Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Band directors laud Manilow's gift of instruments

Eighteen of the Coachella Valley's 20 public middle and high schools have met today's deadline for ordering materials from the Manilow Music Project.

But the schools' band directors say they need more support to help their students compete for admission to the top music colleges.

Barry Manilow said that's why he announced his offer this month to buy $250,000 worth of instruments, stands and sheet music for local public schools with band programs.

"The reason I'm talking to you is not to brag about doing this," he said in an exclusive interview at his Palm Springs home, "I think everybody should do it. At your kids' school you can buy a clarinet and they would be very grateful for that clarinet.

"I thought the school system takes care of things like this. Well, they don't. Or they won't. Anybody that wants these kids playing music, they can do it."

Manilow formed a committee to help support local music programs. It assigned a point value to dozens of Yamaha instruments and offered each school 100 points for instruments they'd select on order forms due today. Manilow also got the Hal Leonard music publishing company to offer sheet music to the schools.

The materials are expected to be delivered in September.

"I hope it helps," Manilow said. "I hope it encourages other people to do it, too."
Local high school music instructors said the donations will supplement what their band booster programs are doing.

Paul Bluto, band director at La Quinta High School, said he sees Manilow's plan as a relief for his boosters, which last year helped lease $100,000 worth of instruments and band uniforms.
"Our biggest needs are providing uniforms and equipment," Bluto said. "I know that in the future, with the cuts coming down from the state, we're probably going to be hit pretty hard in transportation, to be able to go to events and do things."

Greg Whitmore of Cathedral City High School said transportation costs would be next on his wish list from another philanthropist. His bands have earned invitations to perform in prestigious venues from Carnegie Hall to British concert halls, but he said his students need financial help to be able to take advantage of those rare opportunities.

"I think Barry's belief that more needs to be done reflects his understanding that the arts are not oversubsidized," Whitmore said.

Brian Ingelson, band director and fine arts chairman of Palm Springs High School, said he's getting tympani from Manilow to add to a string orchestra his booster club helped him start with donations from the Agua Caliente band, the Friends of the Philharmonic, Wells Fargo and Tour de Palm Springs.

But Ingelson said Palm Springs is the only local school with 60 string instruments in an orchestra and it needs additional instructors.

"You look at Boston or New York or Philadelphia, there's an orchestra in every school," he said, "and they'll have staffs of five or 10 people that are hired by the school districts. They have private instructors. We just don't have that in California.

"For us to be able to have our students compete on a national level, (we need) fundraising and the generosity and support of the community."