Repair man, gigging pro, educator and all-around trumpet aficionado, Adam Borden has a lot to say about his recent and more distant musical past. I am excited to share our conversation, culminating with some final words of wisdom for anyone with a wind instrument in the home. Enjoy! And take heed, you handy dad, you.
Let’s start with a little bit about your musical background. Did you start on piano?
When I was really young, like 7, i had a couple piano lessons. If I remember correctly, I spent more time hanging out and talking with the teacher than actually playing piano. I consider when I started trumpet to be when I actually started music.
And when did you start trumpet?
4th grade, beginning band.
Do you recall why you chose to play trumpet? Did you have one already in the house?
I actually wanted to play drums, but my mom was like, “No, you are not playing drums. They’re too loud”. So instead of drums, I picked trumpet. I don’t know if if was any better, as far as loudness. A few weeks before band started, we had like an “Instrument Petting Zoo” where the band director let us try all the instruments. I guess I thought trumpet was cool, and I got a good sound out of it. The band director, who was awesome, he was the third grade teacher, band director, and later ended up being the principal (and a really big influence on my life) actually repaired instruments, so we ended up renting a trumpet from him.
I know you grew up in the Bay Area. Was this school you’re talking about, the one that you started on trumpet, in Walnut Creek?
Well, I was adopted. I was in foster care down in San Diego, and when I was adopted, I moved up here to Pleasant Hill, and I was going to a small private school in Concord.
I feel like it can be very difficult for students to move beyond just playing in school. So often we just follow the route of wind ensemble, marching band, etc. and never move to playing outside school, especially for wind players. Do you remember how you got over that hurdle?
Yeah, that is actually a huge problem! There’s no reason to get stuck. Some people get stuck after high school, but a lot of people actually go to college and major in music – but the school doesn’t teach them how to get gigs outside of school!
So my parents were very religious, and they put me in a small, religious high school that had a sh**** music program. It was funny because the elementary school I went to was a K-8, and they were really well-known for music. We actually filled most of the seats in the county and state honor band. But then all the high schools it fed into had THE WORST band programs! They poured a bunch of money into the sports, but the arts got nothing. The choir was really awesome, since we were all church people and sang all the time. I really wanted to keep playing trumpet though, so I went out and found a teacher and community band.
I started playing in the Walnut Creek Big Band, The Young Artist Symphony Orchestra, Concord Blue Devils, and I started taking lessons with Mike Rose, who was a sub for Tower of Power and Cold Blood – he was a pro musician that was out there gigging every weekend. After I graduated high school, I went to DVC and kept taking lessons with him. He actually had me sub for his band! So before I took the Steve Sage class at DVC, I was already subbing for Soul Bands. Steve taught me way more about what it was to be a professional musician, but the big jump for me was community band. I knew that there was music in the community. I met a bunch of pro musicians and “weekend warrior” type guys.
When I think of community band, I think retirees. Did the band you played with have a wider age range?
You know, it’s really interesting. It ends up being retirees and really good high school students. For the solo spots, you need someone that practices every day, and that’s not usually your average retiree. So if you get high schoolers to fill the solo spots, then you have a great band! Even though there are not as many community bands now, the JC (junior college) bands are now filling those spots.
You said you’re on the way to band rehearsal right now – is this the same kind of band?
I’m on the way to Las Positas. Mario Silva is teaching some brass there, and he heard that their big band was missing a lead player, so he recommended me. They’re in the middle of building up their band. The trombone section is pretty empty, but they have a decent trumpet section and a few saxes, and they’re putting a rhythm section together. It’s a couple pros, lots of weekend warrior types and some high school kids.
Looking back at your music education after high school, was that primarily Diablo Valley College (DVC)?
Well I went to DVC and took a speech class. Turns out I was really good at public speaking, and did really well in competitions. The instructor of the DVC class recommended me for the rhetoric department at UC Berkeley, which I ended up applying for, and eventually graduating from. In the middle of all this though, I was in the symphonic band, jazz combo, big band, and I was still doing Blue Devils and a bunch of community bands. By that time I had started playing with some corporate bands, and a neo-swing band called Lost Dog Found. By that time, music was my main income, so I was just teaching lessons and doing gigs.
I always like to ask, since you’ve had so many music teachers over the years – does anything in particular stick out to you? Any little tidbits, lessons, saying, etc.?
