Grant used for new instruments for Whale Branch Middle band

rheaton@beaufortgazette.comApril 2, 2012 

When Mackenzie Beeler put her new clarinet to her lips and began to play, she got a small surprise: The instrument squawked.

Her old, broken clarinet wouldn't have done that, she said, even if she were overplaying. This new one will require a more delicate touch.

The instrument was one of seven new ones Whale Branch Middle School students pulled fresh from the box Monday and immediately put to work.

The instruments were paid for with a grant from the Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation. The school applied for the grant, which totaled about $5,000, last fall. It paid for two trombones, two flutes, two clarinets, a snare drum and repairs on other instruments.

Band director Amy Simmons said the new instruments were needed. Like Beller's broken clarinet, many of the school's instruments needed repairs. What's more, many of Simmons' students cannot afford to buy their own instruments -- about 90 percent of students at Whale Branch Middle come from economically disadvantaged families.

Before the students unlocked the cases of their new instruments, Simmons had members raise their hands if they did not own their instrument. About half of the 40 students' hands went up.

The Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation has donated to 1,260 school and community music programs across the country in 15 years. The foundation was started by composer Michael Kamen, who created the music for the film "Mr. Holland's Opus" about a dedicated music teacher.

Simmons said she hopes the grant will allow more students to participate in band.

"It opens up the door to accept more people, including ones who maybe haven't found their niche yet," she said.

Simmons said the foundation allowed her to purchase top-of-the-line, student-grade instruments, and she is pleased with their quality. The new instruments are far easier to tune than the students' old instruments, she said.

For Diamond Brown, a seventh-grader, the gleaming new flute she received isn't just a boost to her.

"It has a lot better tone," she said. "It will help the whole band. Specifically the flute section, but it will help the whole band."

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