In 1980 Robin and Debbie Amend opened Amend Music Center with a basic goal of wanting to help people play music.
It was a tough year. A few months after they opened, Mount St. Helen’s erupted. “Nobody was out in Spokane during the clean up. No one could even drive. We were just barely getting started,” Robin Amend said. “I don’t know how we even made it,” his wife Debbie Amend added.
They did make it. Their business has steadily grown for 30 years. Robin Amend has written books and lectured all over the Inland Northwest. They started out repairing instruments; then customers asked them to have instrument rentals and sales, so they did. Customers spoke again, spurring recent growth in piano music.
As one of the largest music repair stores statewide, they crank out 800 to 1,000 instrument repairs in the summer – all done by Robin Amend and his son Paul.
Robin Amend credits much of the store’s success to his wife. “It has a lot to do with Debbie. She does a lot of things behind the scenes keeping everything going on paper, paying bills etc.”
Paul Amend came to work at the store six years ago, specializing in stringed instrument repair. He stays busy with piles of instruments needing repair.
On a recent visit, he described the intricate carpenter-like work involved: “Someone dropped their violin and it broke, with bad cracks,” he said. “The center is where the sound post is. Something must have hit it there. I have to inlay the patch so it’s flush, which involves drilling and sanding, so it won’t split back open.”
Robin Amend has enjoyed rewarding work in assistive music technology. Years ago he met Lukas Bratcher, who had a passion to play music, in spite of being quadriplegic. Amend designed a way for Bratcher to play his euphonium with a joystick device. The two caught the attention of movie producer George Lucas, who sent his film crew to develop a piece about Bratcher and his journey with the Amend device for Edutopia and the George Lucas Education Foundation.
Amend and Bratcher received an open invitation to the exclusive Skywalker Ranch in California. Amend hasn’t gone yet, but Bratcher has. Bratcher went on to play with the Oregon Crusaders Drum and Bugle Corps and is a recent graduate of Whitworth University.
Amend recently did maintenance work on Bratcher’s instrument and moved on to the next challenged customer wanting to play music. One such customer was professional musician, Canadian David MacDonald, who performs around the world.
“I had a shoulder injury and surgery which gave me trouble lifting my flute for long periods of time,” MacDonald said. “Robin modified my flute head joint so that I could play it in front of me. It worked.”
Another customer with multiple sclerosis needed help holding her trumpet, due to a lack of hand mobility. A drummer just inquired about a foot pedal problem due to MS as well. Challenging inquiries keep coming.
The Amend Music Center is home to more than a dozen professional musician studios, private lessons, Kindermusik, ballet and the Youth Symphony’s library. The store conveys a relaxed neighborhood atmosphere, with old instruments and a collection of about 60 old marching band uniforms lining its walls.
When the Amend Family isn’t at work helping others play music, they enjoy listening to a variety of music, but are especially fond of Irish band Dropkick Murphys. The Amends have three musically inclined, grown children, including Holly Amend, trombonist, band and chorus director, who has a studio in the store; son Mark Amend is a college student and plays trumpet.
“Music was not a family requirement, but we all ended up doing it because music was just always around,” Paul Amend said.
After 30 years in business, living and breathing music, the beat goes on, perhaps with the upbeat Dropkick Murphys’ bagpipe tune “Cadence to Arms” playing in the background.