When it comes to finding funds for the Godfrey-Lee Middle and High School Band, Director Kevin Gabrielse “Mr. G” and the Lee Rebel Band Boosters are simply miracle workers.
In the last 10 years, they’ve done publicity campaigns to acquire instruments, pie fundraisers for students to go to band camp, rallied to reinstate programs being slashed due to budget cuts and dug deep into their own pockets to keep the program running.
This year, they’ve done it again, securing nearly $14,000 in instruments from the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation and the Hatfield Family Foundation. The donation includes three euphoniums, two alto saxophones and two bass clarinets. Gabrielse estimated the band needs about $60,000 for new instruments and repairs.
Inspired by the motion picture Mr. Holland’s Opus, the story of a dedicated music teacher and the effect he had on generations of students, the film’s composer, Michael Kamen, started the foundation in 1996 to promote music education around the world.
“Learning music in school is a way to engage kids and give them something that makes them better students and better people,”said Felice Mancini, executive director of The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation in a news release. “They deserve every tool available to help them receive a quality education, and we want to insure that music is in that toolbox.”
Finding money for music difficult as state cuts funding
That’s a message that resonates with Gabrielse, who is still trying to raise funds to repair instruments that were donated to the band eight years ago. As school funding has decreased in the past years, so have music and arts programs around the country.
“Music programs are being cut because they are not a priority,” he said. “We need to work together to make it a priority or we’re going to lose a whole generation of musicians.”
Superintendent David Britten said the donation couldn’t come at a better time. “Given the continuing budget cuts for public education coming out of Lansing, this is a very timely and appreciated award,”he said. “Our award-winning band program is one of our points of pride at Godfrey-Lee and this will certainly help the program continue to serve the interests of our students.”
“I see it as a huge boost to the instrumental music program. Newer, functioning instruments are essential to any quality band program,” said Cheryl Slaughter, the President of the Lee Rebel Band Boosters and the parent of three High School Band members.
She worked side by side with Gabrielse to secure the donation, and had to submit a very detailed application proving the program to be a worthwhile investment for the organization.
Learning for fun and growth
In a school where more than 80 percent of the students receive free and reduced lunch, asking families to pay for reeds and valve oil, let alone instrument repairs or rentals, is about impossible, Gabrielse said, noting it can cost $55 a month to rent some of the instruments. “I’m sure some of our parents would prefer to spend that putting food on the table.”
As she practiced with the band, made up of students from fifth through twelfth grade, before an upcoming concert, Desirae Fenton had no problem explaining why band is important to her. “It’s something fun to do,” she said, letting her clarinet rest on her lap. “And learning how to play music is fun and will also help you in life.”
Jesus Sanchez said he has always been interested in music and has been with the band for the last three years. Plus, he said, he gets a kick out of it. “Mr. G, the band director, he’s funny and makes music seem easy,” he said. “It’s fun.”
While playing might be fun for students, research shows it also has a big impact in the development of their brains, enhancing abilities such as language, memory and causing the brain to make new connections.”
Participation in band at Lee Middle and High School produces students who are connected, disciplined and generally on track academically,” said Slaughter. She added that school administrators, parents, boosters and Gabrielse have a reputation in the local music community for overcoming obstacles to produce quality musicians and deliver top-notch performances.
“Just because there is not a lot of money in the school community does not mean there is not a tremendous amount of support and enthusiasm,” she said.