Long-time Great Falls resident, musician, band conductor and instrument repairman, Fred Gnojek has relocated to Choteau and, in partnership with Mary Morzinski, opened Fred’s Music Repair Service at 32 Sixth Ave. N.E.
His shop is open by appointment and he can be reached at 406-868-2035 to help local musicians and schools fix all types of damaged musical instruments from flutes to trumpets, oboes to bass clarinets, trombones to flugelhorns.
In addition to repairing instruments, Gnojek is also offering lessons on all band instruments and has a wide variety of used, reconditioned musical instruments for sale.
Born and raised in Great Falls, Gnojek attended St. Gerard’s Catholic elementary school and graduated from Great Falls High School. His whole family, including his parents and his five siblings are all musical. “We had a heck of a family band,” he said, adding that most of his siblings, as he did, majored in music in college.
Gnojek earned a bachelor’s degree in music education at the University of Wisconsin in Madison in 1980 but didn’t go into teaching right away. He worked for several years as a music salesman for Flesher-Hinton Music in Denver, Colorado, working with music teachers in schools in his sales area.
He returned to Great Falls and began learning the trade of instrument repair through his mentor, Keith Nichols, a good friend of his father’s. Nichols, a musician who played tenor saxophone and drums, was a metal machinist by trade, who had worked for the railroad, before becoming a musical instrument repairman. Nichols manufactured some of his own tools and shared his knowledge with Gnojek, eventually selling him the instrument repair business.
Gnojek said musical instruments need regular care and maintenance to keep them playing harmoniously. Woodwind instruments often need pads and corks to be replaced; brass instruments need regular chemical cleans to get rid of the “gunk” that builds up in them as they are played.
Trumpets, baritones, trombones and French horns all have slides and valves that need to be cleaned and oiled. Brass instruments that are bumped or dropped can become dented and creased.
Small insects can infest instrument cases in storage and eat out all the pads.
“The best thing you can do for a horn is to play it,” Gnojek said, adding that if a horn isn’t behaving correctly, it’s time for a check-up to see what’s wrong and get it fixed.
Gnojek charges $65 to $175 plus parts for annual chemical flushes for brass instruments. Replacing three pads and washing a clarinet would be about $80, including straightening any bent key rods, degreasing and oiling the horn.
Replacing three pads and washing a saxophone would cost about $100.
Gnojek can play all the concert band instruments (though trombone is his instrument of choice). He puts a 90-day warranty on his repair work and says anyone who has trouble with one of his repair jobs should call him right away.
“I make sure to play them all before they go out of here. There are repairmen who don’t do that,” he said.
Gnojek worked at a number of music stores in Great Falls before becoming an independent repairman in 1993 and opening Fred’s Band Instrument Repair on Central Avenue.
While he worked as a musical instrument repairman, Gnojek never stopped playing his trombone and being involved in community music. He played in elementary school and high school bands and played for four years in the Golden Skyliners Junior Drum and Bugle Corps (for musicians 21 and younger) and then directed the Corps for one year.
He has played in the Great Falls Municipal Band for 40 years and in the Great Falls Symphony for 32 years. He was also a member of the Harold Nicholls Big Band and performs with an ensemble called Impromptu. He also conducts the Great Falls Community Band during the school year, and this past 4th of July he conducted the Choteau Community Band.
He is also playing with a local brass ensemble, including Morzinski on French horn, David Hartman on trumpet and Jane Hartman on keyboard. They have played for several events at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and Skyline Lodge.
Gnojek was the K-12 music teacher at Belt Public Schools from 2005 to 2009, and has taught private lessons since he was in high school.
He said he enjoys teaching youth how to play their instruments, helping them start out on a good footing, learning all the basics and not developing bad habits. When musicians exceed what he can teach them, he will help them find a more advanced teacher.
“I’m not afraid to ship them off if I can’t do any good with them anymore,” he said.
Gnojek does not give vocal lessons, saying he would refer any budding vocalists to local music teachers Jeanette McCormick or Lorran Depner. “They are good at it,” he said.
He usually offers lessons for students once a week with the weekly session costing $20 for 30 minutes. Most families pay for a month at a time.
Gnojek encourages parents of elementary students to enroll their children in band. Playing a musical instrument is a lifetime skill, he said, that can help children become better students as they learn to discipline themselves to practice, hone their cognitive abilities reading music and learn mind-to-finger adaptations.
Plus, he said, if they compete in music festivals and perform in recitals and concerts, they gain skills to perform under pressure. Kids who really enjoy performing for people may find themselves pursuing a music performance degree. Many colleges and universities offer scholarships for student musicians also.
Playing a musical instrument, he said, “keeps kids out of trouble.”
He and his siblings all took music lessons as they were growing up. “It was kind of automatic in my family,” he said. “It was fun to do and enjoyable.”
Gnojek is also working as a caregiver at Choteau Activities Inc., where he has started a “a little music therapy” as he works with intellectually disabled adults in the program.
He said music can be therapeutic for anyone. When he is performing with a group, he said, or even practicing on his own, he just disappears into his music. It’s kind of like falling into a good book, he said.
Gnojek said he loves playing in small ensembles and large groups and said he was fortunate to grow up where he did.