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Making Music Possible – with Cynthia Orosco of Clearwater Music

Clearwater Music – Spokane  https://www.clearwatermusicserves.com/

Full-service music store and instrument repair shop serving Spokane and surrounding area

Cyn repairs a trumpet

If you’re anywhere near Spokane and find yourself in need of instrument repair, Clearwater Music is your spot. Cynthia “Cyn” Orosco has been fixing instruments (and arguably making dreams come true) for 35 years. She and her team specialize in wind instruments but can help with stringed and electronic instruments as well. 

That said, Cyn isn’t afraid of the occasional “oddball” challenge. She explains, “…this fella brought in hubcaps from his 1904 Ford – and nobody else wants to repair them for him. So, I’m going to rebuild those for him, once I figure out how. I’ve done aircraft noses and all kinds of… Yeah, I work with metal.”

Drawn to Spokane

An Air Force brat, Cyn grew up all over the place. Her family visited Spokane for the 1974 Expo and moved there the following year when she was 13. “I was in the Bay area for about 10 years. I went down there for drum corps and came back, went back down. But Spokane is my town…this is my home, and these are my people.” 

And what about the repair part?

Cyn likes to say she started “repairing by default.”

“I was still in high school, things didn’t work. I just, I’m one of those [people] that fixes things. And so that’s how it started. When I got into college, [they] had a repair course. And I thought, ‘oh, that would be fun.’ And I did not realize what credits were and I signed up for way too many credits, but the course itself was 35 because it was 35 hours a week, and then homework on top of that, and so forth. So, the only degree I actually have is in repairing instruments!” 

Cyn really enjoys repairing. “It’s a lot of fun to take something that you know somebody thinks is done and resurrecting it and making it back into an instrument that somebody loves. There are repair genes in my family. I helped my dad overhaul a car when I was around 11. My brothers were not interested. And you know, I inherited all my grandparents’ tools and stuff. I like fixing things…I really like making instruments and adapting things – like taking an instrument that doesn’t play well and changing the acoustical physics slightly and making it just sing. That’s my favorite part. But as far as the end result thing, when a kid’s face lights up, that’s what it’s about.”

Cyn is also a serious musician. And so she knows some tricks on how to help kids to get better tones and even adapts instruments for disabled students.

Long hours and community service

Cyn goes where she’s needed, sometimes driving hours just to make sure kids can play their instruments. “There was a show in the tri-cities that needed a repair shop to show up and so I went and did that. And the local shows I do a lot, the marching band shows and so forth, our jazz festivals, whatever, I’m the repairman on site for those. I’ll go up to wherever they are, which is sometimes a two hour drive. But it’s all about raising musicians, right?” 

Cyn and her crew put in long days, not in hopes of capturing extra profit but in service of their community. “If it was me, it would just be a little repair shop in a corner someplace. But we’ve got quite a large music store now and we serve an enormous community and 1000s of people. And a lot of people wouldn’t be able to play if we didn’t serve them.”

She is committed to enabling more students to thrive. “No child should be subjected to playing on a substandard instrument. I’ve seen instruments in kids’ hands that don’t have all the pads on. And that’s like, ‘Here, drive this car with flat tires.’ It’s not gonna work. So, I want to make sure that everybody knows that there is an opportunity for them to play and we will help them, however they need it. It’s not an advertising ploy… it’s just our town’s better off with more musicians.” 

What does Cyn find most challenging about repair? 

She says it is poor quality instruments and parts. Clients often bring in brand-new but cheaply made instruments that don’t work because they’re not made of the right materials. “In general, a new instrument is $1000  for flute, clarinet, trumpet, in general. So, if you can buy one brand new for $200, you can kind of guess that it may not be of the same quality….they don’t necessarily need to invest more money, I’ll figure a way to work with whatever their budget is; they just need a better instrument. If they want to spend $200 on an instrument, I’ll find them a good one for 200 bucks.” 

However, problems crop up even with high-end instruments. “The biggest thing that bugs me right now about working on instruments for schools and individuals is, for instance, one of the local colleges has a baritone sax that they probably paid, if they got the buddy deal, 20 grand. Very high and very excellent brand, except they’re making the keys out of pot metal now. Pot metal is a cast metal, it’s not real. And it snapped. And so, I had to rebuild a key; I made it out of steel – because it needed a lot of strength. But the inferior materials that they’re using these days, and the inconsistency.” 

Keeping it going

Despite the long hours, Cyn keeps going because she feels God put her there to serve her community. Cyn hopes to train more people in instrument repair. Clearwater offers classes on acoustical physics, and metallurgy so that kids can understand how instruments work. 

“Right now, I’ve got a young man who is studying engineering and he’s an excellent brass musician. He wants to learn how to repair brass instruments and how to make brass instruments. So, he took one of my junk horns, (we were just going to hang it on the wall), and turned it into an actual playable instrument – in a different key than it was born in. It was a B flat cornet now it’s a C cornet that actually works. 

But what happens when (if) she retires?! 

“I personally don’t feel like everybody should go to a four year university. Not that there’s anything wrong with universities, but not everybody. And so, as sort of a retirement plan, I would like to start a repair course in one of the local high schools because they have too many instruments, the instruments aren’t getting repaired correctly. And so all I can do is train more people. So I would like to start that as a high school course. And then when the kids who catch on great – that’s a career for them!

“To be very good at this, you have to really love doing it. It’s a complicated job and if you’re repairing all the instruments, there’s a lot of nuances. I’ve been doing this for so long and I’d say I really got good at it after 20 years of doing it. And there are very few coming up who really love it enough to do it. I want to start a school in it and see if I can instill that [love] in them because I think it’s got to come from an external force where they go ‘Look at how cool this is… this is awesome!’ I think that’s what it’s gonna take. But yeah, I do have concerns about the future of repair. They think everybody should be in STEM (which started out being STEAM but they dropped the ‘Art’).” 

Cyn hopes to see more realistic, hands-on training. “We need plumbers, we need electricians, we need, you know, all of it… [instead of] thinking that every kid should become an engineer.” For her part, Cyn continues to serve her community, doing repairs for the current crop of students and helping train a new generation of repair heroes.