Miami-Dade schools such as Richmond Heights Middle, Miami Northwestern High and Booker T. Washington High all have something in common — music programs that include marching bands. Band members have uniforms, music rooms to store their equipment and instruments that are passed down from previous members.
Instruments are often used until they’re worn out and need to be replaced.
“With funding cuts throughout the county and public schools the ability to purchase instruments gets harder and harder,” said Dana Kulvin, 47. “To be able to provide a musical resource to these schools through donating instruments is truly beneficial.”
Kulvin and her son, Benjamin Dietch, are the founders of Music for Memories, an organization that donates used instruments to schools and music programs that are in need. The idea to start the organization came from a conversation during a car ride to Live Modern School of Music in North Miami, when Benjamin was about 6 years old.
At the time, he played guitar and was learning to play the drums.
“I remember telling my mom that I was grateful for being able to play different instruments and wished others had the same opportunity,” said Benjamin, now 16.
“We started inquiring around to see if anyone had instruments they weren’t using, if they were willing to donate them, and that’s how we got started.”
The first donation was made in December 2011 to Horace Mann Middle School in El Portal, and it included a Yamaha classical guitar, acoustic guitar, Yamaha electric keyboard and a drum kit.
“We started asking for donations from family and friends first by sending an email to them,” Kulvin said. “We would pick up the instruments, clean them up, fix them if needed, and deliver them.”
Music for Memories has grown from receiving instruments from family and friends to local residents that have instruments they no longer use. This has made it possible for the organization to give to more schools in need.
The donor list has grown to include Hialeah High, Shadowlawn Elementary, Edison Park Elementary, Miami Edison High, Miami Northwestern High and Richmond Heights Middle.
“As an email arrives, choices of available instruments are presented,” said Leslie Cooper, 54, music director at Richmond Heights Middle. “If there is a need, any given music teacher will throw their hat in the ring to be the receiver of instruments.”
Ahmad Newbold, band director at Booker T. Washington High, recently put his hat in the ring and received an electric guitar for his students.
“We are grateful for the donations that were made,” said Newbold, 28. “Music is important in our community because it gives students an outlet from their everyday troubles.”
One of Newbold’s students, Natarsha Simeon, 19, is the head drum major for the band. She started playing the clarinet during her freshman year of high school and is now the section’s leader.
“I come from a single-parent home and music has always been my way of escape,” she said.
Simeon recently received a music scholarship from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee and plans to attend in the fall.
Students from Shadowlawn Elementary will receive instruments from Music for Memories during the school’s carnival for Mitzvah Day — a day dedicated to repairing the community.
Benjamin will play the drums for the Teen Band from his synagogue, Temple Beth Sholom, during a service at the carnival before donating instruments to the school.
“Music is an outlet that all kids growing up deserve to have,” he said.
Benjamin plays jazz and wants to major in jazz performance in hopes of becoming a music engineer or performer.
For now, he and his mother continue to add new schools to the Music for Memories listserv and are working to deliver brass and woodwind instruments in the future.