The cost of being a musician

August 04, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

The oboe comes first in Sarah Hurd's musical world.

She wanted to play in sixth grade, when classmates were choosing their first instruments. But oboe was not on the list.

She picked the flute.

The next year, she added the oboe, too.

Hurd, who will be a senior at Smithsburg High School this fall, has stuck with both. After renting a flute and using a school oboe, she and her family decided to buy one of each.

Hurd said her mother bought a flute an auction for $50.

"It was a fluke," Hurd said.

The oboe cost about $4,000 new. Hurd said it was a good deal, though, considering that oboes are rare and expensive around here. She bought hers through a professional musician in Pittsburgh.


Hurd said the new oboe made a big difference. On the school instrument, "I sounded really bad," she said. "It made things more of a pain than a joy."

Tri-State students usually rent instruments when they start playing in school bands and orchestras. Sometimes, schools have extras they can lend.

Chambersburg (Pa.) Area Senior High School typically has a supply of french horns, baritone horns, bass clarinets, bassoons, baritone saxophones, timpani and chimes, former band director Lynn Lerew said.

Band directors never force an instrument on a student, he said. But, at the same time, a band can't have 30 students on drums, 15 on saxophones and none on other instruments.

Jefferson (W.Va.) High School loans many of the same brass and percussion instruments to students, said William Lanxner, the assistant band director.

Rob Hovermale, a music resource specialist for the Washington County Board of Education, said the school district and the Maryland Symphony Orchestra have been soliciting used instruments from the public so students will have more choices.

As of last month, Hovermale said the public had contributed four or five clarinets, two violins, a trombone and a drum.

In the mid- to late-1990s, saxophones were very popular and bands were loaded with them, Hovermale said. The popularity of other brass instruments and woodwind instruments has stayed constant.

Hovermale said Washington County's middle school band directors visit fifth-grade students to talk to them about instruments they might want to play the following year and to give them fliers from shops that rent them.

For beginners, "typically, it's better to rent" rather than own an instrument, said Steve Neff, an employee at Carpenter's World of Music in Hagerstown.

Rental programs are usually "rent to own," meaning a student owns the instrument after a certain period. Some programs require about 54 payments, but that can vary, Neff said.

For violins and trumpets, Carpenter's World of Music charges $24 for the first three months and $24 per month after that, he said. Larger instruments cost more.

During the first three months, students may change their minds and switch instruments.

Renting makes sense when you consider that a beginning single french horn might cost about $1,800 and a double might cost about $2,500, Lanxner said.

A Web site called recently advertised a single french horn for as low as $499.

Hovermale said the caveat with buying used instruments, especially over the Internet, is that they're more prone to breakdowns.

A student beginner's trumpet might cost $300 to $500 new, Lanxner said. A high school musician who continues to play in college probably should get a better model, he said.

Tyler Sosby, who will be a junior this fall at South Hagerstown High School, said he chose the saxophone in sixth grade because he liked the sound. When he realized he would stick with it, he said, he bought a saxophone at a music shop in Virginia for $800.

Sosby plans to major in music - possibly starting at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., then maybe at a larger school.

Hurd, who also plays the baritone saxophone now, said she wants to be an oboe performance major in college, then a professional musician.

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