Playing in the school band is a rite of passage for many kids, and Kidder Music has been helping put instruments in the hands of local students since 1974. They recently became part of the VHI Save The Music Foundation, a program that assists school-based music programs through donated instruments.

Kidder Music Secretary-Treasurer Ede Kidder said the company handles both band and orchestra instruments. "Orchestral instruments come in different sizes because students usually aren’t able to play a standard sized instrument until they reach junior high or high school. Therefore, we handle seven different sizes of violins, at least three sizes of violas, and two sizes of cellos. Band instruments are all standard sized."

She said the popularity of individual instruments varies from year to year. "Perhaps there will be a particular artist who catches the attention of a lot of kids, and they’ll want to follow in those footsteps. One year, flutes might be very popular; the next might have students clamoring for trumpets. It’s always a challenge to have enough of every instrument to meet the needs."

Kidder said students interested in taking up an instrument typically either come in with their parents or are introduced to music through their school. "In some cases we work with the band or orchestra directors and go to the schools to demonstrate instruments; we let the children try them to see which they might be best suited to play. We return for a meeting with the parents where they can actually see the instruments, their cases, the music book, and any necessary accessories and make financial arrangements for renting the instrument of their choice. Alternately, parents can come in to any of our three locations (Peoria, Bloomington, and Sterling) and have a child measured for an orchestral instrument, have a child try a band instrument, and make all the arrangements."

She said schools customarily get a discount if they buy several instruments at a time. "However, their purchases are usually limited to instruments individuals probably wouldn’t buy-marching drums or xylophones, tubas, bassoons, etc. With school budgets being cut, school purchases are fewer. However, in some cases, band parents’ groups help out."

Kidder Music also has a thriving music lesson business, which Kidder said attracts a wide variety of students. "First of all, not all of our students are kids. Some are adults who’ve always wanted to learn to play an instrument, but didn’t have the time or money, and now have started. They’re some of the most dedicated students. Another group of students is comprised of those who’re being home-schooled and don’t have the opportunity to participate in a regular school program but have expressed an interest in music. Some students just want a little extra instruction or have an exceptional interest. Some have a particular goal in mind, such as preparing for marching band season or preparing for contest solos or ensembles. Some students are adding a second instrument-maybe they play trombone in the school band, but want to pick up guitar on the side. The number of students varies from store to store and season to season. In the Peoria store, there are probably between 50 and 70 students per week."

She said in addition to the usual flutes and saxophones, Kidder Music occasionally gets some curious requests. "We’ve been asked for a variety of unusual instruments-bird calls, an ocean harp, bagpipes, dulcimers, etc. We don’t provide instruction on all instruments at all locations, but we do keep a list of people willing to teach various instruments."

Kidder said as with all industries, there are visible trends in musical instruments. "I think the home organ craze of a few years ago is definitely gone, but small keyboards are definitely popular. These keyboards have many features that make them attractive-headphones, various different sounds, built-in midi capabilities, etc. They allow apartment dwellers or college students to practice without disturbing neighbors, don’t require tuning, and are moderately priced." Kidder cautioned that in recent years, there’s been an ongoing problem with the market being flooded with substandard instruments-typically bought through the Internet, non-music retailers, and catalogs. "Usually, these instruments are imported, many use pot metal parts, and they’re nearly always not repairable. We’re unable to order parts for them, and customers are usually frustrated after having spent money for a non-functioning item. Orchestral instruments often are shipped without the bridges set, without strings on them, and the user risks cracking when tension is actually put on all the parts. I guess the message here is to look for name brands, and check with a teacher or music dealer before purchasing an instrument of any kind."

That’s one problem school districts don’t have to worry about when receiving donated instruments by stores participating in the Save The Music program. Kidder Music Vice President Beth Houlihan said the VHI Save The Music Foundation was started in 1997 and has two missions: to restore music education programs in America’s public schools, and to raise awareness of the positive impact music participation has on students. "The foundation has fundraisers, such as the ’VH1 Divas’ concert each year, and they accept monetary donations, which they use to purchase new musical instruments to restore music education programs that have been cut or to save programs in jeopardy of being cut. Manufacturers are also very generous in their donations of instruments and equipment during the VH1 Save The Music week, which is usually held in early June."

Houlihan explained Kidder Music became involved in the program around 2000, when the foundation put together a marketing plan to include instrument donations to local dealers. "They provide all of the posters, tax deduction forms, etc., for the local dealers to encourage the community to donate their old or unused instruments to the Save The Music program. The person donating the instrument can take a tax deduction. Kidder Music then fixes the instrument at no charge, and the instrument is donated to a music program in need. We really felt that it was a great way for Kidder Music to help the community."

She said people who want to help this worthwhile cause can simply bring an instrument that isn’t being used to any of the Kidder locations. "Unfortunately, most people who have instruments would like to sell them rather than donate them. So, to date, I believe we’ve only donated about six horns to the Peoria Public Schools. Since there have been so few donations, we don’t have a firm structure in place to decide who receives the instruments. I would love to institute a type of scholarship program for the instruments if the program grows to that level." AA!