized. Other tools, like those for trumpet valve sleeves, are model-specific, and Jurgenson works on a score of instrument models, including Selmer, Yamaha, King and Conn.
Though Jurgenson's repairs require patience and attention to detail, she says, "I'm blessed. It has been a good fit for me, and I never feel like I 'go to work,' it is more like I get to go play."
For 17 years, trombonist Jeremy Viet has had Jurgenson work on five trombones. He remembers how Jurgenson got a bass trombone in playing shape just before a Trombones Anonymous concert.
"She'll put the extra little bit in, like the rubber stopper on the end of the slide," he said. "These little things make a big difference."
Another longtime customer, Carl Anderson, enjoys playing French horn duets with his wife, Virginia (who performs with the Mayo Chamber Orchestra). Both Andersons are retired, and Carl says his instrument, one his children played 30 years ago in high school, is "getting elderly, as we are." But the couple's horns are still in tip-top shape, thanks to Jurgenson's maintenance work.
"I service instruments from schools in a 50-mile radius," she said. In fact, she has repaired hundreds of instruments for Kim Kovar, band director at Kellogg Middle School.
You might be surprised at what you'd find inside the instruments that Jurgenson repairs. Kovar mentions a few.
"Being a middle school band director, you can imagine what kids will drop into brass instruments," she said. Julie has found many items, including army men, marbles and crayons. Luckily, she has never found any live critters!
"Musical instruments are a very costly investment, and we need great technicians like Julie to help us keep them in great shape," Kovar said. "Music is such an important part of people's lives and there is no music without working, functioning instruments."