Stephen Howard Woodwind - Repairs, reviews, advice, tips and tales...
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals
Notes from a small workshop - anecdotes & musings from the workbench
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals


I guess that when most people see the word 'client' they envisage a single person - at least in this line of work - and yet so often the 'client' comes as a mini-package of people. Generally this will be composed of the player and his or her parent or parents. In that sense you have to tailor your comments and recommendations accordingly.

For instance, it's not much use discussing a flute upgrade path with a lad who's barely 8 years old, and by the same token it's pretty pointless giving parents a few hints on long note practice. Mostly though it's a happy marriage - proud parents give little Jimmy all the encouragement he needs and deal with the mundane actually paying for all the things he needs.

But every now and then you come across an unhappy marriage.

This can take a variety of forms - but perhaps the most common is that of enthusiastic and supportive parents, and a complete disinterest from their offspring. There's not a lot than can be done in these cases - inspiration takes time to instil, and it's a job best suited to an inspired teacher.

Far more insidious - and perhaps more tragic - are the pushy parents. I see quite a few of these. To be fair there are sometimes mitigating circumstances. Little Jenny wants to play the sax, but mum and dad can't run to that kind of money, so it's an old clarinet or nothing, and they find themselves in the unenviable position of having to say 'this is all we can manage, so make the best of it'.
The real villains though are the parents that try to live their successes (or failures) through their children. This can be awful for the child if they have no inclination to play an instrument in the first place - and I've noticed a small correlation between such clients and the necessity of having regular structural repairs done. I guess if an instrument's not working then there's a good excuse not to play it..and if it is working, then...oopps...butterfingers!

The ultimate tragedy though is the child that really does have a genuine desire to play, but whose preferences are being dictated to them by the parents.

I guess almost anyone who deals with young students will know what the signs of this are - and on those occasions where I see it I make every effort to act as a kind of 'champion' for that student, and to stress the point that perhaps little Jimmy here would make a better sax player than he would an oboist (the Charlie Parker baseball cap is usually a pretty good giveaway)
I can't honestly say I've ever been present at any 'Road to Damascus' conversions, but there have been one or two parents who've asked about prices and hinted about birthdays.

Perhaps the saddest case I ever saw was in my old shop in London. A smart couple came in with their equally smart son - private school uniform, so money wasn't going to be an issue. They wanted a ' more expensive classical guitar ' . I noticed immediately that it was 'they' who wanted it - most kids would be thrilled at the prospect of being bought a super-duper instrument, and they'd let you know it in no short time.

But the lad was rather quiet, miserable even.

I asked him what sort of instrument he had at the was a basic student I showed them a range of solid top classical guitars. I say I showed 'them' - the lad seemed to be rather more focussed on the brightly coloured electric guitars on the wall.
There were at least half a dozen to be tried, so the parents decided to pop out and do a spot of shopping and left the lad with me to try out the guitars. I set him up with the various options and sat down at the counter while he plucked away. It wasn't long before I heard the strain of that old guitar shop standard 'Stairway to Heaven'...but being played rather well (for a change).

He followed that up with a few classical pieces, and then drifted back into a spot of blues..and I could stand it no longer. Tipping the lad my very best conspiratorial wink I asked him if he'd like a bash on one of the electrics. His little eyes lit up like the sky on November the 5th (or July the 4th). We selected a really nice MusicMan Strat and a Fender amp and he sat down to play. The difference was remarkable - instead of plodding through his pieces he was practically tripping over himself to get through every lick in his repertoire (before his parents came back, I suspected . The best of it though was that when he played the classical pieces he played them with that much more vigour...and I didn't expect that at all.

I was really quite enjoying myself - the music was really rather good, but his face was a picture of sheer delight...and then the parents came back! Seems their shopping expedition wasn't up to much and they'd given the idea up as a bad job. To say they weren't best pleased at the sight of their son sitting on a Fender amp with a £700 electric guitar in his hands would have been a bit of an understatement...

The father was, frankly, furious, and the mother was disdainful in the extreme. As for the lad, he looked as miserable now as he did when he first entered the shop.

I apologised to the parents - I couldn't let the lad take the rap - but I followed it up with the comment that whilst there are many decent guitar players out there, there aren't many naturals...and he had that little extra something. But no, it was a classical guitar or nothing at all - they'd never have one of 'those things' in the house.

They bought him a very nice classical guitar and left.
I guess one day, if he sticks at it, the lad will gain his independence..and perhaps the first thing he'll do is whizz down to his nearest axe shop and treat himself to a Strat. Maybe he already has, I hope so.

Before they left, as a token of goodwill for the 'unfortunate misunderstanding', I asked them to select a free book from the racks..they chose a selection of contemporary Spanish pieces - and while they were fiddling about with credit cards and the like I slipped a Jimi Hendrix book between the covers...quite by accident, I assure you. I gave the books in a bag to the lad with a little wink...and got one back as he peered into the contents. I guess if a lad's gonna hide anything under his bed then he can't do much better than a Jimi Hendrix book.


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