Last week marked the first week of band and orchestra classes for a new crop of young musicians in the Northshore School District — an event that might leave parents wondering how to obtain instruments for their children and, more importantly, how much it’s going to cost.
Local music stores recommend renting a child’s first instrument.
“When anybody starts an instrument, they should just rent one to start, because they don’t know if they’re going to like it,” said Henry Bischofberger, owner of Henry Bischofberger Violins in Kirkland.
Katie Wilson, manager of Music & Arts in Bothell, expressed a similar sentiment: “We definitely focus on our rentals...We realize that students are being exposed to music in the fourth or fifth grade.” Students may not be sure they want to play forever, Wilson said.
In the Northshore School District, Elementary Band is offered to fifth and sixth graders and Elementary Orchestra is offered to fourth through sixth graders. Band and orchestra classes meet two or three times per week, and students ride the junior high bus to their designated band or orchestra sites. A shuttle bus returns them to their elementary schools after music class.
Music & Arts, a national music store chain, offers “everything under the sun,” including obscure instruments, Wilson said. The store in Bothell (stores.musicarts.com/bothell) offers rentals and sales (as well as lessons and repairs), and most student musicians opt for Music & Arts’ rent-to-own program. Every rental payment goes toward the cost of the instrument, and renters can trade instruments for a bigger size at no charge. Renting costs about $200 per year.
For most instruments, a basic model — used — starts at $200, Wilson said. New instruments start at $700. Some instruments are more expensive — cellos start at $700 used and saxophones start at $500.
If students aren’t sure which instrument they want to play, they can try two or three in the store.
“We’ll have students that come in and pick an instrument because their friends are playing it,” Wilson said. Some students follow a family tradition of playing a certain instrument. “Or they just think it’s cool, which are the best ones.”
Other local music stores focus only on band instruments or orchestra instruments. As the name would suggest, Henry Bischofberger Violins (hkbviolins.com) deals only in violins, violas and cellos. Bischofberger brings his expertise as a third-generation violin maker to buying, selling, renting, repairing and appraising instruments out of his home in Kirkland.
The instruments he sells are higher-quality than most, he says, and he cautions people about cheap instruments they find online at prices that seem too good to be true.
“People can’t tell the difference, because a violin looks like a violin. It’s really tricky,” he said.
People often buy instruments online for $200 to $300 and then bring them to him to get them repaired “so they sound decent,” he said. But it’s not worth putting time and money into repairing a cheap instrument. Even after the repairs, it will still only be worth what you originally paid for it.
Bischofberger rents kids’ violins and violas starting at $100 plus tax per three months. Cellos are twice that, and larger rentals cost more.
To buy instruments, full-sized violins start at $1,200, he said. The first nine months of rental payments can be applied to purchase.
At Duvall Music (duvallmusic.net), owner J.D. Alvarez specializes in band instruments — flutes, clarinets, alto saxophones, trumpets and trombones. He rents them out for $20 per month, including maintenance, in a rent-to-own program. Most of his instruments retail at $395, with saxophones going for $595 to $695.
Alvarez, a saxophone player, used to teach band, then taught saxophone repair and violin repair at Renton Technical College. At Duvall Music, he buys used instruments in “various forms of disarray.”
The metal and plastic parts basically last forever, he said, but he replaces natural parts and cleans them up before renting them.
“Even if they look bad, an instrument can play great,” he said. “But if they don’t look shiny, [kids] don’t want to play.”