High Enrollment; New Instruments

By Simon Brown

After this year's huge enrollment, we realized that we needed instruments, fast. To give you an idea, we started out last year with a little over a dozen students. As word got out, our numbers quickly grew; this year, we have had 53 students enroll, with more applications coming in.

We were able to accept 38 children. I wish we could have accepted everyone! We decided on 38 as a safe number for the amount of staff we had. We had instruments in reserve, but there was a new problem: there was a huge number of Kindergarteners that had signed up. The instruments we had were too big.

Not wanting to turn away so many children who could start young and grow through the program, I decided instead to accept them, even without instruments.

We immediately put out a call for instruments that spanned the entire region. Our development department sent personal letters to each music shop with a wish list for instruments.

Stamell Stringed Instruments

The first to respond was Stamell Stringed Instruments, with two shops in Amherst, MA and Poughkeepsie, NY. They told us they had a few instruments to give... Well, a few weeks later, there were eight freshly repaired, quality instruments at our door. They actually took the time to fix the instruments that were broken before giving them to us. All in all, they gave us six violins, a viola and a cello, with promises for more instruments. They explained that they rent violins, and their standard of excellence is so high that when an instrument is a little damaged, they no longer rent it out. So, after repairing these sometimes slight defects, they have decided to send their "unusable" instruments to us. We look at them and say "DAMAGED?! These still have a good 20 years left in them!"
A lot of musicians I know choose Stamell's when renting because of this high standard, and we are proud to have a donor with such integrity.

Shar Music
Shar's logo
The president of Shar Music, Haig Avsharian, called me after recieving our call for instruments. We spoke on the phone for a long time as I told him about the program. He has family in the Berkshires, so he was interested in our program. He mentioned how he's donated to other programs, and asked me what Kids 4 Harmony needed. After some e-mails and another phone conversation, we didn't know what to expect, until Wednesday, when a big box appeared at the office door. Inside, there were a bunch of music folders that said "SHAR" on them. As Alicia and I ripped apart packaging like it was Christmas (or Hanukkah, in our cases), we found two folding music stands and two brand new violins. This was the first time Kids 4 Harmony had ever been given NEW violins. We actually have to break them in! At the time, we were in a meeting with Mark Churchill, a man who has been instrumental in bringing El Sistema to the U.S.A. He mentioned what a high quality outfitter Shar is. Mark is a cellist, and his late wife played principal second violin with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, so he probably knows what he's talking about!

To make a long story short, because of these two donors, we now have enough instruments for all of our Kindergarteners. Each instrument in this program helps to change a life; musicians know this, as does anyone with any kind of passion. It is not just the advisory board, the administration, the teaching staff, the families, the kids... We have a whole network of people helping to make El Sistema happen in Pittsfield.

-Simon Brown
Simon is a composer and conductor.
He serves as the Site Coordinator and Ensemble Director at Kids 4 Harmony.