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Georgetown East Elementary receives new instruments

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Taymeko Matthews' eyes lit up when she saw the collection of music instruments on the Georgetown East Elementary School stage. Someone placed a violin in the fourth-grader's hands, and it was as if holiday season had descended earlier than usual.

"It was like a brand-new toy that I really wanted," said Taymeko, a member of the Georgetown East band and orchestra, which on Wednesday received a surprise donation of 32 instruments, cases and accessories — valued at more than $25,000 — from the area's new local branch of the financial services firm Fidelity Investments.

The students received 15 violins, five flutes, four clarinets, four trumpets, three bell kits and a concert bass drum. Georgetown East music teacher Shawn McNamara said the group also received instrument cases, reeds and rosin for the violin bows. He said that the instruments come as the students look to their first performance of the year, next month's winter concert.

The Annapolis school now joins more than 180 public schools nationwide (and more than 28,000 students) that have received such a donation from Fidelity over the past five years. It says it has donated more than 1,700 new instruments valued at more than $2 million.

The firm identifies schools for donations by partnering with the nonprofit organization Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation — which works to bring music instruments to underserved schools.

"The criteria are an underfunded but dedicated music program and teacher," said Jason Powell, vice president of Fidelity's Annapolis Investor Center. "We hope these new instruments will help Georgetown East bring more music into their classrooms and help ensure a bright future for students here for years to come."

The gift has been part of a budding interest in the school's music program. McNamara, who said the application process for the gift included writing essays about the students and showing growth in the program, said that when he took over four years ago, the program had just 25 students. Now it has nearly 80 students and Principal Michele Batten said that often students are turned away from taking part because there haven't been enough instruments.

Batten said that it is the second time this year that the school has received donated instruments. Earlier, she said, a local donor gave the school $1,000 that was used to purchase three instruments.

The students who join the program say they are delighted to have stuck with it.

"It feels like all this hard work really paid off," said fifth-grader Sonia Gonzalez.

Batten said the students will use the instruments during their 30-minute lessons, which are held twice a week.

"So many of them have waited a couple of years to participate in the band and strings program, just so that we have an instrument available for them," said Batten. "It is just another art that they are able to explore at the elementary level and have that exposure and experience."

The band and orchestra staged a brief performance Wednesday morning before fellow students, faculty and Fidelity staff, not knowing that most of the instruments were on stage behind the curtain. After Taymeko and several other students were handed instruments, the entire group cheered as the curtain was pulled back.

"It's exciting, I was surprised," said fifth-grader Ricquel Fox.

McNamara said he kept the surprise from the students by telling only a few people at the school.

"The instruments showed up one by one two weeks ago and we hid them in a couple of closets," said McNamara. "I couldn't tell [most of the] teachers. I couldn't tell any students. The teachers found out on [Tuesday]. It was a big turnaround, which I'm thankful for because we can get the students playing before our winter concert and have them know all the music by then, too."

McNamara said in winning the donation, he had to show that the program will make it possible to ensure the students will continue to play in middle school and high school.

But first he had to tap into the students' interests: A professional musician himself, McNamara demonstrates the instruments to the students and plays trombone alongside them. He also has exposed them to accomplished musicians their own ages.

"The kids wanted to play, they just weren't signing up," McNamara said. "Just getting to know the students really helps them to want to be in the class. You don't really have to do a lot. You just have to show up, get to know the kids, and give them good music, and they will want to play."

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

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