Bigfork High School band is playing a new tune.
The band program recently purchased several new instruments with a $19,000 Makin’ Music grant from the Rotary Club of Bigfork. The club started raising the funds after high school band director Randi Tunnell sought their assistance in replacing old instruments beyond repair.
The new instruments are designed for beginners to advanced band students. Bigfork School District offers band from fifth through 12th grade.
“I made sure every section had something new and I really built up my beginner inventory,” Tunnell said. “We’ve come a long way with the help of this grant.”
The instruments purchased included: seven sets of drum sticks and mallets, six clarinets, four flutes, four trumpets, four trombones, a double French horn, China cymbal, keyboard and stand, and drum stick bags.
“We did two orders,” Tunnell said. “We did one at the beginning of the school year and one in December. It was like Christmas Day twice. It was amazing.”
From dents and dings to broken keys, many students who had old instruments replaced were surprised to find it was much easier to play according to Tunnell.
Bigfork Rotary member Diana Rahdert was president at the time when efforts got underway to raise funds for the Makin’ Music grant.
“When we heard the need and came and looked at their inventory and saw what those kids we’re using we thought this would be a very good project,” Rahdert said. Rahdert said the club successfully obtained a $5,000 matching grant from Montana Rotary. The Bigfork Rotary then raised its matching funds through a movie night and received a $7,000 donation from a club member.
Many of the replaced instruments date to the 1970s, according to Tunnell. Enrollment has also increased since she started working at the school eight years ago from roughly 20 to 65 students. More students means more sharing. A single instrument would be used throughout the day by up to three students. After years of extended use many of the older instruments were “simply played out,” Tunnell said. With the additional instruments the number of students using a single instrument has been reduced.
Students are not required to buy or rent instruments to join band and Tunnell wanted to keep it that way. Four years ago she began a quest to fulfill program needs after a district music festival judge brought it home that — taking talent or ability out of the picture — the quality of the instruments was limiting students.
“Nothing is worse then expecting something to work and doesn’t work, especially for the first-time band students, and they don’t understand it’s not them, it’s the instrument,” Tunnell said.
She asked people to search closets, attics and basements in search of used instruments that were in good shape to donate to the program. She’s received donations of tenor saxophones, clarinets, trumpets, a drum set and a euphonium.
It’s been a long road to replacement because of limited district funding. In 2017, jazz band was eliminated. It was added as a class in 2015 after previously being an extracurricular activity.
In recent years, however, the school board has approved the purchase of three baritone saxophones, two tenor saxophones, a tuba, bass clarinet and a euphonium, which meant a lot to the band program. New instruments can be expensive. A tuba, for example, cost roughly $5,000; on the lower end, a clarinet around $600.
Tunnell was happy to say that “We really got the instruments so beyond repair out of the inventory rotation.”
“I really wanted just to show my appreciation for the Rotary and for the community for helping this situation and really supporting the arts in the schools,” she said.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.