DAYTONA BEACH – Bill Birthrong used to play saxophone in school bands when he was young, but admits “I never got it right”.
“My interest was more on how things work, take things apart and put things back together,” said Birthrong, 61, who has harnessed these skills during a lifetime of repairing musical instruments at Brass & Reed Music. Center, a Daytona Beach fixture for nearly 50 years.
Leaning over a workbench, accompanied only by the silent hum of an electric ventilator, Birthrong performs daily surgeries at the same store his father, Bill Birthrong Sr., opened in 1972 on Mason Avenue. Mall.
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“I think I was in sixth grade,” Birthrong said of his early days in the repair shop. “I’ve always yearned for my father’s affection, so if I had the opportunity to hang out with him at work, I would.”
This family period quickly turned into an informal apprenticeship in the art of soldering brass or replacing stamps on woods, he said.
“My dad wasn’t the type to let you sit down,” Birthrong said. “If you were here, he would put you to work. So I started working in the store from an early age.
By the time he was a teenager at Mainland High School, Birthrong was accomplished enough that he was called upon to perform an unassisted emergency repair for a professional trumpeter who had come to the store one afternoon when his father was away.
“I was home after school and my mom called me to ask if I could do it,” said Birthrong, who can’t remember the specific repair issue after so many years.
“I remember saying, ‘Yeah, I saw daddy do that.’ So she asked the customer to come pick me up from our house and I walked in and did the repair. I think I was about 14 or 15 years old.
At one point along the way, the father gave the operation to his son, although Birthrong is also unclear as to when it happened. Despite this, Bill Sr. continued to be present in the store until his death in 2010 at the age of 82. Birthrong’s mother, Florence, had died a year earlier in 2009, aged 74.
Did their son ever want to do something else for a living? Birthrong rubs his wispy gray beard and takes a long moment to think about the answer.
“As children we all have ideas about what we want to do when we grow up,” he said. “I don’t know when I decided to do this. I know I wanted to be close to my parents. I wanted to hang out here.
“This guy is a master”
There might be gaps in Birthrong’s memories of the store’s history, but her knowledge of her craft is unmatched, according to longtime customers.
“I’ve been going to Bill, Brass & Reed since I was in high school,” said Antonios Molfetas, professional trumpeter and jazz, brass quintet and jazz combo orchestra director at Daytona State College.
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“I went to New Smyrna Beach High School and started bringing my instruments to Bill when I was about 15 or 16,” said Molfetas, 37. “I don’t trust anyone else to do my job.”
In addition to his role at Daytona State, Molfetas is busy with a range of concerts that include performances at the Daytona Playhouse, the Wayne Densch Performing Arts Center in Sanford, and monthly reservations at the Ocean Deck Restaurant & Beach Club.
Molfetas also gives private lessons and presents clinics in high schools in the region. Keeping his instruments in top condition is essential, he said.
“To have someone doing the job themselves like that is invaluable,” he said. “I always get my instruments back in better working order than when I gave them to him. I’m going to take them there for a cleanup and he fixes something I don’t even know is wrong.
On a recent afternoon, more and more customers lined up at the counter, carrying suitcases with diseased instruments for the diagnosis of Birthrong. Describing the store as crowded would be a diplomatic appreciation.
Brass of every imaginable vintage takes up every inch of shelf space. Others hang from ropes, clothesline style hanging near the ceiling. A double bass greets visitors inside the gate, while disconnected tuba bells stand guard nearby. A dismantled bicycle is in another corner.
Frank Ferrante, 80, opens a case containing a soprano saxophone. Birthrong runs her long, slender fingers from the bell to the mouthpiece.
“Your D # is closed,” he said. “These closed tampons accumulate moisture which dries up and becomes sticky.”
Ferrante, who performed in the Marine Corps band in the 1960s in Parris Island, SC, is an active musician who performs at the Hub On Canal in New Smyrna Beach. He’s a long-time Brass & Reed customer.
“This guy is a master,” Ferrante said. “He’s a magician; fabulous. Nobody is doing what they are doing in this area.
Next, Karena Holman is a band mom, holding her daughter’s flute case. The family bought the second-hand instrument to start a college band and found it needed repairs.
“My father, who is a guitarist, sent me here,” said Holman, 38, or Ormond Beach. “He (Birthrong) is very well known in the city to be very honest. I appreciate this because it’s intimidating not knowing something about an instrument and asking for help.
Birthrong adds both instruments to its long list of repair tickets. With nearly 50 instruments awaiting repair, the estimated wait for non-emergencies is around a month and a half, he said.
“It’s my busy time of year, with school groups starting over,” he said. “Students usually do other things in the summer, so when school starts they have to fix the instruments. “
Word of mouth success
Unlike many other companies, the coronavirus pandemic has not hurt Brass & Reed’s business, Birthrong said. On the contrary, it resulted in more reparations, he said.
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“Because people were staying at home, they started taking these old instruments out of the closet, just for something to do when they were stuck at home,” he said. “A lot of these instruments had been in the closet for 20 years, which kept me busy with major work that is almost restorations. “
Often times, such instruments aren’t worth enough to merit major repairs in normal times, but times aren’t typical, Birthrong said. He is therefore working on several of them.
“You can’t put a price on sentimental value,” he said.
In the digital age, Brass & Reed is backed by old-fashioned word of mouth references.
“People tell me they found me on my website, which is funny because I don’t have a website,” Birthrong said.
Online shopping reduced the money the store made selling accessories ranging from wind reeds and valve oil for brass to shirts and lyres for marching bands, he said.
Yet his skills and knowledge in instrument repair keep customers coming back for more.
“If I’m not here fixing horns,” he said, “I’m not making money.
Made Just Right: About this series
The Daytona Beach News-Journal highlights area businesses that have been around long enough to be an important part of our collective history. If you have owned a business that has been in business for at least 25 years, or would like to nominate a business for recognition, please contact reporter Jim Abbott at [email protected] Be sure to include your name, phone number and a little bit about the history of the company.
Brass & Reed opened in 1972. Chronology of world events
When Brass & Reed Music Center opened in 1972, here’s a look at what else was happening around the world:
• Terrorism struck the Olympics in Munich, Germany, where 11 Israeli athletes were murdered by Arab gunmen.
• Five burglars were arrested for breaking into the offices of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, DC, sparking the Watergate scandal.
• Bobby Fischer defeated Boris Spassky to become the world chess champion in Reykjavik, Iceland.
• The last American ground troops withdraw from Vietnam.
• An earthquake in Nicaragua kills between 5,000 and 10,000 people in the capital Managua.
• The Equal Rights Amendment, which provided for legal gender equality, was passed by the US Senate.
• Alabama Governor George Wallace was shot three times and paralyzed in an assassination attempt.
• “The Godfather” was the highest-grossing film of the year, on track to win Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor (Marlon Brando) and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Location and times of the Brass & Reed Music Center
OR: 675 Mason Ave, Daytona Beach
HOURS: 10 am-6pm Tuesday to Friday; 10 am-5pm Saturday; by appointment Sunday and Monday.