The Role of Retailers

The music store is more than just a place to buy your instrument and supplies. These days, many retailers are also serving as advocates and educators, repairing instruments on site at marching competitions, sponsoring groups and hosting clinics to improve students’ skills.

Photo courtesy of Woodwind & Brasswind

While marching with the Syracuse University Marching Band, Katrina Koerting’s clarinet split in half as she moved her instrument in a horn swing. “The top part flew off and smashed into the ground and bent the keys, so you couldn’t get any sound out of it unless you were playing a G, an F, an E or a D,” she says.

Luckily, a repairman at a local music store fixed the clarinet within a week. For music retailers, repairing instruments is just one of the ways they support the marching arts. Nowadays, retailers find themselves in educator roles not only with their traditional individual lessons but also by hosting group clinics. They have also opened up their pocketbooks to provide financial backing to marching competitions.

Repair Technician

These days, even repairs are being done innovatively. The Itasca location of Music & Arts Center—a Frederick, Md.-based retail chain with almost 100 locations— sends instrument technicians to marching band competitions. Under time restraints, they fixed a dropped clarinet right before a group competed in the Lake Park High School’s Lancer Joust Marching Band Competition, and they gave another student a loner sax to play after he tripped and fell, says Pete Pacini, store manager.

Similarly, family-owned McCutcheon Music in Centerville, Ohio, has been the official music store for the Bands of America (BOA) Regional Championship at Centerville High School for the past two years. The store sent two repair technicians to fix bent keys and other small catastrophes.

Storeowners Jim and Debbie McCutcheon were surprised when they received an email to take on this responsibility, but they were excited to help. “We really like to be a supporting part of the music community here in our region,” Jim McCutcheon says. “We saw this as a way to add to the quality of the BOA program and also a way to meet people who may not know about us.”

Financial Supporter

Other music retailers such as Meyer Music, a family-owned music store with three locations in the Kansas City area, supports competitions financially. Each year, Meyer Music sponsors the shiny trophies the top bands receive at several Kansas and Missouri contests.

“We make a financial contribution, which really goes right to the bottom line of their expenses,” Tom Meyer says.

Likewise, the big, rock-star competitions— Drum Corps International World Championships and Music for All’s BOA Grand National Championships— receive some monetary support from NAMM, an international music products association. NAMM is just one of several sponsors of those events.

“We want to support these really vibrant band programs,” says Mary Luehrsen, executive director of the NAMM Foundation. “And DCI is a remarkable national program; it is just the epitome of music making for many kids.”

The music products industry also donates funds to music research. In the past 10 years, NAMM has given $3.2 million to music-related research. “We have this belief, this tradition, of believing that music is important for education, but we really needed the good, solid research to tell us why it mattered and why it’s important,” Luehrsen says.

NAMM has also spoken with the United States Secretary of Education to stress music education’s importance as a core academic subject, Luehrsen says.

On a more local scale, music retailers are reaching out to the general community to help give kids access to music.

“Our work with local charities such as the Boys & Girls Club and Salvation Army is starting to give a new generation of students the opportunity to learn music, a chance they may not otherwise have had,” says Jenna Grisham, school marketing manager for Woodwind & Brasswind.

Similarly, Meyer Music reaches out to high schools in need. When a tornado hit Chapman (Kansas) High School in June 2008, Meyer Music donated $7,500 worth of musical instruments. “I don’t know if what we supplied totally got them back, but it certainly helped,” Meyer says.


Not only do music retailers support memory-etching competitions, but they also provide hands-on learning experiences through private lessons, group clinics and online resources.

An advantage of getting private lessons in a store is that you are surrounded by experts and products. “People need to walk 15 feet from the lesson room if they need reeds, valve grease or sheet music; it’s all right in the store,” Pacini says.

Meyer Music’s three locations have about 150 instructors that give more than 2,500 lessons a week, Meyer says. As an added bonus, students have a chance to participate in recitals. Meyer Music has its own recital hall, which seats 150, within its main store.

McCutcheon Music only employs teachers with music degrees or people with résumés loaded with music experience. And they pack in teachers: 42.

McCutcheon Music actually began in 1988 as a teaching studio and later created a retail store.

“We’re an unusual store in that our focus is on education rather than on selling,” Debbie McCutcheon says.

Budding musicians can also participate in group clinics. Yamaha’s Sounds of Summer program, hosted by dozens of music retailers, allows drummers and mallet players to learn from top drum corps and university instructors such as Tom Aungst, Lee Beddis and Bret Kuhn.

Meyer has been hosting a clinic at a nearby high school since he became a Yamaha dealer about five years ago.

“It’s a good opportunity for students especially in 7th, 8th and 9th grade to be exposed to some top-level musicians,” Meyer says. “We have students that repeat year-to-year, so I think that they have a good time, learn some stuff and want to come back,” Meyer says.

Woodwind & Brasswind, which primarily operates as an online music store, also hosts several clinics each year in its South Bend, Ind., location.

While there is a lot to gain from in-person clinics, retailers are also harnessing our tech-savvy world to promote music within and beyond their immediate vicinity. Woodwind & Brasswind has partnered with to bring videos to home computers. Musicians can watch webcasts of master classes, rehearsals, concerts, recitals and convention seminars through its website at

And Meyer Music operates the website, which is a database with information about marching competitions and bands’ scores. “We list every contest that’s going on in the nine states in the Midwest,” Meyer says. “It’s a service to a lot of parents and schools that aren’t even necessarily our customers.”

Directors’ Best Friend

Regardless of whether music retailers are communicating with band directors through the Internet or in person, they want to create working relationships with schools. “If you go back to the ‘50s or ‘60s, the school districts had musical instrument repair departments as part of the school,” Luehrsen says. “But that has pretty much fallen away.”

What exist now are hand-in-hand relationships between music stores and schools for renting instruments, buying music and repairing equipment. “We have a road rep that comes to us every week from Music & Arts, and basically he travels about 45 to 50 miles to get to us,” says David Duffy, a director at West Johnston High School in Benson, N.C. Music retailers offer schools bulk pricing, which makes the purchases cheaper for the ensemble and for individual students. “Our school would usually get flip folders and lyres from a local music store, and it was just easier to go through school,” says Allyson Binversie who marched with the Roncalli High School Marching Band in Manitowoc, Wis., for four years.

These deals can also help rescue music programs. “We’ve had many occasions where a special package deal was made available, and a school was able to start or restart a music program,” Grisham says.


Currently, many students don’t really think about retailers’ broader musical efforts. “I think of a music store more as a repair and supply kind of shop,” Binversie says. “It’s nice if music stores provide extra educational opportunities.”

Koerting echoes the sentiment. “While they’re there to hopefully help their profits, I think they honestly do care about music in general, or they wouldn’t have gone into it as a profession,” she says.

The businesses, on the other hand, say they are truly fighting for music education. “There are countless reasons why music education is important: discipline, teamwork, cultural awareness, stress relief, sense of achievement, self-expression, sense of belonging and social development; the list could go on and on,” Grisham says. “Everyone associated with the music community has an obligation to help keep music alive.”

About author

Sabrina Lochner

Sabrina Lochner, a senior at Syracuse University, is majoring in magazine journalism and political science and minoring in architecture. She currently serves the Syracuse University Marching Band as head drum major and has served as the band’s associate drum major for two years. She has played the clarinet since fifth grade and is a sister of Tau Beta Sigma, National Honorary Band Sorority.

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