An appeal to a community of music lovers
School band programs need help as instruments fall apart
Editor’s note — This is the first in a series of stories about local causes that deserve community support. If you are aware of a local cause, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
When Granite Mountain Middle School became Granite Mountain School for fifth- and sixth-graders three years ago, participation in band moved one grade level down to allow the fifth-graders access to the program. That brought in a potential 60 new students, said Luan Mueller, GMS band director.
Where did the school find 60 more band instruments? It borrowed from the middle and high schools.
“Now we’ve graduated the first two years’ students, and they will need to take those instruments with them (into middle school), so Granite Mountain is behind the ball,” said Mueller, who has 35 years’ experience teaching music to students from third grade to college.
By January 2019, 23 school-owned instruments currently used at GMS will be returned to Mile High Middle School and Prescott High School. This is good news for the 75 percent of GMS band students who are moving up to middle school, and will continue to play those instruments. Not such good news for incoming GMS students.
The instruments left behind are what Mueller calls the “junker” instruments. They have survived beyond their life expectancy of 15 years; most of the school’s instruments are 30 years old, she said.
So the school wants to raise $67,095 to buy new instruments. The costs are based on bids through Milano Music Centers of Mesa which average half the cost of retail. Parents and community supporters have collected nearly $30,000 so far.
WHY NOT REPAIR?
“Our bassoon is literally falling apart; the top is held together by tape. The screws are so loose in the socket they don’t grab anymore. I’m using nail polish to hold it together,” Mueller said. “Some of the cases are held together with duct tape.”
Because various instruments, such as bassoons and oboes, are borrowed from the other schools, they are the ones in the worst condition, Mueller said. Thousands of dollars have been put into repairing the instruments, “babying them along.” Now the instruments have reached the point where they can’t be fixed anymore, and a new bassoon costs $6,335 retail, or $4,117 through Milano. The school needs four.
It also needs four French horns, $7,694 with tax through Milano; four oboes, $13,104; two tenor saxophones, $3,249; and three trumpets, $3,802. One tuba costs $3,501; one trombone is $1,595.
Mueller said she has taught in large cities in three different states where music programs received a lot of resources and schools were able to share back and forth. Unfortunately, Arizona school districts often lack the funding to support extracurricular activities such as music and art.
In the same boat, Trudy Gruver, band director at Bradshaw Mountain High School in the Humboldt Unified School District, said some of her students’ instruments also are held together by tape.
“Most of our school-owned instruments should be made into lamps. I have no budget to get extensive repairs done. Some horns aren’t worth repairing; it takes more to repair than to buy new,” Gruver said.
“Our drumline is in need – well, the drums are fine, but the harnesses are not. We need another set of chimes, a set of timpani, a working set of vibes, we need concert snare drums, and four new pairs of crash cymbals. That’s the wish list of the century,” she added. “We’re in bad shape.”
Prescott Pops has given grants to BMHS, which helps, although grant amounts decrease every year. Gruver received $1,500 this past year, something she can spend in two minutes flat. She used the money for repairs on three instruments.
BMHS band parents also are trying to raise money for a 26- to 28-foot trailer to haul instruments to competitions and festivals. Their current truck can no longer make it to Phoenix, she said.
RENT OR OWN?
About half of Gruver’s students rent their instruments either through the district, POPS Music Store in Prescott, or through Milano Music Centers in Mesa. The others own their instruments.
It costs about $200 per school year to rent instruments like a clarinet, trombone, or percussion, at $20 per month. Saxophones and oboes are $35 per month. The big ticket items, large instruments like bassoons, $90 per month, and tubas, $110. And sousaphones just aren’t available for rent, Mueller said.
PUSD charges a repair/maintenance fee of $60 per year for any instrument rented through the district. On a case-by-case basis, if a family demonstrates need, sometimes the fee is waived, she said.
At HUSD, a district instrument used by a middle school student often follows that student into high school. “I just assign it back to them,” Gruver said.
She is losing eight seniors of the 84 participants in marching band, and only rarely do members drop out during their four years of high school. Incoming freshmen number 22 to 25. So far, she has been able to accommodate students and instruments.
“Sometimes I beg, borrow and steal it. If one of the middle schools has what I need, I get first shot at it. I haven’t had to do that really at all yet,” she said.
And the school districts support each other. Dan Bradstreet at PHS loaned Gruver a marimba this year. “He was helpful,” she said.
It is the only thing one can do that lights up both sides of the brain at the same time, Mueller said. Music is effective in long-term memory care for patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Another benefit of playing an instrument, she said, is that students who have played within a musical group or organization for two years or more will increase their SAT scores by seven or more points.
“When playing an instrument, you’re in three places at the same time, in the moment, thinking ahead for the next fingering or what to express in the next phrase, and analyzing ‘What can I do to make it better?’ It’s an amazing thing to teach a young person,” Mueller said.
Dr. Wally Dachenhausen, a local dentist, has two daughters who play in Mueller’s bands. Both started with piano lessons at age 5, and he played trumpet from sixth to 10th grades. He had an inspiring band teacher in middle school who entered her students in competitions, defeating high school bands, he said. His high school band director, however, was “pathetic,” and he and most of the other students dropped out.
“It’s a wonderful thing to participate in a band; it’s a form of team work, joining in the greater good of something,” Dachenhausen said.
His son, a fifth-grader, plays the trumpet and French horn; his daughter, in sixth grade, plays the flute. He sees how they enjoy making sounds and following the composition.
“It’s almost like reading a language. They know they are mastering it, being able to read the music and produce the song the way it’s supposed to be played. They thrive on that. It’s like a challenge,” he said.
The important thing about supporting the musician in his children is that music contributes to making them well-rounded individuals. “That is my main intent,” Dachenhausen said.
How can you help?
While band directors might prefer cash donations, making a tax credit donation to a school district, the amount which is subtracted directly from the amount one owes on state taxes, also is an option. People can specify which school and program the money will go to. The websites of all districts have information on tax credit donations.
If someone in the community finds an instrument in the back of their closet, schools will accept instruments in good condition.
For more information on how to contribute to Granite Mountain School’s band program, email email@example.com or call 928-717-3253.