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Band receives nearly $50,000 in new instruments

SALYERSVILLE – Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, a non-profit catalyst created to change the lives of countless children by giving them access to learning to play music, recently put more instruments in the hands of Magoffin County students.

The foundation, named after the 1995 film of the same name, with the help of a very generous donation from Chris and Morgane Stapleton, as well as from the Bluegrass Community Foundation, provided nearly $50,000 in new instruments to the Magoffin County High School band program.

Magoffin County Schools Superintendent Chris Meadows told Mortimer Media Group, “This all started last May, and I get a lot of emails and I was just sorting through emails one day, and a lot of the emails are junk. They’re from a lot of vendors wanting to sell us different items. Especially since COVID, we get a lot more emails with vendors wanting to sell things, but I happened to see one email that caught my attention from the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation and it stood out to me because I remembered that years ago there was a movie called “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” and I knew it was music related, music driven, so I replied to the email that I would like to receive more information. Very quickly a guy responded and scheduled me for a Zoom meeting the following week and little did I know that Zoom meeting ended up being an interview. It was a one-on-one interview with a gentleman in New York who was interviewing me about our band program and our band needs.”

From there, they asked to talk to MCHS Band Director Austin Pence for more information, and before long, new instruments started showing up at the Magoffin County High School and changing lives.

MCHS Band Director Austin Pence told Mortimer Media Group, “I couldn’t believe it. I was really, really excited. I had imagined we would get some stuff, but we got an incredible amount of instruments with this donation and we were super excited for it. Things we thought we would never get because some of the instruments were out of our yearly budget. There’s a set of drums that every band is supposed to have, but to acquire them it’s about $10,000 – $15,000 for the set of drums called timpani, and I just never thought we would be able to get that because our budget never even reaches that in a year. Through this grant, we were able to get those and have a full set of brand new ones and we were super excited about it.”

For these students, this donation was a life-changer.

“Our percussion students are actually able to learn all the instruments they are supposed to learn in the curriculum,” Pence said. “They’re supposed to learn timpani, mallets, snare drum – all these things – and now that we have all those, if they’re wanting to go to college, they actually have all the skills they need to go to college with those instruments. For many other students, just having working instruments they can play in band. Before, we were having to share instruments or work something out where the kids could borrow from somebody, but now kids have an instrument they can take home, practice and use on their own.”

The students told Mortimer Media Group exactly how much this donation meant to them.

Senior band student Brittany Walters said, “If it weren’t for this, I wouldn’t be in band. I couldn’t afford it.”

Freshman Brooke Keeton continued, “There’s some students that want to join band that I’ve talked to before, but they aren’t lucky enough to be able to afford an instrument that’s $2,000. This grant that gave us a bunch of instruments has made so many students’ lives different by being able to join music and adventure into music.”

Junior Candace Cole, who has been in band the longest of the three, told Mortimer Media Group, “Before the pandemic, I done band a little bit in middle school and we were always – all of us percussionists – were always crammed up on one snare, or one xylophone, and now we have a xylophone, a vibraphone, a marimba, and we now have the timpani, which are up to $1,000 a piece and now we have a full set of four, so it’s changed quite a bit.”

Magoffin County High School Principal Brian Conley said they are extremely grateful for what this donation means to this program.

“Because of the sum of money involved and knowing that instruments are extremely expensive and, knowing how hard our band program – our band director and our students – work, it just seemed like a blessing, a gift, to be able to receive such a donation,” Conley said. “We’re thankful. We’re thankful to the Stapletons and we’re thankful to the Bluegrass Community Foundation for this donation. Our program is growing. It’s a hearty program. We have a great director, and we have great students, and this donation will only enhance that, so we’re thankful.”

Pence has been the band director for several years, making the drive from Elizabethtown every morning and night, even after late-night basketball games and events.

“Mr. Pence in my mind is an exemplary teacher, not just band director, and a lot of people may not know of the sacrifice he has made,” Conley said. “He drives four hours a day to be here and to be here with his students, and just the commitment and drive he has to develop these students, to give them opportunities to maybe pursue music as a career someday, just as he has, he’s awakened a love for music in so many students and we’re thankful for Mr. Pence.”

Superintendent Meadows can’t help but think what if he hadn’t noticed that one email in a sea of constant emails.

“I was so excited,” Meadows said. “I couldn’t believe that we would be able to receive almost $46,000 worth of instruments for free, and then I began to really think about what if I had just skipped over that email. It was kind of unnerving to think what if I had just deleted that one like we often do. Since then, I pay a little bit more attention to those emails.”

Pence told Mortimer Media Group they are hard at work, getting ready for their annual spring concert, with the date to be announced soon.

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