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September 29, 2023

Music for Schools puts instruments in the hands of students

As he was growing up in Fortuna, Henry Trione played trombone in
the school band, and violin in the orchestra. That was in the
1930s, but it’s a part of his experience that Trione still
Now one of Santa Rosa’s most influential business leaders,
Trione has been distressed to see music opportunities in the
schools diminishing. In 1998 he decided to try to make a
Trione called together an ad hoc committee of prominent Sonoma
County educators and musicians for a brain- storming session. Out
of that discussion was born Music for Schools, based at Luther
Burbank Center for the Arts. It is making a difference.
Initially funded by grants from Wells Fargo Bank and the Sonoma
County Community Foundation, as well as some of Trione’s own money,
Music for Schools (MFS) spent $30,000 on 57 new band and orchestra
instruments. That was the beginning of the Instruments for Learning
lending library.
MFS has subsequently expanded into a variety of efforts to aid
school music programs. The organization has distributed 43 separate
monetary grants to public and private schools and other Sonoma
County music organizations.
From $100 for piano tuning at Valley Vista School in Petaluma to
nearly $6,000 for the string program at Stevens School in southwest
Santa Rosa, Music for Schools has disbursed a total of $89,263 for
Sonoma County music programs over the past three years.
Music for Schools Executive Director Tracy Sawyer said, however,
that monetary grants have not always proved to be the best
investment in the future. Sometimes a school has worthy goals, and
the best of intentions, but does not develop the funding to
continue a program started with an MFS grant. It has been
disheartening, said Sawyer, to see programs falter and fail after
MFS has put money into them. As a result, Music for Schools is no
longer distributing cash grants with the ease it once did.
But the instrument lending library has proved universally
successful. “Instruments proved to be a way we could really help,”
Sawyer said.
There are now 175 students in school bands and orchestras around
Sonoma County playing instruments loaned to them by Music for
Schools. Many would not be involved in music if they didn’t have an
MFS instrument.
Shahed Shirmast took a keyboard class last year at Windsor
Middle School. This school year she filled out an MFS application,
hoping for a violin.
She got one.
“I like mine a lot. It’s 80 years old,” said Shahed, looking
with wonder at the glossy maple instrument. “There’s a lot of notes
and a lot of stuff to learn.”
“I’m certainly appreciative of this opportunity to use such nice
instruments,” said Shahed’s teacher, Karen VanDeventer. Two
violinists and a cellist at Windsor Middle School have MFS
Across town, Cali Calmecac Charter School has a band program
that is less than two years old and involves 60 students. Maestro
David Gibney, the band director, said that at least a third of his
students are playing MFS instruments. “Without Music for Schools it
wouldn’t be possible to have much of a band program,” said
At Sebastopol’s Pine Crest School, 65 percent of the fourth and
fifth graders are in music teacher Jerry Hertz’s band program. A
dozen of them are playing MFS flutes, clarinets, trumpets and
Hertz said that the school owns 30 to 40 instruments while the
band program involves 150 kids. It costs about $25 per month to
rent a flute, clarinet or trumpet, said Hertz. It’s double that for
a sax or some of the other larger instruments. “That can really
have a negative impact on a family’s budget, so it’s really great
that we can borrow these instruments,” Hertz said.
Robert Leon started playing the trumpet last year in Pine
Crest’s beginning program. This year he is playing a family
member’s trumpet in the school band, but Robert wants more music in
his life. He is in the beginning group again, this time learning to
play on an MFS saxophone.
Three fifth graders were highly motivated to play in the Pine
Crest School band, but were unable to join the beginning program as
fourth graders. Hertz had a plan though. Early this school year, he
drove over to the Music for Schools headquarters on a Friday
afternoon and picked up three clarinets.
He met Elaine Bacera, Patty Villagomez and Erica Garmica at the
school on Saturday morning, showed them how to play five notes, and
sent them home to practice. On Monday morning the three showed up
able to play the five notes,
“We put ’em in the band,” said Hertz. Though they’re not the
most advanced players, “They’re great band members,” he said.
Hertz recruits deeply into Pine Crest’s student population,
whether its “hyper-active boys that need to do something” or
“members of the emerging Mexican-American community.”
“Some of these kids are getting experiences for the first time
in their family,” said Hertz. “These instruments (from MFS) allow
me to go further in recruiting. It’s a great experience for
Hertz noted that research has confirmed a clear link between
music literacy and success in all other learning activities.
Besides that, said Hertz, “Music is fun!”
There are 80 students in the band program at Healdsburg’s Foss
Creek Elementary School. A flute player, a trumpet player and 4
clarinetists play MFS instruments.
Sixth-grader Cassandra Molina is in her second year in the Foss
Creek Band. “I like playing,” she said.
“Music for Schools has had a very positive impact,” said Foss
Creek band director Patrick Hughes. “It’s great to have the
opportunity to enhance our program.”
Hughes especially appreciates the good quality of the MFS
instruments and the fact that they are well maintained. “The whole
school benefits,” said Hughes, when more students are in the
Sawyer said that fully 70 percent of the MFS instruments have
been donated to the program. “We just received two beautiful flutes
and an oboe this week,” she said.
The lending library keeps growing, but so does the demand. Of
175 instruments currently on the inventory, only three trombones
are not checked out to students.
Trione has donated $20,000 each year to Music for Schools since
the organizations’s inception. Last year Wells Fargo Bank chipped
in $5,000. Individual contributors have made donations of $20 to
$1,000. A very large on-going expense is instrument maintenance and
Music for Schools maintains several other programs: a Resource
Lending Library for teachers; music workshops for schools and
community groups; assistance with curriculum development in
schools; and networking with local musicians and colleges to bring
music performances to the schools.
“I would love to see this become a model for other counties,”
said Sawyer. “The reason we’re still going is that this is a good
For further information about Music for Schools check
www.musicforschools.org or call Tracy Sawyer at 528-4240.


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