Ellis Music still resonates in schools

Robert Layman / Staff Photo
Jonathan Ranney, who’s been with Ellis for 23 years, works on fixing a bassoon that dates back to the early fifties. Ranney said there’s a lot of history in old pieces like the one he fixes, for isntance, the origin stamp clarifies “MADE IN GERMANY U.S. ZONE,” indicating it’s from a post WWII time period.

By Briana Bocelli

The man remembers standing as a young boy in a crowd of people in a dimly lit music hall, patiently awaiting the main event.

A familiar face appeared on stage and the room erupted in applause. A spotlight illuminated the man on stage and everything went silent.

Then the man in the spotlight began to play, and the boy’s eyes glimmered as the music coursed through his body and into his soul.

That boy in the crowd was David Ellis, president of Ellis Music Co. in Bethel. The man on stage was his father.

Robert Layman / Staff Photo
An old trumpet on the wall at Ellis

That was the moment David Ellis knew exactly what he wanted to do with his life.

Ellis Music, founded in 1946 by the late Richard Ellis, is the most widely used musical instrument service around, having served nearly every school across Vermont and New Hampshire since it started.

Ellis Music offers instrument rentals, repairs, deliveries and sales.

They serve about 300 schools across the Twin States, David Ellis said, and on a normal day they serve anywhere from 15-25 schools, travelling a total of 200 miles per day.

Besides providing the basic needs of everyday instrument upkeep, Ellis said one of the main goals of the operation is to ensure that school music programs stay alive.

“They talk to the music teachers, find out how their programs are going, any kind of support we can give to help keep the music programs strong,” Ellis said.

He said Ellis Music provides marching band and orchestra instruments, including woodwinds, flutes, saxophones, tubas, drums and others. They also provide stringed instruments, including acoustic guitars.

Each year, Ellis Music offers students a short demonstration of each instrument and how it works. The students then decide what instrument they like the most and are able pick up their new instrument on rental night.

“Most of the schools will have instruments for students who just simply can’t afford the rental payment, so the schools will do that and we repair those instruments and keep them in good shape for the students,” Ellis said.

Ellis said the repair shop mostly sees the need for restorations on clarinets and saxophones, which are more complex than most instruments and tend to break a lot easier. In the shop, he said, they can make any instrument look brand-new.

“We do string restorations, too, violins, cellos,” he said. “We don’t do as much with electric equipment, the only thing we really do are electric pianos. It’s not our expertise, though.”

He said one of the most unique repairs he can remember was the restoration of some brass instruments from the late 1800s.

“There was an instrument called the sax horn that’s a combination of a saxophone and trumpet,” Eliis said. “It has keys like a saxophone, but it’s shaped like a bugle with a mouthpiece like a trumpet on it.”

If there is a part that is no longer in circulation for an older instrument, Ellis Music can make the specific part that’s needed for repair, too.

Occasionally they see a vintage saxophone, trumpet or trombone come through the door, mainly from the early 1900s.

Ellis Music has been family owned and operated since its creation in 1946. Much like David Ellis, his sister Joan Tabor was born into the family business, too, and music was all that she knew growing up.

She is now the treasurer of the operation.

Tabor said she is proud of the work she and her brother are doing to keep Ellis Music alive.

“It makes me feel good, because it’s a business that we can be very proud of — it continues the legacy of what our father started,” she said.

Ellis added that the success of their company stems from his father’s early days as a music teacher who understood the needs of other teachers and what it took to keep a program alive.

“We’ve been willing to not just stay in our store and have people come to do business, but we also reach out to them in order to see what they need, and make it as easy as possible so they can just spend their time teaching,” Ellis said.

Glenn Giles, professor of music at Castleton University, has worked with Ellis Music for over 45 years. He taught music at Proctor, Rutland and Mill River high schools before going to Castleton.

“I’ve also dealt with them for myself, my two children, and now my grandchildren,” he said. “I have a long history working with a very wonderful family and a very wonderful company.”

Ellis representatives come to Castleton every week to check in on the program and make sure all the instruments are in good shape, Giles said. Prices are competitive and reasonable, which is a reason why he continues to work with them.

In the early days of Ellis Music, Richard Ellis and his wife were people who cared about the future of music programs in schools. They understood what music teachers needed, and passed that knowledge on to their children, who have now taken over the business.

“They go out of their way to make sure people understand we need music educators in schools, and what we as music educators need,” Giles said.

Robert Booth, instrumental director at Spaulding High School in Barre, said Ellis Music has served him for the 12 years he’s taught music at the school — and when he was a student at Spaulding in 1996.

“They’re great to work with. They’re very, very professional,” Booth said. “They’ll always quote me on an estimate before they do the repair, so we know if we have it in the budget.”

One of the best aspects of Ellis Music is their customer service, and the timeliness of that service, he said. He added that the weekly visits help him a lot as a music instructor, because they don’t always have the time to be “running around for the little miscellaneous parts that are needed to run the band program.”

He said the instrument demonstrations Ellis Music provide are also extremely helpful as an instructor, because it helps maintain the program by getting kids interested in music and certain instruments.

Brent Barnett, a music educator at Rutland High School for 11 years, said Ellis Music has served the school since long before he started working there.

“They continually offer guidance for new instrument and accessory purchases. Ellis Music adds a personal touch combined with a great deal of expertise,” Barnett said.

He went on to say that, aside from the services provided for schools and students, they do a lot of work to help the Vermont community as a whole.

“They continually make generous donations to support music festivals around the state, including providing music folders for the hundreds of students that participate in the Green Mountain Music District 5 Festivals,” Barnett said.