“From my first day on the job, teachers have been reaching out asking for additional instruments,” shares Jeffrey Smith, the new Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) director of arts. The Instruments For Change campaign, which asks the community to donate instruments sitting fallow and/or donate cash to purchase new instruments for local schools, arose from these requests. Duval County Public Schools partnered with the Jacksonville Symphony, Jacksonville Public Education Fund, Jacksonville Public Library and Florida Blue in order to encourage folks to supply the county’s growing number of band classes.
According to DCPS, in 2010, there were 3,150 students enrolled in instrumental courses. Today, there are more than 6,350 students enrolled in instrumental courses (band, orchestra, guitar, and keyboard). From Dec. 1 through Dec. 19, the community responded to the dearth by taking trumpets, saxophones, guitars and even an accordion to designated sites throughout the city, and now all of the instruments are going right into the hands of eager students.
Coordinated by Smith, the effort is meant to address a significant increase not only in the number of band and instrument classes offered and supported by the district, but also an increase in the number of students taking these classes. Additionally, the school system has been hiring music instructors at a rate not seen in well over a decade; every school in DCPS now has at least one music teacher, with some schools offering multiple disciplines and instructors.
For Smith, this growth is a direct effect of the efforts made by DCPS Superintendent Dr. Nikolai Vitti to bolster arts education in Duval County schools. “The district had realigned and reinvested funds for arts education in the budget,” says Smith, “but the need is even greater than that.”
Estimated costs for a single school band program can reach upwards of $250,000, according to DCPS. Smith’s new position places him at the helm of all arts education, to include visual arts, dance and theater, yet, he states, the costs and needs are most significant in DCPS instrumental programs at this point. “The district has a number of instruments that are in need of vital repair. Instruments reach the end of their lifespan and must be replaced,” Smith says.
Individual costs of some instruments can be prohibitive for a family or even a school. Replacing a tuba, for example, can cost around $2,500 — and that’s for an entry-level quality instrument. Other instruments, such as bassoons, can cost as much as $5,000; cellos can cost $1,200, clarinets go for around $2,000. Music stands, instrument stands, cases and cleaning kits add up, too.
The partners gathered wanted to create a homegrown initiative; they wanted the donors to feel a connection to the school where the instrument they donated was being played. They wanted the community to feel the exhilaration of sharing the gift of music and perhaps get a nice “thank you” in return.
Amy Rankin, Jacksonville Symphony’s director of public relations, explained that “for [JSO’s] December concert series, folks who brought in an instrument received a voucher for our Sunday matinee concerts.” For Rankin, the current band and instrument classes offered in Duval County schools are helping create the future audience for the symphony. “As a community, we have an opportunity to affect and influence the emotional well-being of young people. We have the ability to help them experience the joy of music,” Rankin adds.
At the end of the December collection period, the Instruments For Change initiative had accumulated nearly 50 instruments from the community. Smith and his team will need to assess the state of each individual instrument and then decide which are ready to be played and which are in need of repair. Smith says, “An instrument that is not played regularly can fall into disrepair quickly.”
Moving forward, the stakeholders, ever-mobilized by this initial collection, look to repeat the drive biannually, aiming for a May repeat in 2016. According to Smith, band programs and instrumental classes are only going to increase under his watch and folks can drop off instruments or monetary donations to repair instruments at his office any day, any time.
When asked if there have been any unique instruments donated during the collection period, Smith shares, “We received a hammer dulcimer and an accordion in the same day.”
In the near future, those unusual music makers just might be put to good use by a curious student.
Folks interested in donating can call the DCPS Arts office anytime at 904-855-3349 ext. 2, email Jeffrey Smith at [email protected] or go to duvalschools.org/arts.