Beth Fertig is WNYC’s Contributing Editor for Education. She previously covered politics, which included City Hall during the Giuliani administration, and the U.S. Senate campaigns of Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton. She also covered transportation and infrastructure.
Accordions, Clarinets and a Xylophone for City Schools
Tuesday, April 15, 2014 - 11:12 AM
Joseph Feingold bought a violin in 1947 on the black market while he was in a displaced persons camp in Germany for Holocaust survivors. A handwritten label identified it as a Stradivarius, a giveaway that it was a fake.
"I did play on and off over the years," he said. But two years ago, the 91-year-old discovered that it was difficult to produce a sound that was "pleasing to me, much less others."
Recently, he gave that violin to WQXR, WNYC's sister station, so it could be donated to the city's public schools.
WQXR listeners were generous in helping to bring the station's 10-day instrument drive to a strong finale on Monday night. The drive netted more than 2,500 instruments, smashing the initial goal of 1,000.
Along with scores of flutes, guitars and clarinets, there were numerous offbeat bequests: a xylophone, a Chinese pipa, several accordions and mandolins. Family heirlooms and never-used items arrived in equal number.
British journalist Martin Bashir tweeted that he "couldn't afford lessons/instrument as child" so he donated his first bass to the city's public schools. Sean Basinski, a teacher of community organizing, tweeted that he "added my old horn to this pile of used instruments."
The end of the collection period marks the start of the next phase: refurbishing the instruments and distributing them to music programs in New York City public schools. Sam Ash Music Stores and the Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation will continue to partner with WQXR in this process.
Graham Parker, WQXR's general manager, said he was surprised by the level of excitement behind the program. "I have been humbled by the personal stories that have accompanied many of the donations," he said. "It becomes very real for people to think of their once-used instrument making its way into the hands of a student who can create new memories."
At a time when news coverage about classical music has often been dominated by financial turmoil and audience troubles, the drive inspired a number of encouraging stories, in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and in several television reports.
"It's amazing the memories and personal weight people put on these instruments," said Jeff Spurgeon, speaking on WNYC's Soundcheck. The show hosted a call-in segment in which listener "Lee" talked about donating an electric guitar he found in Central Park; another listener, "Hal," gave an electric keyboard that was a Christmas present from his ex-wife. You can hear that segment by clicking here.