Instrument Repairer Julie Jurgenson Brings Rochester Harmony to Kenya
Julie Jurgenson blesses the horns in Africa and leaves the rain to Toto.
She has worked as a musical instrument repair technician for 36 years and is the owner of JJ’s Horn Clinic, a band instrument repair shop located inside Rochester’s Schmitt Music.
In February, she took a 12-day trip to Kenya to offer her instrument repair skills to Rift Valley Academy (RVA).
The RVA is a boarding school that dates from 1906 and is located in Kijabe. Currently, it has about 460 students ranging in age from primary to secondary. Students come from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Australia and Europe. Most of the students are children of missionaries, but a small number are Kenyan national students and other expatriate non-mission students.
Jurgenson’s church, the Plainview Trinity Evangelical Free Church, has supported Elwood Nelson, one of RVA’s teachers, for over 21 years. “He told me there was an instrument repair shop on their campus, and he encouraged me to come and help train the technician,” Jurgenson says.
Last fall, the RVA group teacher reached out to Jurgenson for help with parts and supplies and mentioned that he heard she was coming to train their instrument repair technician. At the time, Jurgenson replied that she was too busy running her own business to make it happen.
Later, Jurgenson rethought his answer. “After reflecting on this conversation, I felt God tugging at my heart and I felt it was time to at least go check on the situation before committing to a long period of time. I didn’t realize it, all the pieces fell into place and I was on a plane to Africa,” she said.
After struggling with the paperwork currently required for international travel, Jurgenson packed 150 pounds of tools and supplies and flew to Kenya. Once there, she assisted the RVA instrument repair technician. Together they worked on around 25 instruments, including clarinets, saxes, flutes, trombones and trumpets.
“We just teamed up to get them fixed, and I was able to teach him new skills and processes while working side-by-side,” Jurgenson said. While the RVA instrument repair technician had trained with others, Jurgenson says he was “very grateful” for what she was able to teach him.
“A few instruments we worked on were from Nairobi,” Jurgenson said, “but the others were from students who attend RVA.”
The RVA school offers a fairly large orchestra program including a concert band, a symphony orchestra and a jazz orchestra. While at RVA, Jurgenson was able to hear some of the instruments she helped fix in action. “The students couldn’t have been more grateful to have their instruments repaired,” she said.
During his instrument repair work at RVA, Jurgenson learned more about Kenya. The school is located approximately one and a half hours from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. “It’s not like here where you can just go to the restaurant or the store. Life is slower and in some ways easier, even though most things are made from scratch. I can see why people want to raise their families in this atmosphere,” she said.
RVA’s group manager took Jurgenson to a wild game farm during his trip. “It was really amazing to see the animals in their natural habitat,” she said.
Jurgenson was surprised she had to hang her clothes on a line, which she says she hasn’t done in a long time.
“I saw how poor most parts of Kenya are,” she said. “I realize how much I have and have a new appreciation for what I have.”
In the future, Jurgenson hopes to return to the RVA school and says she will continue to gather supplies and tools there for instrument repair technology. “I would really like to come back for a month or two at a time,” she said, though she’s unsure if or when that might be possible.
“This trip has been an incredible experience and a true blessing for me,” Jurgenson said. “Over the years, many repair technicians have shared their skills and knowledge with me. It was time to give back.
To learn more about the Rift Valley Academy where Julie Jurgenson offered her skills in instrument repair, go to Rift Valley Academy – African Missionary School | Kijabe Kenya (rva.org).
John Sievers is a freelance writer from Rochester.