CEDAR RAPIDS — Susan Millar loves to tinker with things — woodwind instruments, in particular.
“I like making things that were broken whole again,” she said. “It takes time and can be a slow process, but that’s what I love about it.”
“And this is Old World,” she added. “There are have been few advances in this industry over the decades. It’s not something that can be automated. It’s tool-driven.”
This is Millar’s 30th year repairing instruments. She had worked at the Music Loft in Cedar Rapids before starting Millar Woodwind Repair 19 years ago.
Millar will handle everything from small jobs — putting new pads on a flute or putting a new tenon cork on a clarinet — to stripping down and refurbishing a saxophone. She works with all band instruments, focusing specifically on woodwinds and a few brass instruments, with repairs taking from only 30 minutes or up to five full days.
“My favorite thing is when parents bring in their old instruments to be repaired so their child can play it,” she said. “You can just see the excitement in the young student’s face that they get to play mom or dad’s instrument.”
She noted older instruments tend to have more staying power than newer student models. “Some of the instruments I work on for schools are from the 1960s and ’70s. They were made to last.”
Millar’s own band experiences when she was younger are the true motivators behind her work.
“I needed band when I was growing up,” she said. “I see everything these band directors and teachers are doing for these kids. They feel valued and happy. It becomes a community ...”
Millar, working through school band directors, also donates a certain amount of work each year to families who have trouble affording instrument repairs.
Her drive for her work comes from working with a series of mentors — Merlin Grady, Arnie Erickson and Maxine Braach, all of them well known in the Eastern Iowa music industry — whom Millar said were instrumental, pun intended, in her career.
“I had no idea what I was doing when I got out of instrument-repair school,” she said. “Even though you are confident in your craft and ability, there are so many other things that go along with running a business that I realized I was not good at ...
“You just have to get Zen about that,” he said. “Even after 30 years, I’m still learning.”
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At a glance
l Owner and technician: Susan Millar
l Business: Millar Woodwind Repair
l Address: 329 10th Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
l Phone: (319) 363-0266
l Facebook: Millar-Woodwind-Repair-117857141642550