Saturday, April 5, 2008

Manilow's Gift of Music

Barry Manilow's gift of music

Donation will buy instruments for all of valley's middle, high school programs

Bruce Fessier • The Desert Sun • April 4, 2008

COACHELLA VALLEY - Palm Springs resident Barry Manilow is pledging roughly $250,000 worth of music supplies to the public middle and high schools in the Coachella Valley.

In an exclusive interview at his South Palm Springs home, the Brooklyn native said he wants to give Coachella Valley students the same opportunity he received in his high school music class."I would have been a loser had I not had that music class," Manilow said.

He already donated more than $10,000 worth of musical instruments to Palm Desert Middle School in January.Other local educators are thrilled about receiving the instruments, sheet music and music stands in September.

"I was extremely excited when I heard about Palm Desert Middle School earlier this year," Jennifer Dean, director of bands at James Workman Middle School in Cathedral City, said during a class Thursday afternoon."I actually went to Palm Desert Middle School.

Then I heard Mr. Manilow was opening it up to other schools and I was very excited for my students."Manilow and a committee of local friends, including Mitch Gershenfeld, director of theater operations and presentations at the McCallum Theatre, and his wife, Sam, are working for those students.

Sam Gershenfeld was asked by Manilow to contact every public middle and high school in the valley in order to assess their needs. She said the educators were "almost tearful" that someone was coming to their rescue."They were emotional phone calls," she said. "When the schools realized this was a sincere effort on Barry's part, they were just so grateful. They said this is such a critical need. They were so happy someone would step up to help the schools.

"Manilow began his quest to "keep music alive in the schools," as Gershenfeld put it, after a friend passed along a message from his daughter, a student at Palm Desert Middle School."It started with this one girl, Emma Reinhart, who said the whole school she goes to needs some instruments and would you consider giving them a hand?" said Manilow.

"I had never thought about that. I knew schools around the country are suffering. Music classes keep being cut and if they do have classes, they're in terrible shape."After making his donation to Palm Desert Middle School, Manilow attended a concert by its band, sitting against the back wall while parents focused on their children on the bandstand."It was probably the most moving concert I'd ever been to, and the fact that I had something to do with it was very moving to me," he said.

"What I saw was just what I remembered in my high school. When I got into high school, I really didn't know what I wanted to do."Then I hit the music class, and I felt like I was on solid ground. I made friends. I formed a band. I learned how to work with other students, and my grades went up in all the other classes because I had more confidence. It was the music class that did it for me."

Manilow said he began thinking about the opportunities other local school kids might miss and, "It killed me."How it came together."

He met with a few friends, including his personal manager, production manager, personal assistant and the Gershenfelds, and formed The Manilow Music Project as a program of his nonprofit Manilow Health and Hope Fund.

Sam Gershenfeld became the liaison to the local schools.She found four high schools - mostly continuation schools - didn't have music programs at all. Of the eight other high schools and 12 middle schools besides Palm Desert, she said it was "amazing how they were dealing with broken instruments or the kids couldn't afford instruments. "

Manilow went to the Yamaha music company, which gave him a discount on instruments. His music publisher, Hal Leonard, supplied sheet music.His group then assembled an order form, listing dozens of instruments worth a certain point value.

Manilow offered each school 100 points' worth of instruments, so they could choose many smaller instruments or a few large, more expensive items.

Each school will receive $12,000 to $13,000 in instruments by the fall semester. They have until April 15 to return their "dream list."Greg Whitmore, band director at Cathedral City High School, has already turned in his request for 13 instruments. The list includes synthesizers for his marching band, a bass trombone he could never afford and a xylophone to replace one that was more than a decade old.

"I'm really excited about that," Whitmore said.Those instruments will be used on a 12-day tour of England and at a concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.