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Instrument drive opens access to band

Musical instruments can be expensive, and in Independent School District 196 that used to mean students who wanted to join their school band didn't have the opportunity.

That is changing, though, thanks to a three-year-old program called Band for All, an instrument drive that started as an effort to increase diversity in the district's band program and has helped introduce the world of music to a whole new audience.

Band for All grew out of a 2006 brainstorming session among district band teachers, said Angela Wyatt, an elementary school band director who oversees the program.

"We noticed that the bands in our high school, especially, didn't really look like the rest of the student population," Wyatt said. "There's very little diversity in the bands."

The answer, Wyatt said, was to break down barriers to joining band by making instruments available to students who might not otherwise have access.

The district already had a few instruments it could loan out, but those were mostly high-dollar items like tubas.

The district's band directors held their first Band for All event at Valley Middle School. They brought in 75 used instruments, and instruments continued to come in after that. All told the district has received close to 500 instruments. Some of the items that come in are ready to hand out. Others need repairs. But even instruments that aren't worth repairing can be traded in for credit toward refurbished instruments.

Students get the Band for All instruments in fifth grade and keep them as long as they continue to play. Wyatt estimates close to 400 students have joined band because of a Band for All instrument, and 246 are currently playing thanks to the donated instruments.

Cedar Park Elementary School, which didn't have its own band when the program started, now has an 80-student band.

"It's a well-balanced band that plays well," Wyatt said. "It's very, very exciting."

That is good news in Wyatt's mind. She points to the better academic performance of students who are in band and other benefits that come from being involved in band.

Rosemount Middle School band director John Zschunke sees benefits from the program, too. He only has a handful of Band for All students in his bands, but he's happy to have them.

"It's not an overwhelming number that makes a difference in our numbers, but it's four more kids that have an opportunity to play music," Zschunke said. "I think that's important."

The Band for All program is currently looking for 65 additional instruments for fourth graders who would like to join band in the fall. The program also needs monetary donations to pay for instrument repairs.

Anyone who has an instrument to donate can turn them in to a school band director. For more information, e-mail bandforall@district196. org.