Providing the opportunity for every child to play a musical instrument

Annual Bringing Music to Life instrument drive takes place March 8-21


For years, students in the music program at the Denver Green School Southeast Campus in Denver’s Virginia Vale neighborhood had to share musical instruments because the school simply did not have the inventory for each child to have their own.

This meant students were unable to take the musical instruments home to practice, so they would spend extra hours after school to have access to an instrument to play.

“It felt like a tall hill to climb to continue providing the best opportunities for my students,” said Aleaha Harkins, music teacher at the Denver Green School Southeast Campus.

But for the 2020-21 school year, a nonprofit program called Bringing Music to Life stepped in to help.

“Many students were grateful to have the opportunity to even share an instrument, but when Bringing Music to Life allowed for each student to borrow their own instrument to use for the year, they were elated,” Harkins said. “It was so incredible to see students’ eyes double in size and their jaws drop when I told them they did not have to share this year, and they could take the instrument home to practice.”

The Bringing Music to Life instrument drive, which is a project of the Colorado Nonprofit Development Center, takes gently-used musical instruments donated by the community and gives them to underfunded school music programs across Colorado. The Bringing Music to Life instrument drive got its start years ago by Steve Blatt when he was with Colorado Public Radio. Today, Blatt serves as the organization’s executive director and the drive is in its 11th annual year.

Being able to provide a student an instrument to take home was particularly a “life-saver” this year, Harkins said.

“Thanks to the (Bringing Music to Life) program, students ... did not have to share and were able to practice from their own home during the COVID-19 shutdown,” Harkins said. “During the struggles of online learning, it brought so much joy to see the students with instruments at home, logging on every morning at 8 a.m., ready and excited to learn.”

The Bringing Music to Life instrument drive, which takes place March 8-21 this year, accepts nearly any type of musical instrument - particularly those used in band or orchestra. The instruments should be in gently-used condition.

However, “every instrument needs some sort of repair,” Blatt said, adding that community members who do not have an instrument to donate can contribute to getting the instruments repaired.

The repairs are an important, but costly, part of the drive, Blatt said. Beginning music students do not know the difference between “excellent playable condition” and an instrument that is not functioning properly. If the instrument is in less-than-great condition, the student may think it’s their fault the instrument is not sounding quite right, which may cause for frustration and eventually the loss of interest in playing, Blatt said.

“So the main thing is that it (the instrument) works right,” Blatt said, “so that it rewards the efforts of the student.”

Bringing Music to Life works with the Colorado Institute of Musical Instrument Technology in Castle Rock and Boomer Music in Fort Collins to get the donated instruments repaired at a discounted rate. In addition to doing repair work, such as putting new strings on a violin or replacing a mouthpiece on a horn, the two music shops deep clean and sanitize all the instruments, and will do some cosmetic work if needed.

Once they are ready for student use, they are distributed to the schools.

The instruments “are awarded to the schools,” Blatt said, “but as long as the student is attending that school, the kid treats the instrument as their own. Kids take pride in their instrument (and) they learn to be responsible for it.”

After that student graduates, the instrument is then handed down to another student at the school who needs it.

Kolacny Music, 1900 S. Broadway in Denver’s Platt Park neighborhood, is one of about 15 locations throughout the state where people can donate musical instruments. The shop has been involved since the first drive, and through the years, Debra Kolacny has heard many different backstories of the instruments being donated.

Some were purchased new by a parent for a youth who eventually outgrew it or got a new one, and others were the beloved instrument of a family member who had since passed away, Kolacny said.

Kolacny Music’s role - making it convenient for people to donate the instruments they no longer need or use - is a small part in the Bringing Music to Life drive, Kolacny said. But it’s rewarding to be involved, Kolacny said, knowing that the instruments will be going to local students who may not otherwise have access to a musical instrument.

“We’re pleased to be a part of it,” she said of the Bringing Music to Life drive. “It helps kids in our community. They (the instruments) don’t go out-of-state, and they don’t go to private schools. So the schools need them, and the kids need them. The whole process is gratifying.”

Musical instruments are expensive, so understandably, some families may be hesitant to go out and purchase a new instrument for their child when he or she first demonstrates interest in playing, said Zack Littlefield, a musician who has served as the video producer for the drive since its beginning.

But unfortunately, budgets for music and arts programs are some of the first to get cut, Littlefield said. So many students - especially those who come from families who do not have the means to either purchase new or rent an instrument - don’t get the opportunity to play, Littlefield added.

The Bringing Music to Life is one way to help take that obstacle out, he said.

Playing music “can very easily become a love for the rest of their life,” Littlefield said. “Whether they stick with it long-term or not, they’re going to get something out of it.”

Participating in music can lead to all sorts of other skill-building, Littlefield said. For example, youth learn about teamwork and how to create something together.

“It also opens up other parts of the brain,” Littlefield said, “so the students find themselves doing better at other subjects as well.”

Being involved with music can do some amazing things for a child’s self-confidence, Blatt said, “that goes way beyond just their music classes.”

“It takes time to learn to play an instrument (but) music is something that can last a lifetime,” Blatt said. The Bringing Music to Life drive “gives people an opportunity to give new life to an instrument, but moreover, it can change the life of a child.”


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