Story and photos by Stefanie Jackson – Northampton teacher Brad Ford has done the improbable: not only did he revive the middle and high school marching band, but on the first attempt he got a grant of more than $30,000 for musical instruments even though some applicants spend years on the waiting list.
“In the band world, this is a very coveted grant many band directors dream of getting, and getting it on the first time is like hitting a bullseye from a half-court shot,” Ford said.
The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation is named after the 1995 movie of the same name, about a composer who becomes a high school music teacher and finds a new purpose in life.
The film’s composer started the foundation to support the future of music education, and the grants for musical instruments are highly sought-after.
Over the last four years, the Northampton band program “exploded” in growth, reaching 100 members, Ford said.
He recognized the need for new equipment. There were more students than instruments, so some high school students had to share instruments with middle school students, passing the instruments along in school between classes or on the athletic field between performances.
Furthermore, 17% of the instruments had sustained irreparable damage from years of use.
The application process for the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation instrument grant was competitive. Only 49 schools received a grant last year, Ford said.
At least 65% of a school’s student population must be economically disadvantaged to qualify for the grant, and Ford had to fill out a 21-page application and complete a two-hour interview.
After about a month of waiting, Ford received an email notifying him of the grant award.
The Northampton marching band will get 18 new instruments: four trumpets, four clarinets, three flutes, three alto saxophones, two trombones, one baritone saxophone, and one double French horn, a retail value of nearly $31,000.
Goals of the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation grant include giving economically disadvantaged students access to school music programs, reducing instrument sharing to give students more practice time, and replacing old and irreparable instruments to enhance student engagement.
The foundation states that students who learn and play music have better attendance records, higher academic achievements, higher graduation rates, and fewer suspensions compared to their school’s total student population.
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This story was updated to clarify that the 100-member milestone was for the Northampton schools’ entire band program, not the marching band alone.