SMYRNA, Tenn. (WKRN) — Music can take you on a magical journey.
“I’ve been in band ever since I was in the sixth grade,” Emily Swafford told News 2. “I started at Lascassas Elementary.”
It can also change lives, as Swafford can attest.
“I loved my band experience,” she said. “It made me into a confident human, it’s where I found all my friends.”
It led her to Smyrna Middle School, where Swafford works to share that love with students as the school’s band director.
“Most students have never played a band instrument when they get in this room,” she explained. “That’s kind of what we expect. Sixth grade is where it starts in Rutherford County.”
However, when the majority of your instruments are broken and very outdated, it can create challenges.
“I think the building was built in the ’50s, and we still have some of those original instruments that have been hand-me-downed through those generations,” said Swafford.
While Swafford teaches, assistant band director Cody Dailey can sometimes be found helping students fix their instruments.
“It’s really tough when you’re telling a saxophone player, ‘Hey, you need to practice every day to get better,’ knowing that they’ll never play anything right on an instrument that’s broken,” he told News 2.
Broken instruments can not only be found in the band room, but also up the hall in Jason Bratten’s room, where he teaches general music on old Yamaha keyboards.
“They see what some of the other schools have, and they’re wondering, ‘Why am I playing on a piano keyboard that half the keys don’t work?'” Bratten said.
Thanks to a nonprofit called The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, change is coming.
“It’s a game changer,” Swafford described. “It’s like Christmas in the band room when we get new stuff.”
The foundation, which is named after the 1995 movie, works to donate musical instruments to schools across the country with a focus on low income communities.
Smyrna Middle School is receiving $21,000 to purchase brand new instruments like keyboards, saxophones, a concert marimba, and even an oboe.
According to The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, this grant was made possible by the Morgan Wallen Foundation.
“My brain has just been whizzing, thinking about, ‘Okay, how far I can go advance now with these kids now that I’m going to have equipment that’ll be able to handle it?'” Bratten explained.
Dailey said he’s watched his students work hard, so he’s excited they are finally getting the equipment they need.
“Now we’re finally meeting their commitment and that would have been impossible without this grant,” he told News 2.
With new instruments finally coming, Swafford knows the musical journey these students are on will soon get a lot smoother.
“There’s so many kids that walk through school and feel alone everywhere else until they get in here,” she said. “There is a huge group of students that need that music education to connect them to their community (and) to build their confidence and teaching wind instruments is the way that we do that.”
The school is hoping to receive the new instruments in the next couple months.