The start of the school year at Calhoun County Middle-High School coincided with the opening of boxes containing shiny, new musical instruments.
The truck arrived earlier this month from the VH1 Save the Music Foundation had eight flutes, 11 clarinets, three alto saxes, six trumpets, a snare drum, a set of bells and a pair of crash symbols.
It was quite a sight for a program that’s had to get by with instruments that were several decades old and falling apart.
“Christmas came early,” said Calhoun County middle school music teacher Logan Rhodes.
Save the Music is nearly three-fourths of the way to its goal of providing new, donated instruments to schools in all 55 West Virginia counties.
Since 2009, the nonprofit group has equipped 51 schools in 40 counties. Foundation compliance manager Chiho Feindler said music programs at eight schools in six counties should have $30,000 in new instruments apiece by the end of this month.
In Calhoun County, band director Michael McHenry said the instruments will help him recruit more students to beef up band programs on both the middle and high school levels.
A year ago, McHenry said he had 50 students in band at one time, but the numbers fell off as students, many of them playing for the first time, got discouraged over problems with instruments.
“Now that we have instruments that work … we’re really hoping that is going to spark an interest and build Calhoun County’s band,” he said.
The Harman School in Randolph County was among the first to receive instruments under the program. About half of the 80 students in grades 5 through 12 now participate in band.
“It definitely helped us start the band because we had nothing to begin with,” said Zac Roy, a ninth-grade tenor saxophone player.
Roy has been a part of the school’s out-of-state performances in Williamsburg, Virginia; Philadelphia; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Orlando, Florida — trips that wouldn’t have been possible without the donation, and he plans to just keep on playing.
Roy said music is important at the school because it offers only one other extracurricular activity, basketball.
“Whenever I go to college, I want to be in their marching band, whenever it comes time,” he said.
The nonprofit Save the Music Foundation was established in 1997 and has provided more than $51 million in new instruments to 1,900 public schools nationwide. The program is dedicated to restoring music programs in America’s public schools, and raising awareness about the importance of music as part of each child’s complete education.
West Virginia became the first entire state embraced by the foundation. The goal is to bring instruments to at least one public elementary or middle school in every county.
“Our hope is that we can reach this in the next two years,” Feindler said.
Besides Calhoun, other schools getting new instruments this year are in Logan, Mingo, Monroe, Preston, Raleigh, Ritchie and Wayne counties.
The foundation requires interested schools to have an instrumental music teacher and provide music instruction. It tries to raise half of the necessary funds on the local level and half nationally. The foundation then buys the instruments directly from the manufacturer, Feindler said.
The West Virginia Division of Culture and History and the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences in Charleston are two of the foundation’s top sponsors.
“It’s a big game changer,” said Erin Tucker, the band director at Park Middle School in Beckley.
At one of the few middle schools in the state that have performing marching bands, Tucker said some of her students are currently playing instruments that were in use 30 years ago. She spent $900 last year to refurbish the program’s tubas.
“Most cannot afford their own instruments,” she said. “This is an amazing way for my kids to express themselves and to belong to a group without being exceptionally athletic that can challenge their minds as well as their athleticism.”