The student orchestra at Mendez Middle School has 15 new musical instruments, thanks to a large donation from Fidelity Investments’ new Austin location. The company surprised orchestra students during a special assembly Wednesday with $20,000 worth of violins, violas, saxophones and other instruments.
Jeffrey Hall, the school’s orchestra director, applied for the gift last year. For the past four years, he’s built an orchestra program that now consists of 65 sixth, seventh and eighth graders.
"When wanting to spend our money on something, if we have $1,000 or $2,000 there are all these supplies we need, music for the kids, and ‘should we pay for lessons for them?’” Hall explains. "And if you spend all that on $2,000 then you’re not getting all those other things. So it’s been difficult for me to make a decision to buy one instrument versus all the other things kids need.”
Hall says while the school owns a few new instruments, many of them are more than 20 years old. Like many students at Mendez Middle School, Hall says his student’s come from tough backgrounds and few can afford private lessons or personal instruments. 94 percent of students at Mendez are on free or reduced lunch.
“There are schools where every single student in the orchestra is required to be in private lessons because that’s the one-on-one instruction I just can’t give them,” Hall says.
But Hall is dedicated to the students, who he says come in early and stay after school to practice.
“It’s a social club, these kids have a place here and they have a lot of friends who have a shared common interest and goal,” he says. “Being in such a strong group helps kids figure out who they are.”
When Fidelity employees walked into the music room carrying the brand new instruments, sixth grader Marlonique Johnson says she was shocked. As a new violinist, she says it feels awesome to play with the entire group.
“Everyone else around you is playing and you can feel the music,” Johnson says.