Manilow’s donation shows kids that every note is precious

If you ask a group of Tulalip Elementary fourth- and fifth-graders what music they listen to, they’ll say AC/DC or Green Day. There’s no mention of the Grammy-winning Barry Manilow.

And though few, if any, of the students have ever heard Manilow croon “Copacabana” or “Mandy,” the Las Vegas headliner delivered music to their lives.

Manilow, through his Manilow Music Project, has donated 45 Yamaha violins to Snohomish County. This $36,000 gift, which arrived Wednesday, means the elementary students on the Tulalip Reservation will have a musical strings program for the first time ever.

For 9-year-old Ruth Pablo, who got to hold one of the violins for the first time Monday, the instruments will be a stepping stone along her career path.

“I want to learn the violin because when I’m older, I want to be a music teacher,” the Tulalip fourth-grader said.

Someday Quinton Hill wants to be in a band. The 11-year-old said he plans on practicing his violin at home a lot.

“I like it because it’s fun and it gets my adrenaline going,” Quinton said after getting a turn fingering the strings. “It’s just like great to hold the violin and hear the noises.”

This gift of 45 violins will be split between Tulalip Elementary and Hawthorne Elementary School in Everett, which means the Everett School District will once again have an elementary orchestra or strings program after 25 years without one — it was discontinued in 1984.

These violins will help launch what will be called the Prelude Strings program, geared to fourth- and fifth-graders at both schools and headed by Everett Symphony Orchestra assistant conductor Ron Friesen, a retired former music teacher who is volunteering his time to ensure Prelude Strings gets going on the right note.

Friesen said when the violins arrived at symphony headquarters last week, he hadn’t been so excited opening boxes since he got a bicycle as a kid for Christmas.

On Monday in the multipurpose room at Tulalip Elementary, Friesen introduced the students to the instruments up on stage by sitting down three kids at a time in chairs during the lunch break and letting them hold a violin and pluck the strings.

Once permission is granted from the students’ parents and teachers, the students will begin lessons at Tulalip Elementary. Once Prelude Strings is launched there, Friesen will begin the process at Hawthorne.

Friesen will be solely responsible for teaching the Prelude Strings program twice a week, at noon at Tulalip and after school at Hawthorne. The instruments will be turned over to the students at no charge. If the instrument is lost, stolen or damaged, the student doesn’t have to pay but gives up the chance to learn.

The students also agree to keep up with their schoolwork.

Eve Dawson, 9, said she doesn’t know any songs yet on the violin but is excited to learn.

“I really want to play it,” Eve said. “You have to keep your grades up, and I’m going to try.”

Manilow got the idea to donate the violins after the singer was contacted by an acquaintance following his March concert at the Everett Events Center.

That acquaintance was Harvey Platt, chief executive of Beaverton, Ore.-based Platt Electrical Supply, which has a branch in Everett. Platt knew about the Manilow Music Project, so after Platt learned instruments were needed locally, he wrote to Manilow’s people and inquired about a donation.

This gift of the chance to play and learn the violin is certainly not lost on student Ruth Pablo.

“I really love music,” Ruth said. “When I take my violin home, I’m going to put it under my bed or somewhere safe.”

How you can help

The Prelude Strings program is part of the Everett Symphony Orchestra’s social mission to help preserve symphonic music in Snohomish County and help schools keep music alive for children and youth.

About two weeks ago, the Everett School District told the symphony that they were not able to find the money to transport fourth- and fifth-graders to the Oct. 22 Explore Music Concert at the Everett Civic Auditorium. This field trip was almost canceled, just as it was in 2007.

Instead, the Everett Symphony used $5,000 from its operating budget to pay the cost of the buses to transport the 3,000 students. Now, the concert will go on, said the symphony’s chief executive Roger Pawley.

“We have to do this. It’s absolutely critical because without these children, we don’t have musicians and an audience in the future and as the schools find it more difficult to fund music programs, who is better positioned to step forward and try to help,” Pawley said.

But the symphony can’t do this alone. “The community has to want this,” Pawley said.

To donate to the symphony or become a volunteer symphony ambassador, call the symphony’s main office line at 425-258-1605 or go to www.everettsymphony.org.

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