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Musical Instruments - Elkhart, Indiana - Band Instrument Capital

Updated on July 27, 2017

Music Can Make Your World

Buy a musical instrument and change someone's life -- your own, your child's or someone else's. Making music has a lot to teach, and a lot of benefits to give.

It won't matter if it is a small instrument, even a kazoo, a tin flute, a tambourine - or a large one, like a Sousaphone, a marimba, or a cathedral pipe organ.

Okay, that last one you probably won't be bringing home in a box. But you get the idea.

There is a special day - May 22 - called Buy A Musical Instrument Day. I say, any day is a good day to begin playing music. Elkhart, Indiana is a historic home of band instrument manufacturing in the United States. This legacy goes back more than 100 years.

Photo by kimbesa. Selmer Bundy student model flute, circa 1967.

Selmer Flute student model Bundy
Selmer Flute student model Bundy

Play Flute?

It's not as hard as some think. If you can learn to blow across the hole, you've got a start.

I was in band in school. I played flute, alto sax and contrabass clarinet, at various times. (Although I didn't feature it in the instrument gallery below, you can buy a contrabass clarinet on Amazon.)

Since then, I have only picked up playing in small ways, from time to time. I have to refresh my memory of fingering and how to read music. But for me, it's like riding a bike. I still have my flute, and the ripples of that time - parades, concerts, halftime shows and even band practice -- are still active in the pond.

Photo by kimbesa. Selmer Bundy student model flute, circa 1967.

Home Of Band Instrument Manufacturing - Before The Days of RV Makers

Elkhart, Indiana (Images of America)
Elkhart, Indiana (Images of America)

Band instruments manufacturing is still an important industry here.

I love these old postcard books because they show lots of historic features of a place, and they often include cards that you would never find at shows or antique shops..

 
Hand polising a Selmer trumpet
Hand polising a Selmer trumpet

The Best Musical Instruments Are Handcrafted

Lots of Individual TLC

Hand craftmanship is a hallmark of the best musical instruments. I was fortunate enough to tour a musical instrument factory in the early 1980s, and see this work for myself.

Kids I went to school worked in them. Other kids from band, that is. The technicians had to be able to build and test the instruments.

Testing means playing. If you couldn't play, you couldn't test.

There have been stories around town as well, of people who made horns or flutes in their garage. It was said that famous players made trips to Elkhart, either to have their valuable instruments worked on, or to buy new ones.

Good musicians know how important good craftsmanship is. When playing music is your livelihood, you need an instrument that is up to the task.

I suppose that's still true, though perhaps fewer than there used to be, with all the foreign competition and general economic change. I'll find out, as I continue to explore the area. I've been away for many years, and now I'm spending a lot more time here.

For now, I couldn't say which instruments are made in Elkhart, which are not, and which are a hybrid of parts. What IS still true is that a well-made musical instrument is worth what you pay for it, because it makes playing music a joy. You won't be happy learning to play, if you have to fight a badly-made instrument.

About the image: Trumpet polishing is from a Selmer factory circa 1983. From my personal collection.

Photo by kimbesa

Conn Band Instrument Factory - Vintage Postcards From Elkhart, Indiana

Vintage Conn factory postcards Elkhart Indiana
Vintage Conn factory postcards Elkhart Indiana

About the images: Vintage postcards of the Conn musical instrument factory, Elkhart, Indiana. Top left, mounting oboe keys. Top right, trombone and baritone assembly. Bottom left, drilling bassoon tone holes. Bottom right, aerial view of the Conn factory.

At one time, this factory employed 900 skilled craftsmen and had capacity for 7500 instruments per month. Conn and Selmer were merged in 2002, after many phases of ownership. The old Conn building, in this postcard photo, is gone.

All postcards from my personal collection.

Photo by kimbesa

Band Kids | You Know Who You Are

Band metal sculpture Elkhart
Band metal sculpture Elkhart

Metal art, marching band sculpture, near the River Walk in Elkhart.

Photo by kimbesa

Were you in band...tell the truth!

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Elkhart, Indiana

Band City USA

Concord Band | A Snapshot In Time - One Writer's View Of An Elkhart Band

American Band: Music, Dreams, and Coming of Age in the Heartland
American Band: Music, Dreams, and Coming of Age in the Heartland

This book has gotten good reviews on Amazon. It is a snapshot in time, told through the stories of particular Concord band students and their experience in the music program.

