When Austin Kase ’11 was a high school student in New Jersey, he noticed the dearth of musical instruments at public schools. To fill the void, he launched Share the Music, a program that accepts donated instruments and places them in music classrooms.
Recently, Share the Music became an official undergraduate organization, collaborating with other Yale groups, such as the Class of ’57 Music Education Project, to reinvigorate the halls of New Haven schools with the sound of music. And after receiving a $600 Sudler Grant from the Office of Masters, the group set out to make a documentary that tells the story from the group’s inception and includes interviews of teachers, students and donors in the program. The theme, members interviewed said, is to express why music education is important.
“Music education is so vital,” Naomi Woo ’12, one of the students spearheading Yale’s involvement with Kase, said. “Whenever I’m stressed, I play the piano. Whenever I have a lot of emotion, I play the piano. It’s a really great feeling and it’s a really great thing to be able to do.”
According to Saranya Sethuraman ’11, the treasurer and trombonist of the group, the film is part of their strategy to grow the program beyond its current size. She hopes to plan several screenings across the country to kick-start the opening of new branches at other high schools and colleges.
“It’s part of our raising awareness,” Sethuraman said. “Austin and I both had experience with filming, and we were both comfortable with editing and shooting. It is great way to reach out to a lot of people.”
So far the program has given away over 100 instruments; the Yale branch donated an additional 20 during the holiday season.
“There are all sorts of people with instruments in their closets,” Kase said. “Share the Music is a good way to put those instruments back to work.”
From an elderly Korean man with a dusty trumpet left over from the heyday of the big band era to a professional xylophone player who stopped playing to raise a family, there have been stories of music loved and lost, Share the Music members recalled. At the same time, some donors are merely parents who bought instruments for their children who stopped playing after a year or so.
The documentary focused on these stories, as well as the reception of the instruments in the classrooms, pairing the act of giving with its effects.
The group is currently working with three school band programs in the New Haven area — at Wexler-Grant, Truman Elementary School and the Cooperative Arts High School – and Kase said they are thrilled to be included in this early phase of the project.
“They are happy to see the community taking interest in their kids,” Kase said.
Yet in New Haven, Kase explains, the supply of instruments cannot meet the demand.
In order to overcome the odds, the group is also collaborating with the Yale School of Music Class of ’57 Music Education Project. John Miller, the project manager of the Music Education Project, said working with Share the Music has opened up new possibilities for his group.
When Share the Music donates instruments to schools, the Music Education Project is able to pair the recipients of those instruments with School of Music musicians who can then provide lessons and host concerts, directly pinpointing the instruments received.
“Our goals are the same,” Miller said. “There is this huge web of collaboration within Yale and New Haven, helping students realize their music.”
Both alone and within this collaboration, Share the Music leaders said they have made a tangible difference despite the odds. For instance, one of the New Haven schools had six students who wanted to learn to play the flute, but there were none available to them. Share the Music found flutes for all the students, and now the School of Music interns are teaching those students how to use their instruments and master their art.
“We want to spread it as far and as wide as we can,” Kase said.
With help from the Sudler grant, that idea is closer to a reality. Perhaps, he said, the film will inspire students to dig through their basements for their own dusty trombones.
Kase plans to showcase the film in the residential college theaters after spring break.