Professor forms nonprofit to help repair and distribute instruments to Adirondack school districts
By Jamie Organski
When Skidmore College music professor Evan Mack and his family moved to Ticonderoga in 2019, his son, Carter, 10, talked of classmates playing old, bent instruments that were bandaged with duct tape.
The seasoned pianist and composer spoke with several band directors, who confirmed the need for upgraded instruments. With about 46 percent of the Ticonderoga student population below the poverty line, for example, Mack realized the need is widespread.
“Many families can’t afford to rent instruments, therefore, most instruments are school owned,” Mack said. “This creates a high cost burden for school districts not only in the initial purchase of the instruments but with maintenance and repairs,” he said.
Adding to the problem is lack of access to repair shops. For most Adirondack school districts, the turnaround time for repairs can be up to 6 weeks. “That’s a long time for the star trumpet player to be without an instrument,” said Mack.
To help address the issue, Mack created We Are Instrumental (WAI), a volunteer-run organization that repairs and distributes instruments to school districts in need.
Since early 2020, WAI has collected, repaired and distributed 235 instruments to students in schools across the region. It started with WAI’s first instrument drive at Skidmore College last year, where 70 instruments were collected, valued at $35,000.
This year, WAI collected another 80 instruments during a drive and offered instrument repair training to band directors in Tupper Lake, Lake Placid, Crown Point, Glens Falls, Saranac Lake, North Warren, Moriah, Ticonderoga and Willsboro (a district that launched a music program with a donation of nine instruments.)
Offered for NYS Department of Education credit and taught by Bill Cole of Cole’s Woodwind Shop in Saratoga, Mack points to the lasting benefits of the training sessions. “Teachers pass on that knowledge to students, showing them how to maintain their instrument and even rolling up their sleeves to do a minor fix.”
A recent donation of 91 instruments this November from Barcone’s Music in Kingston is the latest windfall. Half of the instruments have been distributed so far, with the rest going to area schools in the next month, said Mack.
Other projects in the works: A plan to take students to a performance at Skidmore College, setting up a pilot program for private band lessons for students via Zoom.
Mack relocated to Ticonderoga from the capital region two years ago with his wife, Dr. Kristin Mack, and sons, Carter and Henry. Mack said his sons have enjoyed assisting with instrument collections and deliveries.
“The excitement and surprise on kids’ faces when they open up a shiny new instrument is unbeatable ,” he said. “We want to do all we can to ensure music education programs remain an integral component of our Adirondack schools.”
Current program supporters include Judy Walker of the Ticonderoga Festival Guild and the Clinton-Essex-Franklin Library System. Those who wish to get involved can start here.