Saving the music

Photo by Andrea Poteet

Melanie Farley, 11, plays a violin during Marilyn McKenna’s string orchestra class Thursday. Wyandotte Public Schools has seen its music program grow in recent years, but now faces a shortage of musical instruments.

District fights instrument shortage by involving staff, community

Participation in music programs also has been shown to improve student’s grades in math and science.

Sunday Times Newspapers

WYANDOTTE – The sounds of violins and cellos fill the room Thursday as Marilyn McKenna instructs her sixth-grade string orchestra class at Wilson Middle School.

But an instrument shortage within the district’s music program threatens to silence the music for some students.

“With the economy, some of the parents have had a hard time getting instruments in the hands of their kids,” Instructional Music Director Mary Day said, “even though there is a high, high interest in students getting into the beginning band program.”

Students in the program are responsible for acquiring their own instruments. Some buy or rent from music stores, while many others rent from the school.

“It’s still difficult at $30 or $60 a month to begin renting that instrument,” Instructional Music Director Mike Noble said.

The program rents to students for $40 a month from its collection of older instruments, which barely covers the cost of repairs, Noble said.

In recent years, the success of the district’s high school band, including an appearance in President Barack Obama’s inaugural parade, has helped increase interest for younger students. More than 540 fifth- through eighth-grade students now are involved in the program, which covers Jefferson, Washington, Garfield and Monroe elementary schools and Wilson Middle School, but the district has only about 300 instruments for them to rent.

“The tricky thing here now is that the kids want to keep playing,” Noble said. “With 541 kids involved, if they want to keep playing at the high school level, then we begin to run physically short of instruments for those kids whose economic situation may not have improved.”

The high school faces a less-severe shortage, and is in need of larger instruments, like tubas, that students don’t tend to purchase in elementary or middle school and continue to play, Roosevelt High School Instructional Music Director Mark D’Angelo said. Currently, the high school has three concert tuba players and only two tubas.

To meet the needs, the district and staff has solicited donations from area residents. A music drive that began two years ago has brought in about 25 instruments, while others have been donated through private businesses and the school’s music boosters. The staff has also pitched in, Noble said.

“I’ve had staff members hear through the staff room grapevine that there’s a child that can’t afford an instrument …” Noble said. “And I’ve had them say, ‘How much does it cost?’ and give me that rental fee for the child.”

Through the music drive, traditional band or orchestra instruments in any condition can be donated and claimed as tax deductions. Instruments can be dropped off from 8 to 5 p.m. weekdays at Wyandotte Public Schools Board Office, 693 Oak. Donation forms are available at

Noble said that so far, every elementary or middle school child in the district who has needed an instrument has received one, but interest in the program continues to grow faster than instrument donations.

In addition to preparing students for the high school band, music programs at the elementary and middle school levels also help students becoming comfortable with trying new things and expose them to music they otherwise might not hear, Noble said. Participation in music programs also has been shown to improve student’s grades in math and science.

“Research has shown it raises the cognitive realm for children,” Noble said. “It helps them to develop a way to put things into a framework, like math and fractions. But also, aesthetically, it gives us those little goosebumps on the back of our neck.”

Noble said the district has continued to be supportive of the music program since it designed a team teacher model to cut operating costs instead of cutting the program two years ago. While music programs have been cut in many areas, Wyandotte has managed to keep theirs, including one of the last remaining public school string music programs in the area.

“Instead of saying it costs too much and we can’t do it, we got creative,” Noble said.