Schools find instrumental contributors

$100,000 music donation made by VH1 and TCI bolsters city programs

October 02, 1999|By Laurie Willis | Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

Most Thomas Jefferson Elementary School pupils may not grow up to be famous musicians, but officials at VH1 music television and TCI Communications of Baltimore want them to at least have a chance.

In an hourlong program yesterday that featured a local jazz artist, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and a fifth-grader who played "Hot Cross Buns," VH1 and TCI officials donated equipment worth $25,000 to the western Baltimore school and announced a total of $75,000 in contributions to three other city schools.

The new instruments -- a total of 33 clarinets, flutes, trumpets, saxophones, trombones, cymbals and drums -- are the first musical tools the school has had since Havanah J. Kenlaw became principal six years ago.

Only 19 percent of the city's schools have musical instruments, said Jill Warzer, the system's music curriculum specialist. About a third of city schools have no music program of any kind.

Warzer said the decline of musical instruction in city schools started in the mid 1980s. In the 1991-1992 school year, she said, about 60 of the city's 123 elementary schools had musical instruments, compared to 15 now. "I think every county has struggled to maintain musical instrument programs, but there haven't been cuts the way they are in Baltimore City," Warzer said.

Warzer said the city school system hasn't had money to purchase instruments since 1982. "There are a lot of old instruments that are being held together with duct tape and rubber bands," she said.

Now, Thomas Jefferson and Garrett Heights elementary schools, Benjamin Franklin Middle School and Roland Patterson Academy have new instruments thanks to the VH1 Save The Musicprogram, which helps restore music programs silenced by budget cuts.

Started about three years ago in a New York City school, the program is in more than 30 cities nationwide, said John Sykes, president of VH1.

Sykes, who spoke at yesterday's event, said schools submitted proposals and committed to hiring qualified music teachers. About 20 city schools applied for the program, Warzer said.

Brittany Pollard, a Thomas Jefferson fifth-grader, is glad her school was chosen.

"The band program and new instruments are important because last year I came from a school with instruments," Brittany said while standing on a chair to reach the microphone. "I could not continue playing the saxophone. These instruments have come at the right time."

Brittany's speech earned thunderous applause in the gym, where nearly 200 of the school's 376 pupils had gathered.

Kenlaw said that after auditions, about 10 percent of the children will get the chance to play the instruments.

Shawn Owens and Temprest Baldwin, both 10-year-old fifth-graders, hope to be among them. Shawn wants to play the drums, while Temprest aspires to master the piano.

Neither of them has played an instrument, they said.

Townsend, who said Baltimore schools have had to "scrape and struggle to teach children about music," said studies show that students involved in music tend to score an average of 90 points higher on the SAT.

Local trumpeter Dontae Winslow told the pupils that as a child, he turned to music when things got too rough in his North Avenue home.

"I used it as a catharsis. When you have problems at home, in your neighborhood, you can put them into song and poetry as a positive way to release negative energy."

Pub Date: 10/02/99

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