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Instrument repair program makes global sounds

(From left) Gabe Belluscio Keene, New Hampshire; Keiko Tsuda, Sydney, Australia; Dawn Parker, Mesa, Arizona; Jacky Lai, Macau, China.

In music circles around the globe, Red Wing is known not only for leather footwear and pottery, but also for the instrument repair programs at Minnesota State College Southeast. Each year, the college's signature band instrument, violin and guitar repair and building programs draw students from across the United States and beyond.

Dawn Parker, a retired music educator from Mesa, Ariz., said her path to Red Wing stemmed from her wish to continue working in the industry after her 30-year teaching career.

"I got interested in instrument repair while teaching," she said. "I had a knack for tracing what the problem was when a student would bring me an instrument."

Relocating to Red Wing for the one-year band instrument repair program was a no-brainer, Parker said.

"Red Wing easily has the best reputation in the music world," she said.

Jacky Lai came to Red Wing by way of Macau, China. After obtaining a saxophone performance degree, Lai said the lack of a repair technician in his town sent him looking for training.

"I hope to start my own repair business after the program," Lai said. "I would have a stable income and get to continue playing music."

For Keiko Tsuda of Sydney, Australia, inspiration to pursue instrument repair came later in her career. Originally from Japan, Tsuda obtained a saxophone performance degree, but her career led her out of the music industry and south to Australia.

"I got to a point where I wanted to follow my passions — music and working with my hands," she said. "I became interested in instrument repair, but there were no courses available in Australia."

To Red Wing it was for Tsuda.

Opening doors

Music educator Gabe Belluscio hails from Keene, N.H. Belluscio said he has always had a curiosity about instrument repair, but became aware of its importance when students in his school district couldn't afford to take band.

"I thought if I was able to fix instruments and help upkeep them, more students would have opportunities in music," he said.

Belluscio said he came to the realization that the need for working instruments was greater than the need for music educators in his area.

"In the music world, this is the school people go to — hands down," Belluscio said. "I know people that will only hire techs from Red Wing."

Three fourths of the way through the program, the four students agree that the esteem for the program is because of the instructors — Greg Beckwith, John Huth and Lucas Pemberton.

"They have such a wealth of knowledge to share," Tsuda said. "They are so passionate and share their experience with us. I couldn't be happier that I made the decision to come here."

Tsuda and the other students also said how important it is for young musicians to have properly working instruments.

"They might be frustrated if things aren't sounding great or working as they should," Belluscio said. "Our jobs are more important than some may believe. The instructors teach us about our impact on music education."

A common thread between many of the students is, undoubtedly, a passion for music.

"Many of us have performance or music education degrees," Parker said. "The level of musicianship in the classroom is incredibly high."

Putting their skills on stage

Each spring, MSC Southeast organizes Strings, Winds & Brass, a variety show concert held at the Sheldon Theatre.

"I am very happy to have so many people to play with," said Tsuda. "When we have enough time to practice, we have a lot of fun making music together."

This spring's show features almost 50 performers and spans many musical genres — classical, Cajun, Celtic, bluegrass, big band and Broadway.

The show will see everything between solo acts to a big band jazz ensemble with vocalists, poets and many instrumentalists. In all, 14 acts will perform on stage.

Parker, Lai, Belluscio and Tsuda are each performing in multiple acts.

"It's going to be a great show," Belluscio said. "Red Wing, you will enjoy it."

Strings, Winds & Brass takes place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 8, at the Sheldon Theatre. Tickets are available at Advance tickets are also available at the MSC Southeast bookstore. Seats are general admission with doors opening at 7 p.m.