By Leslie H. Dixon
OXFORD — “It’s music to my ears,” exclaimed instrumental teacher Rachel Potter as a small group of fifth-grade students picked up their clarinets and blew varying sounds and squeals during a music lesson at Oxford Elementary School.
The budding musicians are some of the 50 or so students who Potter instructs one day a week thanks in large part to a musical instrument program that has allowed students at Oxford Elementary and Otisfield Elementary schools free access to clarinets, violins, flutes, trombones and other string, brass and wind instruments.
And this is just the beginning, said program founder and Oxford Elementary School guidance counselor Carol Lundberg, who hopes the program will become a movement.
Lundberg said the realization that very few students were involved in the instrument program at school because of the high costs sparked her longtime dream to create an instrument loaner program at the school. Over the summer, she contacted the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, which was also launching an instrument drive for needy student musicians across Maine, and came home with three shopping carts filled with instruments.
From there, she worked with Brian Nadeau Music Services and Main Street Music Studio in Brewer to have the instruments inspected, along with Glen Sargent from Second Wind Music in Lincolnville, who made the repairs to about 30 of the instruments for about $2,300.
Lundberg said the debt has already been paid off thanks to the generosity of many people who heard about the program including a woman from Norway who sent a $100 check and a note thanking the school for creating the program. Another woman from Skowhegan sent a note that explained her husband played a similar role, as a school counselor helping students obtain instruments, before his death. She sent a donation in his honor after seeing the article in the paper, Lundberg said.
Two people dropped off instruments along with checks to help with the repair of the instruments. Others have chosen to donate instruments anonymously at one of the drop off locations, Lundberg said. Staff and families have been turning in Clynk bags of returnables at Hannaford Supermarket to support the program. A colleague handed her $20 to help advance the program.
“One very generous donation has cleared the original repair debt much earlier than I’d expected,” Lundberg said. “Now I can begin a savings account for repairs on these and future donated instruments. I wanted Oxford and Otisfield to have priority for these instruments. I am now able to offer the handful of leftover instruments to other schools. It would be fabulous to build this program in the entire district.”
Potter, who teaches some 50 budding musician in about a day a week, said students who were initially hesitant to take a band instrument because another students might not be able to afford to rent or buy one, are now eager to join the program because everyone has access to an instrument.
“With Carol’s program we have been able to service many students who were unable to give kids the chance to play an instrument without the burden that someone else – and mind you this is not in their control at all – cannot play,” said Potter. “Even though the tight schedule of teaching lessons one day a week to so many kids, it goes to show that kids want to play and it’s our job to help them get the resources they need to do so.”
Ten-year-old Georgia Thomas, an Oxford Elementary School fifth-grade student, said she originally thought of playing the trombone but decided it was too big to lug on the bus each day. Others said they wanted to play the flute or violin, but those went quickly. So they are happily learning to play the clarinet.
Last week, Georgia and four other clarinetists came to the music room to begin the learning process.
“The first step is creating a sound,” Potter told the students as they slightly rolled their lower lips and puffed their cheeks out in an attempt to blow into the clarinets. “Make your air go right into the reed.”
“What your face looks like is what a clarinet face should look like,” she said as the students laughed about their puffed cheeks.
Jason tried several times before he mastered the noise. “Focus your air into the clarinet,” Potter told him.
Suddenly three short sounds came out.
“Victory. Touchdown. He got a sound,” exclaimed Potter as she and her students applauded the accomplishment.
“You now all have achieved the goal of making a sound. Now our next goal is to make a note,” Potter told them as they finished up for the day.
In late September, Lundberg passed out 25 instruments, including three to Otisfield students. The goal is to start a movement and spread the program district wide, she said.
“I think our school counselor really cares about us and our other schools,” said clarinetist Kadence Vaillancourt.
Carol Lundberg is looking for donations of musical instruments (no pianos or drum sets, please) or a financial donation to pay for repairs.
Instruments may be dropped off at the following locations:
Oxford Elementary School, 79 Pleasant St., Oxford
Oxford Police and Fire Department, Route 26, Oxford
TD Bank, 1586 Main St., Oxford
SAD 17, Central Office, 232 Main St., Paris
Rainbow Federal Credit Union, 172 Pine St., Paris
Oxford Federal Credit Union, 54 Fair St., Norway
Financial contributions for instrument parts and repairs may be sent to:
Oxford Elementary School, 70 Pleasant St., Oxford, ME 04270. Please include a memo that the contribution is for the instrument program