After a fundraiser in those towns raised nearly $5,400, Readsboro Central School, Deerfield Valley Elementary School, and Halifax School each received five Yamaha keyboards. Whitingham School acquired five guitars to add to their robust music program. These instruments are intended to bolster WINGS’ goal of providing enriching art programs, along with their academic and physical wellness programs. The instruments will also be used for music classes by the music teachers of each school.
Andy Hauty, Project Director of WINGS through the Windham Southwest Supervisory Union, said the fundraising response showed how important WINGS is to the people of the towns it serves. “I thought it was an outstanding success,” said Hauty. “We were looking at the sensitivity, that the economic realities of the valley are horrid, but we felt given the need expressed by the school music teachers and site coordinators, it was important, and people gave. The generosity was amazing.”
Jazz pianist Bill Evans once said that when you play music, you discover a part of yourself that you never knew existed, and according to Stephanie Powers, Operations Manager of WINGS, the new instruments are working that magic on WINGS kids already. Participation in the music programs has grown, and the new guitars in Whitingham have made the program so popular, WINGS had to begin offering a second class each week. “I’ve never seen kids so excited, doing these kinds of lessons,” said Powers. “The music teachers have been fabulous taking this on board, and it’s nice that since this was foundation money, the WINGS program is able to share the instruments with the schools for their music classes.”
Daryl Kniffen, music teacher for RCS and DVES, says the new instruments have helped to bolster his music classes, especially the new keyboards, which he says are a bridge to more inspired participation by students. Kniffen also runs a “Keyboard Club” which allows students to learn melodies and chords to songs chosen by the group. The club collectively makes decisions about how they want to put the songs together, and use a collection of sounds that each keyboard contains.
“Kids find the various sounds engaging and that’s why the keyboard is a very powerful instrument,” said Kniffen. “The sole purpose of my program is to help students achieve their personal musical goals, and keyboard is a great way to do that.”
Kniffen says that the keyboards give students a chance to participate in and create an understanding of the music they hear every day. “It’s real world, and students who are listening to music these days whether it’s pop, hip-hop, or whatever it may be, it’s very keyboard heavy, and it’s their culture, and bridges the gap between school music and real music. This is an instrument they can recognize and latch onto, and I’m about fostering a lifelong involvement.”
Better instruments in the classroom help students realize the difference between what Kniffen calls aesthetic education and school music. Kniffen’s own music classes growing up left him uninspired because his input was never encouraged, and he says letting students make composition decisions allows musical independence, and nurtures musical talent outside the classroom.
Hauty said that the fundraiser was part of the WINGS charitable foundation, a 501(c)(3) that works on fundraising, and allows people to donate to a tax-exempt fund to support community programs.
Powers says the arts programs WINGS offers have continued to grow, and will include a musical presentation of the “Wizard of Oz” this summer, which more than 50 students have already signed up for.
Powers also hopes that WINGS’ new instruments can help their music programs continue to grow, and provide an ongoing participation like that of the popular Jr. Iron Chef competition. “The more interest you garner with kids in the arts the more it will benefit everything.”