Where old instruments never die … they just see the light

A stream of gaffes more than 30 years ago led to a unique and gainful business venture today for Mark Freitas. It was 1981, and Freitas, a student at California State University Fresno, was working at a music store learning brass instrument repai...

Mark Freitas demonstrates how he’d add a 1910 mellophone to a wooden lamp base Tuesday in his shop at Whitney Music Center in Willmar. Freitas makes lamps out of old and discarded instruments. The mellophone is the oldest instrument he plans to turn into a lamp. Tribune photo by Dan Burdett

A stream of gaffes more than 30 years ago led to a unique and gainful business venture today for Mark Freitas.
It was 1981, and Freitas, a student at California State University Fresno, was working at a music store learning brass instrument repair. A prominent music teacher and musician in the community had commissioned the store to repair a trombone. Through a series of “freak accidents,” Freitas ended up ruining the bell, the brass circular sheet from which the sound is produced.
His boss insisted Freitas pay for a new bell. Stuck with a cracked piece of brass and a hole in his wallet, Freitas wondered out loud to his coworkers what he should do with the bell.
“Make a lamp out of it,” was the response.
The advice stuck.

The sound of music

One of eight children, Freitas roamed the Fresno farm he called home with his father, a Navy veteran and jack-of-all-trades, soaking in the knowledge that invariably comes from watching a father tinker. Freitas’ mother was a classical pianist prior to marriage and her musical spark guided Freitas to a lifelong appreciation for music, namely jazz.
When college called, Freitas enrolled at Cal State, majoring in trumpet performance. Upon graduation, he “felt God’s calling” and enrolled at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in San Francisco.
Freitas and his wife, Janine, spent the next two decades-plus in a proverbial whirlwind, as his career as a church music director led them to brief stints with congregations in Honolulu, Wheaton, Ill., and Chico, Calif. Along the way, they found the time to raise three children.
Ten years ago, the Freitas’ moved to Willmar, when Mark joined Evangelical Free Church and broadened his musical interests as a freelance jazz musician, lending his time to the Mill Pond Jazz Orchestra, the Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra and Prairie Winds Concert Band.
He spent more than four years with the church before he was hired by Bob Whitney as manager of the service department at Whitney Music, located at 913 N. Business Highway 71 in Willmar. There, he specializes in brass instrument repair and restorations. He also is the piano technician and conducts trumpet lessons.
Last October, the Freitas’ were discussing ideas to supplement their income when Janine suggested “why don’t you make some lamps. You work at a music store and you have all these old instruments that are junk and just sitting there for parts. Maybe Bob (Whitney) will let you have some of those?”
“We’ve always had a couple of my lamps at home as part of our furnishings in offices and different places and it was just like a spark,” Freitas said. “It was perfect timing. I talked to Bob about it, and he was extremely enthusiastic and encouraging. He started giving me a bunch of instruments, and I started displaying the lamps here (Whitney Music) in late October. I now have a website for my business MusiCrafts.”

Shine a light

To date, Freitas has sold seven lamps and smaller items that make use of other parts of discarded instruments. A display of his work at Jazz-N-Java - the coffee house Whitney owns that neighbors his music business - features a variety of audacious lamps. But it’s the smaller pen and pencil holders and desk lamps with 40-watt vintage bulbs - all featuring refurbished clarinet bells - that highlight Freitas’ minutely refined craftsmanship. The base of each piece is wooden and hand-painted. One pen and pencil holder features a stone-wash, lacquer-finished base, giving the impression the holder is housed in granite. All the pieces in the display are available for purchase, with prices ranging from $30 for the smaller desk lamps and pen holders to $450 for a 6-foot standing lamp that features a vintage acoustic guitar and cowboy boots as a base.
The collection also features coat racks crafted from instrument cases, the mouthpieces from trumpets and other instruments from the horn family acting as the pegs/hooks.
As intricate as the pieces that make up this display are, they pale in comparison to Frietas’ latest project.
“Bob gave me an old (self-playing) piano that wasn’t working and kind of beyond repair,” Freitas says, his eyes dancing at the mere idea of the plucky project. “So I gutted it, and I’m making a table out of it. I knocked out the whole back of it. I took out the harp and the pin-block and the soundboard. I knocked it out in one piece, and I’m going to make a dining table out of the harp. So imagine this massive piece on legs with a piece of glass over it. It’ll be 5-feet wide and 6-feet long. They will be able to seat 10 people around this thing.”
For more information on MusiCrafts, call Mark Freitas at 320-262-2714, email or visit . Freitas’ work is on display at Jazz-N-Java.






Musical lamps
Mark Freitas' collection of lamps feature discarded and old instruments. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

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