“A Day in the Life of …” is a new series on Clarinet Chronicles to show a typical day in the life of clarinetists in different sectors of the clarinet industry. If you would like to be featured, please contact us on social media.
Melanie Wong is a clarinet repair technician for RDG Woodwinds.
In the world of repair, no two days are ever alike. It’s always a whirlwind of problem solving, tedious jobs, fun machining projects, and acting as a sounding board for our clients. Some days you never get a break and there are lots of long hours involved and emergencies that come up along the way. It’s an ever-changing schedule and we accommodate our clients as best we can!
So this is just one example of what I might call an “ideal” day:
7:30am: Wake up, scramble some eggs and brew coffee, pack snacks for the day, and get in some quality time with my husband and baby before leaving for work.
10:00am: Drive to work at the perfect time to hit only mild LA traffic. 35 minutes to travel 13 miles—just enough time to enjoy one of my favorite podcasts like “How I Built This” or “Invisibilia.” (*For reference, if I leave much earlier, my commute can take over an hour!)
10:40am: Arrive at RDG Woodwinds after grabbing an iced latte from Coffee+Food (yum!). Head to my bench, throw on my least dirty apron, organize my desk from the previous day, and await my first client.
11:00am: My first client arrives and drops off a Bb clarinet for an “Annual Maintenance”. We chat briefly about anything specific that’s been bugging them.
11:15am: Tackling the upper joint—first I’ll clean out the tone holes (you wouldn’t believe what collects inside them over the course of a year!), clean the keys and body, check the pads, check tenon and bumper corks, and immediately remove and replace anything that is obviously worn out or missing. Tone holes are checked for levelness and the pores are sealed. Then I go key by key checking each one for an airtight seal, proper key height, and crisp spring tension. I also quiet each key by removing any excess “play” or slop in the mechanism and oiling it.
12:45pm: Lunch! At RDG, we’re known for our tasty lunch choices. Isom Station, Lemonade and Patty’s are among my favorites.
1:15pm: A curious clarinetist wanders into the shop to try some barrels. We have oh so many choices of tapers and materials, so it pays to spend a few minutes explaining all of the differences to help in her decision-making process.
1:30pm: An RDG customer from out of state has some instruments on trial and needs advice on choosing his new clarinet. Aiding customers in choosing instruments and accessories is a very regular part of the day.
1:45pm: Tackling the lower joint from this morning’s original job—the process is nearly the same as the upper joint, though with far fewer pads and corks, and much more challenging mechanical nuances. Straightening out the left pinky levers and balancing the spring tensions for all the pinky keys are often some of the trickiest parts of the job, but can be the most rewarding when you really take the time to get them just right!
3:15pm: The “Annual Maintenance” is all done and ready for play testing and fine adjustments.
3:30pm: A new client arrives with a newly purchased bass clarinet that has gone out of adjustment. For this job, the pads and corks are all decent and the mechanism is still reasonably quiet. This client knows she’ll be coming back for more major work once the instrument is fully broken in, so it’s more about quick playability than absolute perfection at this point. I start from the top and work my way all the way down to the low C, adjusting the balance of the entire instrument to put this beast back into business!
4:30pm: Hunger strikes and it’s the perfect time to eat my snacks and take a break. Usually I’ve got some good fruits and a granola bar or two. It’s also a great time to check emails and respond to appointment requests.
5:00pm: Later in the day is when I like to do “prep” for any big job like an overhaul or key building project. Today it’s an overhaul, so that means disassembling the instrument and removing every single pad, bumper cork and tenon cork. Then the body, tenons, sockets, posts, springs, rods/screws, and keys all need to be completely cleaned, degreased and polished. All new tenon corks need to be cut, wrapped and finished on the lathe with beveled edges. All the tone holes must be leveled and sealed. Cork pads are made and then glued into their respective keys, along with the other pads and bumper corks. Phew!
7:30pm: Traffic is dying down now and it’s a good time to clean up, pack up and respond to some emails before making the trek home.
8:00pm: My 13 mile commute now only takes 25 minutes. Hooray!
8:25pm: Home with my family and ready to eat some dinner and relax before doing it all over again tomorrow.