Kids' Orchestra expands for new year, giving the gift of music

Kids' Orchestra expands for new year, giving the gift of music
Source: Donna Britt/WAFB
Source: Donna Britt/WAFB
Source: Donna Britt/WAFB
Source: Donna Britt/WAFB

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Some children are looking for a sponsor to give one of the best gifts of all - the gift of music.

It's after school at Westdale Heights Academic Magnet on College Drive, and 60 kids from both Westdale and LSU Lab School are so excited they're bouncing like basketballs as they sit on the floor.

They have been chosen for the Kids' Orchestra After-School Music Program. Westdale is one 12 sites that host the 24 schools that are participating for this 2015-16 school year. 800 children in kindergarten through fifth grade will meet twice a week for ninety minutes of homework help, a healthy snack and music classes. And in their hands, they'll receive a musical instrument to use, to take home, to use for practice, to treat like they OWN it.

For an entire year, they'll learn to play that instrument, then if they want to, they can choose to continue playing the instrument. In some cases, the instrument they may have may be Suzuki Method scale..or smaller than the real violin. Some instruments stretch fingers so far that small hands cannot handle it. That's why kids may get a scaled-down one. As they grow, the Kids' Orchestra will assign a growth-appropriate new instrument size.

"We've spent all summer refurbishing our inventory," says Nicole Naquin Jackson, marketing and development director of the non-profit. "Some of our teachers come for the summer, because we have students from LSU, Southern and South-Eastern; and they are invited for summer refurbishing work. So we had about 10 teachers who came to help this summer. They evaluate the instruments and do cleaning and repairs."

Jackson says these new children being added to the program require some fancy footwork when it comes to fundraising.
"We are working on ordering, we're about 50 instruments shy this year. We are getting some assistance from EBR school system, but it's only part of what we need. Most of the donors hopefully make a financial donation to buy what we need, we also rehab donated instruments."

Jackson says Fred Zeagler of Zeagler's Music on Florida at Donmoor is dedicated to supporting the Kids' Orchestra and provides repairs and refurbishing beyond just cleaning and spiffing up.

This year Kids' Orchestra has programs in twelve different schools. They are all elementary K-to-5..and that youth is fabulous for introducing a love of music, but also means it's hard on the instruments. Jackson says they spend a ton on horsehair for the bows on stringed instruments.

WAFB's Donna Britt asks, "Do kids gravitate toward the marching band type instruments?"

Nicole says, "At Westdale, each school site is different when it comes to preferred instruments. But we've been at Westdale since the beginning, so we've been there five years. We have a great mix of returning students. We actually had returning 3rd year strings and 3rd year woodwinds, so we're looking forward to their participation."

She won't say it, but\ first year stringed instruments can sound quite different from a mature player's sound. Over the years, people have equated beginners to howling cats, squeaky screen get the picture. Those "sounds" are a sign of a future musician, and are loved without reserve.

As busy as they are placing instruments in the hands of these children and hundreds more in the 24 schools, they are in the middle of a major fundraising campaign.

"It costs Kids' Orchestra a thousand dollars to train each kid, which includes the instrument they rent or keep for the year. Every child in the program gets a discount. NO one pays the full thousand dollars. All 800 children get scholarships. So if anyone is interested in underwriting scholarships, that would be our more focused goal in fundraising right now."
Budget problems years ago, cut funding for arts programs in elementary schools. In response to the question "Will you expand to middle schools?"
Jackson said, "We want every child in elementary school to have the chance to begin music training. Once we're in every elementary school, we'll start looking at the possibility of middle schools.

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