"I don't do plumbing," jokes Mark Eskola, referring to brass and woodwind instruments. "I just do strings. I have done wind instruments to bail somebody out every so often, but it's just something I don't want to do."
It's not as if Eskola isn't busy enough with strings. A longtime orchestra director at Duluth East High School, Eskola (whose brother Joe works in research at MPR in St. Paul) retired from that position in June 2013; during a school year, Eskola typically fixed more than 50 instruments, ranging from simple re-stringing to crack repair to major overhauls. And even though he's now retired from teaching, Eskola plans to continue repairing instruments.
Although it's easy to conclude a music teacher may have learned instrument repair by necessity, Eskola got started at it when he was about 14 years old. By the time he was a student at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., Eskola had lofted the bed in his dorm room so he could have space for a workbench underneath, where he repaired instruments for fellow students and for the Gustavus music department.
Much of his instrument-repair training was learned by doing, but Eskola did spend four summers at workshops in Madison, Wis., and he's read numerous books on the subject. "That was before the Internet," Eskola laughs.
Mark Eskola's workshop (submitted photo)
In Eskola's home in Duluth, Minn., his workshop is outfitted with two workbenches, two computers, plus clamps, chisels and 20-odd drawers with tools and supplies. There are violins and violas on shelves, a string bass stuffed in a corner near the ceiling (which is conveniently high) and about six guitars awaiting maintenance.
Fixing stringed instruments is a science and an art. For example, re-graduating a cello, Eskola explains, involves removing the top of the instrument and cutting it to certain thicknesses. And a common malady for cellos is something called "wolf tone," which Eskola describes as when "the note wants to come out but it can't quite go" a repair that requires strategically gluing a weight to the instrument.
Among Eskola's upcoming projects are a couple of violas and two string basses he's going to restore, for which he actually cut down some maple and oak trees specifically for use in the restorations. Whatever the project, there's trial and error and craft involved, but the desired outcome is always an instrument capable of making beautiful music.
Another view of Mark Eskola's workshop (submitted photo)
Eskola typically fixes instruments for other people, but occasionally he'll get an instrument that someone can't throw away but doesn't want to keep. The cello Eskola himself uses was given to him by the Cloquet School District in lieu of payment for repairs; granted, Eskola had to fix the cello before he could play it, but it's the one he uses to this day. He recently repaired a rare 10-string guitar that arrived "smashed," which he resold through Rosewood Music in downtown Duluth. And another smashed instrument a Gibson J-45 guitar that someone sold to Eskola for five dollars became Eskola's personal guitar. "That's a sweet old guitar," he says, "but it's kind of already worn out again now."
Other instruments have found their way to others' hands somewhat unexpectedly. This past year, while on an outreach trip to Africa, Eskola saw an Applause guitar he repaired get donated to a young girl in Mozambique. Later, Eskola himself gave a bass guitar to a young man in Zambia. "They had nothing, so it was really fun to see him playing that," Eskola says.
And he's been able to stay in touch with the blossoming bassist. "We're Facebook friends," Eskola says. "It's crazy with the technology. He literally lives in a mud hut, but he's got a smartphone."
Mark Eskola (L) with his wife, Sharon, on a recent visit to Kenya to see their friend, David Shivachi.
On a semi-related note: If you have a disused instrument that is no longer being played, consider donating it to Play It Forward, Classical MPR's statewide musical instrument drive. Read more about Play It Forward here.(5 Comments)
Manny Laureano, co-artistic director of Minnesota Youth Symphonies (MYS) and principal trumpet of the Minnesota Orchestra, originally submitted this audio in written form to be included as part of the today's School Spotlight feature on MYS.
But when I read it, I realized that I couldn't mix it in with my feature; it clearly stood on its own and deserved to be given special treatment.
Listen to Manny tell this powerful story of how he found a way, in an MYS Symphony Orchestra dress rehearsal, to help his students go from making good music to incredible music. Even he was surprised at how the experience triggered a profound emotional reaction in him. You'll see why this story needed its own blog post.