One of the things that always stuck out to me was rehearsal etiquette. My teacher would always say, “You guys are too good to talk this much,” or “You’re too good to waste this much time.” It got me to view rehearsal as a thing that I’m building with these other people. There’s no reason not to do what we came here to do. I have nothing else to do right now, except to get better at my instrument, and to get better at playing this music with these people.
I also remember back in 5th grade I played this solo, and the teacher just stopped. He said,”That was really good. If you really practice, you can make a living playing this instrument for the rest of your life. But you’re really going to have to work at it.” So I think, “Ok! I guess that’s what we’re doing!”
With Mike Rose, he did a really great job of showing me the realistic side of music. He was out there doing it – gigging every night, making money. He was a full time trumpet player! He really showed me what it took to do it, and taught me basically that I didn’t know sh*t yet. But he eventually had me sub gigs for him! That was a pretty big deal, for me. Definitely a good sign.
Now when did you start doing more teaching?
So sophomore year, my parents moved us up to outside of Placerville. They wanted to move up to a farm and “go country” for some reason. It ended up not working out, because city-people moving to the country only works out in the movies. It was like, a 45 minute drive to school every day! But that was my first experience in a marching band, and I got hooked! I was going to camps, practicing marching, learning how to be a drum major, which led me to audition for Blue Devils when we moved back to Concord. After being in the Blue Devils, I actually went back to my old high school and taught clinics and workshops, which was my first time teaching. I started doing private lessons after that, driving around to students homes (while I was in school at UC Berkeley). I also taught a band class for Danville Park and Rec.
I know you were back to teaching high school band again this marching season. Will you please talk a bit about that experience?
We were doing a field show, which is really involved! Having choreographed dances, while playing instruments, plus all these props and recorded stuff, PA systems – it’s a whole big deal, especially in Pleasanton & Livermore, where you have these really well-funded programs. It takes a lot of specialized knowledge to put this together. I was hired to help put it all together.
Oh, so you were one of several teachers?
Yes, each of these programs has at least 4 or 5 guys. I was at Dublin High School. I was hired as “Brass Capitain Head,” which means that I was in charge of them, musically, but I ended up doing a lot more than that. They did really well! The kids are really involved. It’s amazing, when you have a group of students that really want to be there, the things that they can accomplish is just really insane! You know what I mean?
Definitely! I know that now you’ve moved on from the high school now though, when you got offered a full time job at Best Instrument Repair. Let’s talk a little about how you got involved with that.
I’ve always been really handy, like working on my car, building computers, and later working with my girlfriend’s jewelry company. There’s actually a lot of crossover with building and repairing jewelry, especially with the tools we use. I already had small pliers, small screwdrivers & other specialized things. I’ve always been interested in instrument repair, and when I started working at Music Time, there were instruments that could either be shipped out, or worked on here. I started setting aside money to get more tools, and started practicing. Once you have the right tools, it’s really not that hard to do most of the repairs.
Yeah, I would imagine it’s a lot of the same repairs coming in.
It’s about 75% the same, and then 25% of it are just instruments that have been abused into oblivion! That’s where the really specialized tools come in.
Your job now is with woodwinds specifically?
Best repair is really one of the top repair shops on the West Coast, so people come in from all over. We also service a bunch of other shops in the area, like House of Woodwinds or Union in San Francisco – we are their repair shop. There’s also a delivery guy that drives around to all of the high schools and middle schools during the week to pick up more repairs. Because it’s so busy, we have departments. 4 people that do just woodwinds, 3 on brass, another string guy and a couple retail people. I’ve got a big shelf that’s never empty. As soon as I get it to be almost empty, my boss comes and puts a bunch more stuff on it!
As a final thought, let’s end with some words of wisdom on instrument care!
Don’t let your dad work on instruments! I totally get it, because I would think, “Oh, I’ll just get my wrench and fix that!” But most of the time, taking a wrench to it, only makes it worse. Don’t let your dad “fix” your instrument, and also – get it cleaned once a year! If you take it in and get it cleaned, it will keep it from having any major repairs later on because we’ll catch anything. This will save you money in the long run. If you let 5 years go by without taking it in, we’re probably going to have to completely overhaul it, which is like $700 (as opposed to $50 a year to get everything taken care of).