NEC Prep and College alumna Rebecca (Breer) Leonard '87 shares how her family's music store has evolved during the COVID-19 pandemic. After being shut down for two months, Rebecca and her husband are finding creative ways to help young beginners learn a new instrument remotely, as well as provide employment opportunities for local musicians.
Class year and degree program at NEC:
Bachelor of Music in Clarinet Performance, Class of ’87
Current job title/employer:
Owner of Leonards Music (an instrument repair and rental shop in Bedford, MA) and a clarinet professor at the University of Massachusetts – Lowell. I also run a private studio in my home and work as a freelance musician.
Why did you choose NEC?
I grew up in the Boston area. I began playing the clarinet and saxophone as a child and attended NEC Prep for the Massachusetts Youth Wind Ensemble. During my time at NEC Prep, Bill Wrzesien chaired the prep woodwinds department and served as the college’s woodwinds faculty chair. In addition to the fact that NEC has such high quality ensembles to learn and play with, he greatly influenced my decision to apply to the college and continue mastering my skills.
What are some of your favorite memories from your time at NEC?
Hearing my coaches perform live and then getting to work with them was amazing. They made us learn to collaborate.
I fondly remember getting free tickets for the Friday afternoon BSO concerts, the receptions after all the student recitals, the Strauss Ball, practicing at 2 am, and studying with Frank Battisti.
On a personal note, I met my husband of 32 years, J. Michael Leonard ’84, ‘86 MM, my very first week of school, while working as ushers at Jordan Hall, so NEC holds a very special place in our hearts!
Share a story about one of your favorite faculty or studio instructor.
Mr. Wrzesien was a wonderful and supportive teacher. I had never taken any private lessons until I was a junior in high school. I had a lot to learn and a lot of repertoire to catch up on. The summer before I started at NEC, Bill insisted I come in for weekly lessons — and he wouldn't let me pay him!
How have your NEC experiences shaped your artistic approach to your profession?
I had so many talented conductors, teachers, and chamber music coaches during my time at NEC. They taught me to look at music from all angles, as well as the value of hard work and perseverance.
Tell us about your business, Leonards Music.
Michael and I own Leonards Music, an instrument repair shop in Bedford, MA. In addition to repairs, Leonards Music offers instruments for sale and on a rent-to-own basis. We are the go-to rental shop for over 35 school districts in Massachusetts, providing instruments to any student taking a music class.
We started the business over 35 years ago. Michael learned to repair his own instruments while at NEC, and worked at NEC repairing instruments for the school. Michael and I were also traveling all over the world performing as well as teaching during this time. The business grew over the years, eventually adding rentals. In 2011, we moved our shop from our home to a brick-and-mortar store in Bedford.
Our biggest customers are schools and music programs. We have contracts with over 35 schools in the area, renting instruments to students participating in music. Leonards provides in-house repairs that are convenient and quick for parents and students to pick up and continue practicing.
How is your business evolving due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Our business faces many challenges during the pandemic. At the beginning of the pandemic, the Governor shut us down for two months, along with many other small businesses. Following the shutdown, the Department of Elementary & Secondary Education said there will be no playing wind or brass instruments in our schools for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, 1,000 students ended their rentals with us; however, we made the decision to keep on all of our employees, including providing health care insurance.
Leonards Music was able to open back up after Memorial Day, and it has been a learning experience since. This was the time to research and try new ways to keep pushing our business forward. How can we encourage music to be played during this uncertain time?
Professional musicians are suffering from a lack of employment all around us. We are teaming up with them to help young beginners learn a new instrument remotely. With every new instrument rental, each student will receive a free lesson from a local professional musician, and our hope is that many of these new students will choose to continue to take lessons.
Music is not going away. We all need it and maybe now more than ever. Musicians are resilient and we will find a way to continue to collaborate and share our music with the community.
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