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Music instrument repair guy is looking to change tunes

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Yvonne Boose
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Roger Morgan explaining the different tools he uses to fix certain musical instruments.

Roger Morgan started his musical instrument repair shop in the 80s.

Musical instrument repair shops are far and few between in northern Illinois. One musician is ready to close his shop and focus on a different type of art. He is hoping someone else can carry the torch for the sake of his customers.

Roger Morgan is the owner of Roger’s Music in DeKalb. He also plays guitar. He taught the art form at Elliot Music Center in downtown DeKalb for almost 25 years. He said the owner suggested he learn how to fix clarinets, so he started tinkering with the instrument. He realized, after a year of experimentation, he had a lot to learn.

“And I found a company called Allied Music up in Wisconsin just north of Lake Geneva, Elkhorn, Wisconsin,” he said, “and they offered a four-day 10-hour day course for repair guys who have just getting a taste of it and want to further their abilities. And it was perfect for me.”

Morgan said he still wasn’t sure what he wanted to learn. He started off learning dent repair work and each day he learned other things. But this four-day course wasn’t enough.

“And so, I found myself going back there maybe once every week or two, because you don't learn everything in this business in two weeks,” Morgan explained. “And I've come across a problem with a clarinet or a flute or something. 'How do you do this?' So, I get in the car and drive up there early in the morning.”

Morgan did that for a year or two but after a few years his trips became less frequent. Then the music store he worked for closed. He found himself without a repair space. He solicited his brothers to help build a wall in a garage behind his home. That work was completed over one weekend. Roger’s Music opened that following Monday.

He pointed to a picture of himself walking into his shop the day it opened.

“And that is April 18, 1988. And so what was that? Almost 33 years ago,” he added. “And that was before I had insulation and the drywall on the walls here.”

Most of Morgan’s business comes from music students.

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Yvonne Boose
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“Probably 80% of the kids in this area, but not just DeKalb,” he said. “We're talking Belvidere and Rockford and Janesville. Galena -- that's the other side of the state. South, oh, down to LaSalle, Peru area. They come up here.”

Rita Johnson brought her flute in for Morgan to repair last month. She’s known Morgan for many years. She taught music at the same repair shop he did.

“Over the years that I've been bringing instruments and sending students. I've sent them here because I know he's honest about what the instrument needs,” she said. “If it only needs one pad, he's going replace one pad. Other places where they bring it are going to tell you, ‘You need the whole instrument repadded.’”

Morgan is in his 70s and is ready to put down his repair tools. He wants to focus on another passion.

“A handle on the large knife I made was really pretty walnut. It's not normal walnut. Normal walnut is not real impressive,” he explained. That's just regular walnut nothing special about it.”

Morgan makes small wooden trinkets, Christmas ornaments, clocks in the shapes of watches, puzzles, and numerous other wooden creations. He spends time doing this outside of his instrument repair hours but said that’s not enough time to work on what he wants to. He expressed a desire to someday sell his work at different area art festivals.

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Yvonne Boose
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Wooden Christmas ornaments created by Roger Morgan.

Morgan said the transition into retirement will be slow. He explained that there are not a lot of people in the area who offer this type of work. He’s taking three days a week off right now and said he will gradually work himself out of business. He’s hoping to find an apprentice but isn’t looking for them to take over his shop since it's a part of his home. He wants them to start something on their own.

  • Yvonne Boose is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project. It's a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms like WNIJ. You can learn more about Report for America at wnij.org.