Back to school for band & orchestra: The art of extracting petrified hot dogs

One family-run business is helping get musical instruments ready – and hot dog free – in time for back-to-school rentals of band and orchestra instruments.

Lisa Suhay
David Cline, owner of Calamas Instrument Repair Service in Norfolk, Va. bangs out dents from a brass instrument to prepare it for use by students in the new school year.

The man who repairs marching band and orchestra instruments for a host of schools in Virginia and North Carolina has some back-to-school advice for the parents of young musicians, “Don’t let your kids use their instrument cases like a lunch box or backpack.”

David Cline, owner and head technician at Calamas Musical Instrument Repair service sits in a long narrow room that smells of machine oil and musty, velvet-lined instrument cases, his eyes magnified by a jeweler’s lens visor as he works to breathe life back into a badly abused trumpet that will soon be back in the hands of an eager student.

Mr. Cline's shop also saved the day for the eight-man American reggae and dub band SOJA during a recent visit to Norfolk, Va. when tenor saxophone player Hellman Escorcia experienced catastrophic instrument failure shortly before a performance. 

“It always feels good to be able to get a performer back on the stage,” Cline says.. “I feel just as good about helping someone famous as I do a kid in school. If that student goes without an instrument will he or she ever become famous? So it’s all important.”

Calamas Musical Instrument Repair Service in Norfolk, Va. is among many repair shops of its kind nationwide currently working the kinks out of clarinets, taking the dents out of brass instruments, and removing the occasional hot dog out of a marching band tuba.

“Oh yeah, we get some interesting stuff out of the instruments,” says Cline. “Most of the time it’s because kids use their instrument cases like backpacks. So we get pencils, erasers, a super ball or two, but mostly food lodged in the brass and wind instruments.”

So far the most memorable things to pop out of an instrument he was repairing was a dead bird and a petrified hot dog that looked almost good as new.

“I’m pretty sure the hot dog was creepier than the bird because you have to imagine the sheer volume of chemicals it must take to keep a hot dog looking that good after months and months inside a tuba,” says Cline.

Cline warns parents, “Kids like to put their lunches and snacks in the same case as their instrument and so it’s never a surprise to see roaches and other bugs swarm out of a case we open here.”

This tells me, the mom who has had sons in marching band and chamber orchestra, that if you can’t figure out how your house got bugs, you might want to check the instrument cases. Then add a new lunchbox to the back-to-school shopping list.

I know about Calamas because our eldest son, Zoltan who is now a junior in college, worked as the Calamas delivery helper and trainee during his freshman year of high school.

When I visited a business nearby there last week, I stopped in to say hello and realized that the man at the workbench, and others like him across the country, are a rarely recognized key part of our schools’ music programs.

While there are band instrument repair schools, Cline learned the craft from his father who also learned as an apprentice as part of a family business built around keeping instruments in fine fiddle. He started in his own family’s business back in 1980, filling the same role my son filled for the business – pickup and delivery.

When he had proven to be reliable, his father began to teach him the basics of how to repair brass instruments using a host of iron rods and curved rod “hammers” to gently work out the dents from the inside out.

Then he learned to cut precise little circles of cork to create pads for flutes and woodwind keys before moving on to fixing percussion instruments from snare to timpani drums.

“The business was started by a Greek man named Bud Calamas in the late ‘60s and he trained my dad back in 1975,” Cline explains. “My dad helped train me and then over time dad bought the business and my sister Paula Sexton and I took it over from dad.”

Today, Cline says this mom-and pop-shop’s biggest competition is the Little Creek School of Music, a nearby trade school which trains instrument repair technicians to service musical instruments for the US military bands.

Cline explains that there’s a glut of technicians on the market which has eaten into the family’s business.

While they are well trained, he believes that most can’t match the level of excellence reached by any generationally owned, family operated business, where sons and daughters have their parents voices in their heads and a cherished tradition inspiring and informing their work.

When kids return to classrooms, parents may want to educate them about the hands behind the instruments they are bringing home and the labor that goes into restoration.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Back to school for band & orchestra: The art of extracting petrified hot dogs
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today