It’s not unusual for band teacher Rheuben Green to share about 20 of his own instruments with students at Taft Middle School and Northwest Classen High School.
Good thing Green has a stockpile of flutes, clarinets, saxophones, trumpets, trombones and tubas to lend.
Band instructor Rheuben Green works with student Alberto Jimenez recently. Oklahoma City Public Schools students such as Alberto and those in Green’s classes at Taft Middle School shown below are benefiting from a $39,000 donation to repair musical instruments. [Photo by Paul Hellstern, The Oklahoman]
“I am the teacher here in our district with the most broken instruments,” he said recently. “It’s upwards of 30 or 40 that need to be fixed.”
Most of Green’s budding musicians cannot afford to buy or rent their own instruments, and the Oklahoma City district — which doesn’t charge a band fee — can’t afford to replace or repair the instruments it does have.
“Band means a lot to these students. A lot of them will tell you it’s the thing that keeps them attending school on a regular basis,” he said. “They look forward to it, and I think it actually helps them to do better with their academics.”
In many cases, students from one class will have to share instruments with students from another class, Green said.
“That makes it tough because no one can take them home to practice,” he said.
While the numbers vary, most schools have enough instruments for only about half to two-thirds of the 1,200 students enrolled in band and orchestra programs, according to information provided by Oklahoma City Public Schools.
At Roosevelt Middle School, where 134 are enrolled in band and orchestra, as many as five students share an instrument.
“If that’s the situation and one breaks, then five students are without an instrument,” said Rhonda Taylor, director of visual and performing arts for Oklahoma City Public Schools. “Where we’re at right now with the need for instruments, our band program is not sustainable.”
That’s why word of a $39,000 donation for instrument repairs is sweet music to the ears of band teachers like Green, administrators like Taylor and students like Taft eighth-grader Alberto Jimenez, who plays the sax because “it’s entertaining and allows me to express myself.”
“That sounds really awesome because some kids, if they want to play, they can’t because they might have broken instruments,” said Alberto, 13.
Taylor announced the donation by Upward Transitions Chief Executive Officer Ray Bitsche during the Feb. 1 school board meeting.
Upward Transitions serves those who are homeless and impoverished by providing case management and stabilizing resources to meet basic social needs.
About 90 percent of students in the Oklahoma City district qualify for free and reduced-price meals, and most cannot afford to pay what amounts to $1 per day to rent starter instruments such as flutes, trumpets and clarinets.
“We want to serve children from low-income families,” Bitsche said. “Kids who otherwise might not have a chance to learn to play a musical instrument, this gives them the opportunity.”
The money will be used to fix stuck tuning slides on tubas and pay for chemical flushes for French horns and replacement pads for clarinets and other woodwinds.
“Even if the instrument is not damaged, all instruments need some (cleaning or maintenance),” Taylor said. “Some of these instruments have sat for years.”
So far, the district has repaired about 59 instruments at a cost of $7,200.
“The instrument stores are repairing them as fast as they can,” Taylor said. “I really expect that we may use the entire donation on repairs.”
Green called the donation huge.
“I’ve been teaching in the district for seven years and haven’t had a grant like this where we’ve been able to send the bulk of our instruments that need attention to the repair shop,” he said.
By Tim Willert
February 9, 2016