September 19, 2021

School bands learn to improvise

Creston school band teachers share their side of supply chain struggle

Editor’s note: this is the second of a two-part story about how the COVID pandemic has impacted Creston school’s music program.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Rieman Music and other music retailers have struggled to receive instruments manufactured overseas, particularly Yamaha equipment coming from Japan. The wounded global supply chain is making retailers like Rieman wait longer for shipments to arrive and band programs, such as Creston Schools’ that rely on Rieman Music to supply instruments to students, are waiting alongside them.

Creston High School band director Mike Peters said his problems are not as bad as what other directors could be facing but finds instrument repair to be his most sensitive issue.

“For some of my stuff, I use all Yamaha percussion, and sometimes getting pieces and parts is like, ‘Oh this is broke, so I need to get parts,’ well, those parts are not available for awhile,” Peters said.

Peters praised Rieman Music for finding the parts he needs quickly, but experiences the Yamaha scarcity the same way they do, as the arrival of Yamaha parts and instruments is often unknown.

“Rieman’s been doing a really good job of hunting things I need down or making it work,” he said. “But I will say, they can’t get Yamaha horns anymore, they can’t get certain horns where parts are very, very difficult to come by, or instruments, or whatever. I know of some of the band teachers that are having this issue, especially with our beginning band program, they like these kinds of horns for the kids to start on and they can’t find them, because they’re not being made because as bad as COVID and problems are here, there’s more problems over there. The factories are shutting down right now.”

Rieman has been helping Peters find third-party replacement parts to fix broken instruments.

“I’m getting really good at jerry rigging them a little bit and treading water,” Peters laughed. “So we’re making it work, and like I said, luckily enough, I personally haven’t had to wait much because, like I said, Rieman’s has found parts and found things that will actually work, so it may not be the original part, but we have something that will work that would be great. But I do know people that want a new instrument, a specific instrument, and they’re having issues.”

Peters compared the Yamaha scarcity to the computer chip shortage vehicle manufacturers are experiencing.

“We’re having the same problem with like GM and Ford and other people have, they have the microchip problem, how they can’t build cars now because the microchip places that build the microchips in Asia are shut down because of COVID,” he said.

Creston fifth-grade band director Audrey Linke said the pandemic recession has increased the number of students in need of an instrument.

“So typically every year, whenever we start band, I always put out the offer to students to, ‘If you’re not able to rent or purchase an instrument that you are able to use a school instrument,’ Linke said. “And I’ve noticed since the last two years, due to COVID, we’ve had more students that are in need of that and so each year seems like we’re always one or two short, just as far as kids that need stuff and then just what we have in our inventory at the middle and elementary school just to get every single kid taken care of.”

Linke tries to convince as many students as she can to try band and said the typical size of a beginning class is 50 students. The number of reduces to 40 after a few lose interest or can’t make the commitment, Linke said, which leaves behind 10 instruments she can lend to students.

“Whenever we have students that need school instruments, we typically aren’t able to then, like if they need a school clarinet and we don’t have one, typically that’s not something that we are able to afford,” she said. “So usually what we do with those students is, as soon as another one becomes available, like if a student doesn’t end up continuing on that instrument or they quit band, we are able to get them one.”

Unlike Peters, Linke can usually expect to know when her instruments will arrive.

“But if they do purchase instruments, so like every spring we try to stock up on some different things, bigger instruments, it’s usually just probably a month or so of a waiting period to get what we need in,” she said.

Linke is also able to make up for scarcity with leftovers, donations and purchases from Reiman Music that are American-made equipment.

“We usually go through them because we’re able to get a director’s discount, however we’ve had community members that donate instruments just like if their child played all the way through high school, once they’ve graduated, they’ll donate an instrument or sometimes parents, if their kid does not continue into high school band, they’ll donate the instrument, so we do get a lot of community donations as well as us purchasing through Rieman Music,” she said.

Linke’s side of the scarcity concerns the needs of students and the number of instruments she can give.

“We are just usually short as far as, I have 10 clarinets, I’ve only got 10 to give out, so usually our scarcity issues are based off the number of kids wanting to do it and the number of instruments we have available to give out.”