Gift of musical instruments delights Ron Russell Middle School students

This gift was far more than a handful of plastic harmonicas!  We’ve got whole story … right here …

These band and orchestra students wait expectantly, as they learn about the new musical instruments being presented to their school.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
In the midst of the current budget crisis in education, the David Douglas School District has worked to keep music and art programs operating in the schools – from elementary through high school.

But, some students who wanted to join the bands or orchestra at Ron Russell Middle School were left out – because their parents couldn’t afford to buy them instruments, and there weren’t enough school-owned ones to go around.

But on Friday, September 10, 7th and 8th grade band and orchestra students got a delightful surprise – they saw $25,000 worth of instruments, including four cellos, two violins, two tenor saxophones, a baritone saxophone, two bass clarinets, two baritones and three trumpets, being paraded into the music room.

The instruments were presented by Fidelity Investments’® Portland Investor Center, and the Fidelity FutureStage® arts education program.

Co-workers from Fidelity Investments stand with their Branch Manager, Shannon Bene (on the far right), as he tells about his experience playing the trumpet as a student musician – just before he hands the horn over to a student.

This school was chosen, in part, through ‘Mr. Holland’s Opus Program’,” Fidelity’s Branch Manager, Shannon Bene, told East Portland News. “There, Ron Russell was identified as a school in need of support. They also showed that Tawnya Garcia is a wonderful and dedicated music teacher, and that the administration has been very supportive of the music program.”

In the school’s music room, Bene explained why Fidelity was providing the instruments. “Your [educational] district and school have all done a lot to support your music program. We’re recognizing that if we provide a little bit of help and support to get you to where you want to be, and what he wanted to, there will not only be an outstanding result for yourselves, and for the school, but also your community.”

The staff of the investment firm parade into the room a variety of brand new string, woodwind, and brass instruments.

Like any important achievement, Bene went on, “What you are doing here takes a lot of discipline and teamwork. While you give your passion to learning to play music, you also give back to your community. Your music will provide joy to your parents and others who hear you play.”

With that, Bene’s associates brought in instruments, and presented them to the student musicians. These youthful orchestra and band members were clearly delighted as they opened the cases and assembled their instruments.

Ron Russell student Lorene Dooley accepts a new violin presented by Haley Bradley, of the Portland office of Fidelity Investments.

David Douglas School District Superintendent Don Grotting was also all smiles, as he watched the musicians ready their instruments for playing.

“All you have to do is look at their faces and see the joy in their eyes to see how fantastic this is,” Grotting remarked. “That tells the whole story. Especially in these economic times, many times music programs and art programs suffer, because they’re not ‘mandates’.”

While the arts are not mandated, Grotting continued, “They are incredibly important to the kids we serve. With Fidelity Investments providing this gift, it just creates opportunities for kids that otherwise would never have had the chance to be introduced to music and other subject areas that would have either been cut, or have severely limited participation. It’s fantastic.”

Ismael Jimenez warms up a new baritone saxophone, while teacher Tawnya Garcia gives him pointers.

At one point, it looked as if the music teacher, Tawnya Garcia, who is also the band director, was close to tears – of joy. “This is a fabulous opportunity to give to our kids the opportunity to learn to play new, professional instruments. And, it allows us to add more ‘color’ to our group sound. And, this opens up our instruments to our district so we can get that many more kids playing.”

Moments later, Ms. Garcia raised her baton, and many students in the room had the opportunity to make new music, for the very first time.

For the first time, eighth-grader Journey Pearce assembles the new bass clarinet she’ll be playing. “This is awesome!” she says.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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