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For kids studying music with bad or broken instruments, one group steps in to help


Music education is part of most public schools in this country. Does a kid need a Stradivarius? No, but they do need the violins and clarinets to be in decent shape. And as North Country Public Radio's Cara Chapman reports, that's put one group on a mission.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Welcome to Ticonderoga.

CARA CHAPMAN, BYLINE: More than 300 middle and high school students cheer from the wooden seats of Ticonderoga High School's auditorium. They're here for a day of music that takes over the school - strings in the library.


CHAPMAN: Drums on the second floor.


CHAPMAN: Saxophone in the band room.


CHAPMAN: All making different sounds. But a lot of these instruments have something in common. They come from the group We Are Instrumental. Evan Mack is the founder. He says over the last few years, the organization has collected, fixed and donated hundreds of instruments to 25 schools in northern New York. It all started when one of Mack's children told him about a problem.

EVAN MACK: My son, who was 10 at the time, came home. And he said, Dad, kids are playing on instruments that are beat up and broken and duct-taped. And I said, oh, what are you talking about?

CHAPMAN: But he found out that local schools just didn't have the money to keep up their instruments. Mack and his family live in the Adirondacks. It's a very rural area where almost a fifth of children live in poverty. So he started We Are Instrumental. Bob Morrison is with the National Arts Education Data Project. He says while the vast majority of public school students can take music classes, poor-quality instruments can get in the way.

BOB MORRISON: We don't want to set our students up for failure by giving them something that doesn't work. We want to set them up for success.

CHAPMAN: Mack says, once you give a kid who loves music a good instrument, the potential is limitless.

MACK: So now a student who was doing very well and now has this beautiful trumpet to play on - they want lessons. They want something specific to their instrument.

CHAPMAN: We Are Instrumental has grown to meet those needs, too. The organization connects students with field trips, virtual lessons and other opportunities, like this day of music.


CHAPMAN: Audrey Cook is one student who's benefited from all of that. She's a junior at Ticonderoga High School who sings and plays the trumpet, fife and French horn.

AUDREY COOK: They've provided me with my horn. They've provided me with private lessons. They've provided me with transportation to my other groups that I play in.

CHAPMAN: Cook says that's really helped her grow as a musician. Morrison with the Arts Education Data Project says many schools don't have banks of instruments for all their student musicians. And some families just can't afford to buy or rent them.

MORRISON: And you never want that to be the reason why a child doesn't do something.

CHAPMAN: He says all students, regardless of their economic background, should have the same opportunity to benefit from school music programs. For NPR News, I'm Cara Chapman in northern New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Cara Chapman