Getting in tune

Fort Dodge Community School District has received a $10,000 grant from the John and Lawrence Giacoletto Foundation, a Cedar Rapids-based nonprofit, to assist its orchestra program.

The foundation gives grants and funding to schools and other educational institutions for technology and the fine arts. Brian Robison, FDCSD orchestra instructor, was instrumental in helping the school receive the needed funds.

“I grew up in the Cedar Rapids area and have seen some of the really good work they’ve done in helping provide funding and extra support for these programs,” Robison said. “Because of this, when I came here to Fort Dodge and saw the status of our instruments this year, I thought it would be a good thing for us to try and get some assistance from them. They were very willing to help us out.”

The district’s orchestra program has been in “a state of flux” for a while, Robison said.

“There hasn’t been an orchestra teacher here that has stuck around more than two or three years in the last decade or so,” he said. “Because of that there hasn’t been much sure footing of how do we get things repaired, what needs to get repaired. We’re all trying to build things and make the program expand. That has been a little tricky.”

Because of this situation, the district’s instruments suffered noticeable neglect.

“The instruments have old, ancient strings on them, and a lot of the seams on the instruments are open. Just some of the old glue has come loose and needed to be fixed,” Robison said. “I’ve had a guy come here and give me quotes, $100 an instrument. We can fix a lot of instruments with the grant money. It’s just a lot of little things that stacked up to look like a big mess.”

The instruments available to students are much better now than they were at the beginning of the year, Robison said, thanks to the grant money.

“It has managed to buy us three new upright basses for the school district. And we have bought 25 sets of new instrument strings. We’ve had a handful of instruments repaired,” he said. “We’ve gotten a lot of stuff back into working order and sounding better than it has in all the time I’ve been here.”

Seeing so many neglected instruments repaired has been rewarding for Robison.

“We see how the kids can get a little bit more out of their instrument,” he said. “They made not have sounded that good before, but now the students have something that’s a little bit easier to play, something that sounds a little better, and they feel better about what they’re doing. And that’s a great feeling.”

The district’s orchestra students perform several concerts every year and, like band and choir, participate in state competitions.

“We’re just a little smaller than they are, but we’re going to try and keep building,” Robison said. “Hopefully this gives us some momentum to do that.”

Music, Robison said, is beneficial for students.

“From the ground up, it gives us a lot of those basic skills that we need,” he said. “We learn teamwork, listening, cooperation. The basic building blocks we need to function as good people. It also gives us a great historical perspective, this is where our culture is. It gives us a voice, allows us to be part of a group. I know so many kids that music is what they come to school for. Math and science and reading, all super important, we all need them, but it’s not always what brings kids into the door.”