COLUMBIA — Soft plinks, a familiar sound in a music shop, echo from Jerry Rowden's workbench. A clarinet sits in front of Rowden, but he isn't playing it — he's taking off each of its keys. Later, he will scrape off the old cork lining at the junctions of the clarinet's three pieces, rinse and scrub the body until it shines, replace the cork, and fasten each key back in its proper place.
He'll play a few scales on the rejuvenated clarinet to make sure it's back in working condition. But for now, the tiny plinks continue and the pile of silver keys grows larger.
Rowden has been working with musical instruments since fifth grade, when he began playing trumpet in band. He earned a bachelor's degree in music education from Emporia State University in Kansas, played music professionally for a while and held several jobs in music stores, including sales associate, manager and road salesman. But he ultimately decided his true interest was instrument repair.
Rowden opened Jerry’s Instrument Repair, 111 E. Walnut St., in May 2007. Since, Rowden has rarely been without a project — French horns, saxophones, flutes, baritones and oboes all see time on his table. When he’s not completing a specific customer order, he’s refurbishing used instruments for rent or resale.
Being a performer in the music business requires a certain level of creativity, Rowden said, but so does his job.
“I’m more creative with trying to figure out how to solve a problem on an instrument," he said. "You can imagine how many things a sixth-grader can do to a tuba.”
And though he studied for two years to earn a vocational certification in instrument repair, traditional schooling can only teach so much.
"You learn how to fix instruments while sitting at the bench and actually fixing instruments," he said. "And so a lot of it is scratching your head. ... 'How am I going to do this?'"
Jerry’s Instrument Repair is a one-man show — Rowden is the owner, proprietor, accountant, head repairman and customer service representative. He frequently has to work into the evening or come to the store on days off to make sure everything continues to run smoothly. But even with the extra hours, Rowden has no complaints about his job.
“This is like having my basement workshop in a different location,” he said.