Students receive gift of music

Christina O'Neil's Empire Elementary School band class got a huge surprise from Majors Tom and Sylvia Peterson of the Salvation Army early Friday morning.

"They've been practicing their music very hard, but until today, many of them didn't even have instruments," she said.

Some of the students had to practice on imaginary flutes and make-believe trumpets.

The problem is, band instruments are really expensive, and despite their enthusiasm for their music, most of the students at Empire don't have the hundreds of dollars to buy new instruments and many can't afford the cost of renting. The average instrument runs from $25-50 a month per student. Even the school, which has faced harsh budget cuts in recent years, doesn't have nearly enough instruments for the budding musicians to play, which still can't afford the $50 a year it costs them to rent.

O'Neil remembers one of her dedicated pupils from last year whose saxophone broke but didn't have the money to repair it.

"He had to practice the fingerings with an invisible sax," she says. "A lot of these kids are so dedicated. A lot of them will probably end up winning scholarship money to go to college - playing in the band is a good way of doing it."

In addition to the 17 instruments collected by the Salvation Army, O'Neil's class has also received a grant of $3,500 from the Idaho Trust National Bank to be used for more band equipment.

Assistant Principal Lee Conley said, "This is awesome!"

A chorus of "thank-you" came from the students as the Petersons left the classroom and got back into their large, white Salvation Army transport van.

"We've got a lot of brass instruments now," said Major Tom Peterson. "What we really need now are some violins and strings. They can be quite expensive."

Fifth-grader Jarelle Ramos had his eye on one of the newly arrived flutes.

"I'm going to start playing it today," he smiled.

Saxophonist David Escobar, 11, looks forward to playing some serious jazz.

Though the students are just working on getting familiar with their instruments today and happy enough to make noise come out, O'Neil said her class will be ready for their first concert in just a few months.

"We'll be all set for Christmas," she enthuses.

That may sound optimistic, but O'Neil is the kind of woman who knows first hand that dreams can come true if you work really hard at them.

That is, after all, why she's not only a super teacher, but also wore the crown of Miss Nevada.

Contact Peter Thompson at or 881-1215.


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