Posted by Kimberly Allison on April 13, 2009 at 7:09am in Barry In The News
http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20090412/NEWS01/704129843Barry Manilow played Everett last month. Besides memories and autographs, the Grammy-winning musician left something else: a promise.The singer, through his Manilow Music Project, plans to donate 45 Yamaha violins, with a retail value of $36,000, to the community.What this means is that the Everett School District will once again have an orchestra or strings program after 25 years without one.The gift also means that elementary students on the Tulalip Reservation will have a strings program for the first time ever.The launch of the Prelude Strings program is scheduled for September and is geared to fourth- and fifth-graders at Tulalip Elementary School and Hawthorne Elementary School in Everett."For these students to have an opportunity to play string instruments themselves will be a dream come true," Hawthorne Elementary music teacher Rochelle Dean said.Those violins from Manilow came about through someone using their influence to pull a few strings.That someone was Harvey Platt, CEO of Beaverton, Ore.-based Platt Electrical Supply, which has a branch in Everett. Turns out Platt knows Manilow and his people. Platt also knew that Manilow had in the past donated musical instruments to schools. So after Platt learned that instruments were needed locally, he wrote to Manilow's people with an it-couldn't-hurt attitude.Two or three days before Manilow's March 15 concert in Everett, Platt found out about the donation."It was my desire and Barry Manilow's desire that these instruments only go where they are needed," Platt said in a phone call from San Diego. "This is no publicity stunt."Without the donation of these violins, the strings program in Everett, which was discontinued back in 1984, could not be kick-started.Another key element the program couldn't do without is a conductor.Ron Friesen, assistant conductor with the Everett Symphony, is retired now. He has the time and the support of the symphony to lead the Prelude Strings program and has volunteered to head it as its teacher and coordinator.He's also got a personal stake in a strings program.Friesen, a 32-year veteran music teacher and band director, wanted to start a strings program back in the late 1980s in the Stanwood School District. He never forgot what the district board's president told him at the time."The exact words were: 'If a big district like Everett can't keep a string program going, we don't think we can run one in Stanwood,' " Friesen recalled. "That has stuck in my craw for 21 years."Friesen, who has lived in the Marysville School District since 1975, has heard the stories over the years about the kids at Tulalip Elementary who were expected to fail.As he started on this journey for a strings program at Tulalip, Friesen, as he likes to say, had skin in this game."I came from a very poor family. I got scholarships from local places from people who believed in me and it's those people who put me where I am today, living virtually a dream life," Friesen said. "Now, it's my turn to give back."Friesen will be solely responsible for teaching the Prelude Strings program twice a week, at noon at Tulalip and after school at Hawthorne. The instruments will be turned over to the students at no charge. If the instrument is lost, stolen or damaged, the student doesn't have to pay but gives up the chance to learn.Though the logistics of the program are mostly worked out and all await arrival of the violins in September, a question still must be asked: Can the Prelude Strings program be sustained?Allison Larsen, Everett School District's humanities curriculum specialist and the cog that linked all the players of Prelude Strings together, said she sees this as the seed that gets it all started.So far, Prelude Strings hasn't cost anything because Friesen is donating his time. But at 59, he said he can't volunteer forever and needs to be able to point to a salary when he's recruiting his replacement.The risk of starting a program like this, Friesen said, is having its curtain drop."It's one thing to volunteer something, but the risk is not being able to follow through. The disappointment outweighs the advantage to having the opportunity in the first place," Friesen said. "It's a big concern. I'm hoping the community becomes aware of what we are trying to do, and they will see the value and support it."