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Updated 10:00 AM April 17, 2006
 

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And the band will play on

They marched right into Bay St. Louis, Miss., proclaiming, "Here we are, this is what we've brought, now what can we do?"

Seventeen members of the Michigan Marching Band spent their spring break in the Hurricane Katrina-devastated area where they concentrated their work on Saint Stanislaus, a Catholic high school for boys. Katrina may have delivered a serious blow to the area and the school, but U-M students delivered instruments, music stands and music so the academy can have a band program again this fall.
Senior Kim Smith, a clarinet player and staff assistant for the Michigan Marching Band, cleans and makes repairs to a flute. (Photo by Thomas Jonsson)

"Every building on the campus was completely gutted on the first floor," says Ronald Hingle, principal of Saint Stanislaus. "Our band hall and library collapsed into the basement. Our band program was literally, 'all washed up.'"

Last fall members of the U-M band put an instrument drive into motion, calling and sending letters to Michigan high schools. The pleas brought in 20 instruments from Almont High School, 58 music stands from Portland and music books from a number of schools that were added to 15 instruments from the Michigan Marching Band itself.

Members of the Michigan Marching Band equipment staff helped make necessary repairs to the instruments before students made the trek to Bay St. Louis to deliver the collection. While there the team also roofed and gutted a house, rewired electrical components, painted a living room and bathroom, and cleaned up debris.

"The Michigan Marching Band's donation of instruments and stands allows us to go forward with our plans of restarting our music program in the fall. This generosity and concern have given us hope for the future of our band," Hingle says.

Tom Jonsson, a senior majoring in history and a saxophone player, says one band director estimated the gift from U-M to be upwards of $50,000.

"I learned a lot about the human spirit there," Jonsson says. "Every day the residents of Bay St. Louis brave the aftermath of the storm and try to rebuild their home or the homes of their family, friends and neighbors. Still, they invited us to stay with them, work with them and eat with them as if we were family."

The trip to Mississippi deeply affected the students.

"Whether it be in the form of musical instruments or just helping hands, it feels good knowing that you have impacted someone's life in a tremendous way," LSA junior and piccolo player Michelle Smith says of her visit to the damaged area. "We don't need any special recognition or awards because our experience down there is rewarding enough."

Sophomore engineering student Becky Rutishauser says, "After seeing all the destruction, it would be easy to imagine that the people of Mississippi might have lost hope, but this was not the case."

Craig Harabedian, a fellow engineering student says, "The sentiment down in Mississippi was that the rest of the country had 'Katrina fatigue' and had forgotten about the whole incident." Jonsson agrees with that sentiment. "They think they have been forgotten by the rest of the country," he says. "So when students all the way from Michigan arrive to help, they feel that help is somewhere out there."

Members and friends of the Michigan Marching Band will return to Mississippi May 18-23 to volunteer their services where needed.

Although it is for boys grades 6-12, the Mississippi school's official name is Saint Stanislaus College. The band program works in partnership with Our Lady Academy, a school for girls. As of late March, construction had begun on a new band hall at the school with completion scheduled for August 2006—just in time for fall band classes.

"One of the first priorities for our band is to learn the University of Michigan Fight Song," Hingle says. "We promise to tape it and send it to you."

For more information about the work of students in Bay Saint Louis, inquire at instrumentdrive@umich.edu.

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