Something magical has happened and I got to witness it firsthand. Last week, 234 perfect strangers raised $14 778 to buy 42 band instruments for students they had never met. They did it gladly. They did it in just six days. And I got to be one of them. This is the story of how it happened.
Anyone who has been on my blog recently knows I am an Adam Lambert fan. I’ll own that proudly. I think his voice and his talent are otherworldly and I will be among the hoards clamoring for his album when it drops in November. A few weeks ago Adam asked his fans to stop buying him presents. He asked instead that any gifts be sent to DonorsChoose.org particularly for projects dealing with the arts. In the first week $12 000 was raised. Shortly after, realizing that fans were actually paying attention, he started a contest challenging the various fan groups to compete to see who could raise the most money in 30 days. It has been about a week and half so far and $73 876 has come in on top of the original $12K.
As part of the contest, for probably the first time ever, all the fan groups decided to focus on one, huge request. (This never happens. As a rule, fan groups, while united in their love of a given artist, hate each other. Don’t ask me why.) A teacher in Washington state wanted to offer band to her students, but they had no instruments at all. Back in March she put in a request for $14 778 to buy flutes, clarinets, trumpets, trombones and the xylophones you use in marching bands. Up until a couple of weeks ago, less than $1 000 had been raised in 5 months. The project had a deadline of September 1st. We beat it by three days. All of us together did something that none of us could have dreamed of alone. We created a music program.
There comes a moment, a tipping point where the impossible becomes possible. There’s a moment where the truth of what is going to happen is irresistible and it moves, like an oyster slips from the shell — unstoppable, fluid and smooth, like destiny. A few weeks ago this wasn’t going to happen. It was too big, too much. When I came to donate I remember looking at the band request and hesitating. There was more than $10 000 left to raise and less than two weeks to do it in. “What’s the point?” I wondered. “It’s not going to complete and there are other projects that will.” But I took a step of faith. I choose to believe that maybe, all of us together could do something magical. And now here were are. There is band where before there was only an empty closet.
One donor wrote, “In life, it’s that one extra degree of effort that separates the good from the great. At 99 degrees, water is hot. At 100 degrees, it boils. And with boiling water comes steam. And steam can power a locomotive. The one extra degree makes all the difference.” There is a lot of truth in those words. I wish I could be there to see the looks on the student’s faces when their teacher tells them that they can take band this year. I hope she posts pictures.
I remember my own experience with band. I remember we had a whole wall of instruments, with cubies stacked so high you needed a ladder to get to some of them. I remember taking a flute home that first day, and clumsy fingers on slippery silver keys. I remember pressing down, breathing deep, concentrating and…… E flat. A beginning. The first step on a long musical journey. High school was not a welcoming place for me, but in band, I had a place. I practiced and I was pretty good. My fingers did what I asked them to, my breath was sure. In band I could add my note to the chorus and not be rejected for it.
Music is only the very first benefit of music education. There’s discipline and celebration, a sense of belonging and a chance to be on a team, to be part of something even if you can’t run very fast. Music teaches patience and an appreciation of beauty and the ability to wait for a reward delayed. Music calls forth dreams. I am so proud to know that these kids will get to experience some of what I experienced and that I could make what was a common experience for me, a common experience for them.
I am very happy to be able to say, I’m with the band.
There are a lot of other kids who can use your help. If you haven’t heard of DonorsChoose.org before now, go and check them out. They are a charity out of the US they have a brilliantly simple strategy. Teachers post specific requests for what they need — anything from band instruments to pencils (yes, right now there are teachers requesting pencils) and donors donate to a specific project. DonorsChoose collects the funds, orders and delivers the supplies and the teachers post their thank you notes online where all the donors can see them, often with photos of thank you signs from the kids. So far, Adam Lambert fans have fully funded 70 projects. We’ve bought books, theater lights, costumes, a Jazz curriculum, instruments and yes pencils. There’s plenty more to do if you want . to get in on this. Trust me, it feels pretty fantastic.