Winter is Coming: Prepare Your Fleet!

Mike Lawson • String Section • December 3, 2020

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If you are reading this in the Northern Hemisphere, then you know that aside from it being the most wonderful time of the year for everyone, it is also the time of the year where the weather transforms for most of us. If you are in one of those lucky places that do not get temperature and humidity extremes that some of us in the Midwest get, it is still a good time of year to look over your school instrument fleet for any needed repairs while there is a break in the action.

However, the principal topic of this article are some tips and tricks to keep your school fleet in good repair when we come back from what for many of us might be an extended break from physical school buildings. Also, some tips and tricks that you can easily pass on to your students to keep their rental or school instruments in good repair.

First, if you are anywhere that requires heat at any point in the year, please get a room humidifier for your main instrument room. Things get as dry as the desert fairly quickly once the heat goes on, so if you have an instrument storage area where you can safely set up one, it is well worth the investment, even if it is a bit of work for you to maintain. If you have a student assistant or TA, this is an easy job for them to take care of once or twice a week. Lots of modern HVAC systems in schools do a better job in the winter of keeping humidity higher, but often they are still drier than optimum.

Second, make sure as many of your instruments as possible (and I know this is not possible in every situation) are stored away from drafty windows and away from radiators and heat blowers. Just do a sweep of your instrument storage and as much as you can, move them away from these instrument destroyers as I call them. Cold shock/cracks in particular can set in quick and preventing half your cellos having a crack or open seam when you return after the holidays is worth a little extra policing.

Third, put in a maintenance request, or figure out who controls the temperature/humidity controls in your building/district. In most modern buildings these are controlled in multi-room zones, so all you have to do is request that they don’t turn the heat down as much in your zone while on break. 60F/15C is usually a nice happy medium that saves energy but also will keep your instruments from getting too cold. If you are in an older building without zone controls, talk to your custodian or head custodian (whom you should have a relationship with anyway) and just ask them to keep the room at a stable, not too cold temperature over the break.

For students who take instruments home, it is a great time to give them and their parents three rules for their instruments at home. Don’t leave it in the car. So many instruments get needlessly broken because they stayed in a car for an extended period.

Make sure your instrument is away from the heater/floor vent. You want that heat in your room, not making your instrument hot.

Make sure your instrument is hydrated. Take a zipper sandwich bag and a sponge, wet the sponge but squeeze out all the excess water, just leaving the sponge damp. Poke a few holes in the bag and stick it in a case pocket or area of the case that doesn’t directly touch the instrument. Note, this tip is usually more successful with older students and parents.

Hopefully, these tips and tricks can help keep your fleet strong through the winter to come, and save some post-holiday stress whenever you return to the school building.

Lesley Schultz currently teaches orchestra and secondary general music at Princeton City Schools (Cincinnati, OH). She earned her Bachelor of Music Education from West Virginia University and her Masters of Music Education from Ohio University. Lesley is a Level 2 Google Certified Educator. Lesley keeps an active performing schedule around the state of Ohio, performing with several regional symphonies on viola. She is a member of TI:ME and serves as OMEA Conference Liaison for OMEA and on the conference committee for TI:ME. Lesley is a columnist for SBO Magazine. In her copious amounts of spare time she enjoys knitting, watching West Virginia Mountaineer sports and spending time with her family.

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