BEING ASKED to repair a Cornet made in 1897 proved to be a special challenge for Sharon McCallum.
Although repairing old or damaged brass instruments is a regular day event for the Kent woman, an Echo Cornet – so called because it has a fourth valve which creates an echo sound when pressed – is a very rare piece. In fact, as Sharon explains, it”s unique.
Made as a one-off in 1897 by Boosey & Co, it was picked up in a junk shop in 1960 for 5 before going for repair at Sharon”s workshop near Cranbrook a year ago. After repairing it, Sharon”s interest developed and she decided to do some research of her own – an exercise that proved extremely worthwhile.
“As it turned out, it”s worth between 1000 and 1200, so it was a rather rewarding exercise,” says Sharon (pictured).
On hearing how their investment had grown, the owner decided to sell – and Sharon was able to put them in contact with a collector.
Fortunately, the new owner was keen for it to be heard by a larger audience. Shortly after, Sharon located a copy of the one piece of music written for the Echo Cornet – Basil Windsor”s Alpine Echoes – and has since played in two concerts with her local band in Cranbrook.
Growing up in a musical family meant Sharon would always harbour a desire for music, but a childhood spent messing around in her father”s workshop was to provide the motivation to combine music with repairing instruments.
“I was a bit of tomboy really. Playing in dad”s workshop, taking apart anything I could get my hands on like old clocks and then putting them back together with no parts to spare was always rewarding,” she recalls.
Such skills have proven to be very transferable – she even once repaired a friend”s tractor radiator with a piece of instrument. “It”s still going,” she laughs.
Although Sharon has only been repairing instruments in her own right for the past couple of years, her reputation has spread far and wide. Establishing herself as a specialist in trombones, she is regularly visited by session musicians from some of the country”s major orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra. Other clients include big band musicians like Don Lusher, who toured with Frank Sinatra.
Most of her work is repairing instruments either damaged in transit or as a result of people”s failure to maintain them properly.
“Instruments are just like everything else, you have to maintain them; valves and slides do get stuck and then people pull their instrument apart trying to free them, ending up with a large bill from me,” she laughs.
Combining her interests in music with 40 Southdown sheep can be challenging at times, however, especially when the showing or lambing season clashes with concert dates.
“One year I showed at 17 shows, that was very tiring,” she recalls. At last year”s Royal Show, Sharon – or Sharon Pond as she”s known in agricultural circles – picked up Southdown champion terminal sire pairs. At the Kent County she won supreme champion. Despite such successes she”s not, she admits, exactly sure why she chose Southdowns, although says “it”s nice to have an old fashioned breed”.
Having established herself as a breeder, Sharon has since won the admiration of her peers. “This year marks another first, instead of showing at the Royal Welsh I”ll be judging,” she admits modestly.
While repairing instruments is Sharon”s main business and the sheep more of a hobby, neither is hugely profitable. Despite handling several hundred instruments a year, Sharon estimates her music business turns over less than £25,000.
As for the future, Sharon”s reputation as a reliable repairer of brass instruments continues to spread. Recently, she has sold an instrument to a musician in Norway and received an inquiry from another in Finland.
But Sharon finds more pleasure in bringing instruments back to life that others would otherwise discard. “When I receive one, it can be a total wreck, but after a couple of hours of hard work it”s back into shape, so it can be very satisfying,” she explains.