There's a good chance you've heard them at Dogwood Dell on the 4th of July. Their concerts are often oriented toward families, says Poland, and occasionally he'll invite children to come up into the band and stand beside the musicians or even try their hands at conducting.
Formed in 1971, the band has grown over the years to include about 80 volunteer musicians with a "stable nucleus" of performers, according to Poland. This has put them in a position, he says, to "give a little more back to the community." Each spring they play a benefit concert called "Band Together for Children" to raise money for a charitable organization serving children. But it's their annual "Old Instruments for Young Hands" concert that aims to summon those dusty trombones into service again.
Modeled after similar projects around the country, the goal of Old Instruments for Young Hands is to provide instruments through the school system for students whose families can't afford to buy or rent one privately. This August will be the fourth year the Richmond Concert Band has performed a special concert at which they ask the audience to bring instruments no longer in use.
"A lot of people take band in school but don't continue, and the instrument ends up in the attic or basement," says Poland. Because the band wants to promote music involvement for children, believing that it imparts a variety of lifelong benefits, it seemed a natural step to Poland to take on a project that helps more students participate in music. The band discussed the idea and decided to move forward.
Poland remembers, "I got ahold of Nelson Lawson and I don't think he took one second to say, 'Great!'" Lawson, instructional specialist for music education in the Richmond Public School system, coordinates the disbursal of the donated instruments to elementary, middle and high schools throughout the city.
"All schools have profited from this program," says Lawson. The instruments are loaned at no charge to students, some of whom have never played before and likely would not have had a chance to learn otherwise.
According to Lawson, this year alone, Richmond schools acquired 80 instruments through the program including 18 trombones. "Even after the concert, we received instruments for a month from people who had heard about the concert but couldn't attend," he says.
The Richmond Concert Band takes charge of collecting the instruments, even the late arrivals, and delivering them to Lawson. "I'm amazed at how many are in very, very good shape," says Poland. "Most just need a little dusting, or with some of the wind instruments, you just run a little soapy water through them and they're ready to play." At the benefit concert, the band also collects monetary donations for costs associated with the cleaning and repair of the instruments.
David Hoggard, a former band director in the Richmond Public Schools, makes sure the instruments are truly ready to see the light of day again. "He does a wonderful job repairing them," says Lawson. "He keeps the costs down, sometimes even donates parts."
Now in his 25th year leading the Richmond Concert Band, Poland was a public school band director himself for many years and knows how things go: "How many middle schools are there [in greater Richmond]? Each school starts about 30 beginners a year," he calculates. "By the time they graduate, only five continue playing their instruments. Think of all the instruments out there!" He pauses, but gives up on the math. "I figure there are literally hundreds and hundreds. We're only scratching the tip of the iceberg!"
We may never know if a tree falling in the woods with no one to hear it makes a sound, but it's certain that a cornet in an attic is drearily mute. Thanks to the support of the Richmond Concert Band, more and more Richmond students are giving long-silent instruments a new voice, and perhaps finding a new voice for themselves, as well. S
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