I have this book; I've not read it yet. I was in this music program, though it was many years prior to author Kristen Laine's time in the area. Concord Schools are on the south edge of Elkhart, at a place called Dunlap.

Band programs like this don't spring from the earth fully formed, and it will be interesting to see how this author handled details of that history in her book. Can an outsider capture the sense of it?

It takes nothing away from her work, that there are more stories waiting to be told.

 
Selmer flute detail manufacturing mark
Selmer flute detail manufacturing mark

Selmer flute detail

Photo by kimbesa

Band Instruments In Detail

Band Instrument Maintenance And Repair
Band Instrument Maintenance And Repair

There are some things you can do yourself, if you're handy and have the right tools, to keep your instrument in good repair.

If you need an overhaul -- like my flute -- best left to a professional.

Photo by kimbesa

And Now, The Big Finish...

Stars And Stripes Forever - If You Were In Band, You Knew That

I'm still looking for the best video of bands playing this most well-known Sousa march. I'll take the Marines video as my favorite so far. Three piccolos is not overkill.

No band instrument study can be complete without saying something about Stars and Stripes Forever.

What surprised me was that some of the videos were actually dull! No character, no flourish. And if you don't have a piccolo player who can play the trio, you might as well not put this piece on the program.

(Too bad there was no YouTube in the Joe Beickman era of Concord Band history. He'd have had a proper video made, of a rousing rendition. And we would have kept doing it over until it was right, too...)

Is There A Musical Instrument In Your Future? - What Will It Be?

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    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Just had to go for the bis finish....yup, its always fun to do and always stirs me to hear it. Thanks for showing us the pride of Elkhart...quality for a lifetime...sharing with a FB like. Gotta get some music going again...nicely presented with love! :)

    • kimbesa2 profile image
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      kimbesa 4 years ago from USA

      @BowWowBear: I'm glad you found what you were looking for! Parades are so much fun. Can't help but get into the swing!

    • BowWowBear profile image

      BowWowBear 4 years ago

      Fun lens and came across it on a quest for summer fun! Bands and parades(what I was looking for) go great together. Fun lens with a lot of interesting tie-ins. Thanks for sharing!

    • Ann Hinds profile image

      Ann Hinds 5 years ago from So Cal

      My flute is a Bundy from Elkhart. I played it in the high school marching band. What fun we had!

    • kimbesa2 profile image
      Author

      kimbesa 5 years ago from USA

      @anonymous: I drive my their place often, but I had to limit my scope to band instruments. Perhaps they will get their own lens one day. Not surprising that a quality instrument is being made here, no doubt by people who are passionate about them!

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      anonymous 5 years ago

      Whoops, you forgot the Charles R Walter Piano Company. He bought the equipment from the Jansen Piano Co. and started making one of the best pianos in the world. The company is thriving even in the bad economy because of the quality of the instruments.

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      dream1983 5 years ago

      Fantastic lens, well done!

    • profile image

      Bobski606 5 years ago

      I have about 4 trombones and I love to play them. Each have a name and an individual character, my favorite is The Beast a bass trombone with an attitude!

    • Nancy Hardin profile image

      Nancy Carol Brown Hardin 5 years ago from Las Vegas, NV

      The only musical instrument I own is a zither, which is out of tune right now. But I had to visit this lens because I'm originally from Indiana, although I have lived in Las Vegas for many years due to my health. I still love my home state, and I'm proud of anything Indiana accomplishes. Blessed by a SquidAngel.

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      EpiphanyLondon 5 years ago

      I still have the alto saxophone I started with in 5th grade. Much later got a soprano sax too :-D

    • profile image

      grannysage 5 years ago

      My sister was in the band but I never learned to play a band instrument. I was into the guitar. I did know how to play a recorder at one time but have forgotten. I will have to live vicariously and listen to others play.

    • kimbesa2 profile image
      Author

      kimbesa 5 years ago from USA

      @AngryBaker: If you made up for it with pie, it could be considered an even trade!

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      AngryBaker 5 years ago

      I happen to be the world's worst clarinet player... everyone agreed it was a good thing for me to let it go....

    • kimbesa2 profile image
      Author

      kimbesa 5 years ago from USA

      @Charmcrazey: There is so much good piano training out there, new methods, lots more fun that years ago. That would be awesome, to start playing again!

    • Charmcrazey profile image

      Wanda Fitzgerald 5 years ago from Central Florida

      I played clarinet for one year in middle school. I also played the piano when I was a kid. I would love to buy another piano, maybe a used one and try to pick it up again.