This recent piece in the New Republic generated a lot of conversation on our SymphonyCast Facebook page. I wanted to be sure you were invited to participate in the conversation.
Clearly, music education is important to me both personally and professionally. In fact, one of the most important pieces of our mission at Classical MPR is music education on all levels, from helping budding musicians take their very first baby steps with their own instrument in our Play it Forward program, to showcasing the most talented around with Minnesota Varsity, to the continuing-education aspect of Emily Reese's Learning to Listen.
But that doesn't address the gist of Mark Oppenheimer's article and why it gets so deeply under my skin. And I guess what is most upsetting is his smug, out-of-hand dismissal of music lessons for the average, i.e. for those not expected to become professionals. I did have a momentary reflective moment asking myself if we in the music business simply have an ulterior motive of training young musicians so we'll have a future audience.
But quickly, I thought that conclusion is not only bleak, but misses the entire point of what makes music and music making in particular so life-changing and life-enhancing. Simply look at the incredible success of a program like Venezuela's El Sistema, which uses the very act of becoming proficient in music to add hope to a child's life, which may be one of poverty, not just financially but in spirit. These children don't all go on to be Gustavo Dudamel; most of them simply become better citizens, but their lives are forever changed by the discipline, the self-reliance and teamwork required to become a musician, not to mention the whole world opened to their ears of the greatest music ever written.
That's my two cents, and I certainly welcome yours. And if you're finished studying an instrument for the time being and want to donate yours to a young eager musician, you know who to call!
Posted at 11:25 AM on September 16, 2013
by Brett Baldwin
Filed under: Education
You may be 'Miss Taken' when it comes to America's biggest pageant and its relationship to classical music.
The conventional wisdom about the Miss America pageant is that it is a vapid, image-obsessed parade focused on physical beauty above all else.
Conventional wisdom often gets it wrong.
Two great stories emerged around this year's Miss America contest -- and they're both tied to classical music and education in a major way.
The first: Miss Minnesota, Rebecca Yeh, (pictured above) is a classically-trained violinist, who competed as a Featured Round Artist in Classical MPR's own Minnesota Varsity showcase.
While Yeh didn't get the tiara, (she was an impressive fourth-runner up) she wowed them with her performance of Wieniawski's "Scherzo Tarantelle." Her performance was so strong in fact, she won the preliminary talent competition earlier in the week.
But that's not all. Using her first-person experience with her brother's Autism diagnosis, she also speaks eloquently of the need for Autism awareness and advocacy in the public school system. Read a profile from her hometown newspaper, the Brainerd Dispatch, or see her introduction from the Miss America YouTube channel.
The second story emerging from last night's pageant features another violin super star: Joshua Bell.
Perhaps eclipsed by the crowning of Nina Davuluri as Miss America, the Miss America Organization's announcement of a new partnership with Education Through Music (ETM) to support education in schools didn't receive too much attention. ETM is an organization that partners with inner-city schools to promote the use of music in schools as a means of enhancing students' academic performance and general development.
Joshua Bell, world-renowned violinist and ETM Board Member, forged the partnership when invited to become a judge at the Miss America Pageant this year.
"Music enhances the lives of children in so many ways, which is why it is so important that music education be valued in our society. My own commitment to music education has brought me to many public schools, as well as established music academies, and I have seen first-hand the positive effects of music education on these children. Music teaches about beauty, logic, mathematics, language, teamwork, and individual expression. Having seen many ETM students with their own instruments in hand, beaming with a sense of accomplishment after having worked together to create something beautiful is nothing short of thrilling. I don't think there is a human alive who could witness this and then argue against the importance of music education. Having learned of Miss America's mission for educating young people, I was pleased to introduce The Miss America Organization to Education Through Music, and even more thrilled at the excited responses received from both organizations to the idea of joining forces to improve music education," says Bell.
Davuluri, will use the partnership to focus on STEM curriculum in the schools as she tours the country this year.
"During her year as Miss America she will serve as spokesperson for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) this year as she travels to Washington, D.C., to work with the Department of Education," a statement from the Miss America organization explained.
So the verdict on Yeh and Bell: good looking? Yes. Vapid? Hardly.