By Stephanie Powell
As the janitor at Cesar Chavez Academy cranks up the last basketball hoop in the middle school’s gymnasium, students shuffle in and fill the floor. The students are from the school and neighboring school’s seventh- and eighth-grade band and orchestra classes, and are met with a makeshift stage complete with colossal Yamaha backdrops, oversized balloons in the shape of beamed notes, and a present neatly wrapped up with a giant purple bow. They fill up the floor, many with violin cases in hand, sitting on top of a giant blue eagle, the school’s mascot, eagerly awaiting a special guest.
The guest of the hour, or in this case, class period, is Lindsey Stirling. Whispering among themselves about the rumors of a tour bus in their school’s parking lot, the students squirm with anticipation.
“Am I speaking to a room full of musicians?” Stirling asks the students excitedly as she skids to a halt after bursting through the auditorium doors.
After a roar of applause, Stirling, a Yamaha-sponsored artist, tells her story of performing in front of friends to taking the stage at America’s Got Talent, where during the semi-final round she was let go and told she was not capable of ever filling a stadium. “I tell you this,” Stirling says to the students, “so you keep doing what you love.” Stirling then grabs her acoustic Yamaha violin and grabs the mic one more time, “Who lent me a bow and a shoulder rest?” A student faintly offers up a name. “Thank you so much, Adriana,” Stirling shouts before jumping into an acoustic performance of “The Arena.”
The performance was made possible as a part of a Yamaha’s new initiative Music Essentials. The company’s band and orchestral division has partnered with DonorsChoose.org to fund music-education projects for schools around the country. Yamaha started working with the fundraising platform after conducting some research regarding how much money music teachers were spending out of pocket in order to keep their classrooms functioning.
“The national average for teachers to keep their classrooms functioning is about $500 out of pocket, and music teachers spend almost twice that,” Lisa MacDonald, director of marketing at Yamaha, says. “They spend about $945 a year. So, if they don’t spend that money, that’s often the difference between a kid having an instrument to play in class or having a kid sit around and wait for his or her turn with a violin that’s being shared between multiple kids.”
Music teachers can submit projects on the DonorsChoose.org website, and once vetted by a staff member, the project will automatically be enrolled in Yamaha’s Music Essentials program. Yamaha will match whatever teachers raise dollar-for-dollar. As of September 23, Music Essentials has helped fund projects totaling $64,000. Yamaha expects $250,000 will have been funded by the end of the initiative, with Yamaha’s share totaling half. So far, 57,000 students at 320 schools have been reached.
Yamaha reached out to Sarah Azevedo, a seventh- and eighth-grade orchestra teacher at Cesar Chavez Academy, about a guest performance by Lindsey Stirling. The students’ reactions since the performance, Azecedo says, has been amazing to witness.
“It has been really, really good,” she says. “I think it really changed the culture, especially for my younger kids. I think they were really starstruck just knowing that there was a real, professional musician there and that she came just to see them. That was really cool for them.”
“Lindsey is a product of a music-education program—she feels very passionately that children should have the right to music education in their schools,” MacDonald says. “And she was willing to come out and do an event with us to raise awareness about this program to let people know about the challenges our music teachers face in the schools and how they can help.”
In the coming months, Yamaha has a few other surprises around the country planned with other Yamaha artists. “We really want this to be a very grassroots thing,” MacDonald says. “It’s hard as a corporation to go out and visit every school in the country—you just can’t do that at scale—and we wanted to do something that every teacher had access to and every teacher had the ability to benefit from.”
Inside the present topped with a purple bow, Yamaha donated a case of violins to Mrs. Azevedo’s classroom. She had ordered violins for her class, MacDonald says, but couldn’t order enough for students due to budgetary restraints. Azevedo has already inventoried, tuned up, and handed out some of the new instruments to her orchestra students, she says.
After warming up on their old instruments, she said to a few of her students, “Hey, you! Give me that violin!” The students looked at her a little bewildered and confused. She passed over brand new, shiny hard cases with violins inside. “Why don’t you take these ones instead?” she asked. The students’ faces, full of excitement, said it all, she adds.
“We think that teachers like Mrs. Azevedo and others are just heroes to us,” MacDonald says, “doing what they do with the kids—so we’re really grateful that we can have anything to do with them, to support them, and make their lives easier.”
To donate to Azevedo’s projects, click here.