Young musicians at Mae Hensley Junior High worked hard to play the old school horns. The valves stuck. The slides slipped. And many instruments no longer could reliably hit the highest or lowest notes.
“On the old one, a bunch of pieces were missing and it made me mess up – this new one proved it was the instrument, and not me!” said seventh-grader Mark Razo, triumphantly holding up a new trumpet.
Razo’s favorite trumpet was one of a dozen that came to Mae Hensley courtesy of the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, a national nonprofit organization that gives musical instruments to schools. The Ceres junior high was one of 16 schools in California selected this academic year.
Music teacher Aimee Hirsh applied for the grant to replace horns at least 25 years old. No one knew the pieces’ real age, just that they came to the school “before 1989,” she said.
“They were older than the kids – by a lot,” Hirsh said. Almost as old as their parents, kids realized with a laugh.
The foundation considered the socioeconomic realities of the school, where nearly nine in 10 students are low-income. But in a phone interview with the selection committee, Hirsh said, it was clear the group wanted to help those with a strong music program already in place.
“We got the grant because what we were doing with the old instruments was amazing,” she said.
The junior high got a tuba, a baritone saxophone, a bass clarinet, four alto saxophones, three trumpets and two tenor saxophones, Hirsh said.
“And it wasn’t just the instruments. Those cases had all taken a beating with 20-plus years of being tossed around by junior high students, she said.
Eighth-grader Omar Fong said his old trumpet case would not even close. But the worst of it was how the old instruments played, students said.
“With the old one, I had to blow more. With this, it’s easier to make high and low notes,” said eighth-grader Xiomara Zamora.
“It was a struggle to perform some kinds of music, especially slow, quiet pieces,” said eighth-grader Joshua Garcia. A chorus of groans agreed with him.
“When we had the older instruments, it was harder (for everyone) to play,” said eighth-grader Courtney Ford. Trying to tune up while listening to the screeches of the older instruments was a problem, she said.