RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Five new Yamaha studio upright pianos were delivered Tuesday to elementary schools in the East End community of the Richmond Public School (RPS) system, made possible by donations from the annual RVA East End Festival.
Although the 2020 festival could not be held amid the coronavirus pandemic, companies and individuals continued to make donations to support music and arts programs in the schools, according to a release.
“Elementary school, specifically, is where their life-long love of music starts, and so it is so important that we instill that in students very early,” Henry L. Marsh, III Elementary School Principal Kimberly Cook said. “My child, specifically, learned to play the violin in fourth grade and continued to play it all the way up through college. Music is super important to students and the lives of everyone.”
Henry L. Marsh, III Elementary is just one of the East End schools receiving a new piano. Chimborazo Elementary, Fairfield Court Elementary, Binford Middle, and Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School also had new pianos delivered Tuesday.
“The opportunity to dance and to sing and to play instruments, to paint, to draw, to color, to mold, to model — all that enhances our brain skills to be better readers and thinkers, and critical thinking skills are enhanced,” RPS School Board Chair Cheryl L. Burke said. “So this is an opportunity to have fun, but also to learn.”
Tuesday morning, Burke became the first person to play the new piano at Henry L. Marsh, III Elementary, recalling a song she learned back when she was still a student.
“I played a song that I learned while being in the seventh grade and I played for our moving on from junior high to high school, and the song just came back to mind,” Burke said. “Some things you never forget.”
Likewise, Cook is hopeful that the elementary school students will never forget the experience of being surrounded by music in school.
“Our students deserve the best, and so this is a really good gift for them when they return to the building,” she said. “I cannot wait to hear all the songs that they’ll create and all the music that we will hear in our music room as a result of the East End Festival proceeds being donated to buy these wonderful pianos.”
Since 2016, the festival has raised over $300,000 to support music, visual arts, and performing arts programs at eight elementary, middle, and high schools in the East End communities of the RPS system, according to a release. RPS’ next financial goal of $100,000 through donations will be used primarily for new classroom sets of stringed instruments, so that students will have their own instruments to play during the year.
“Because of the partnerships that we have, and also knowing the importance of the arts, we’re not cutting in Richmond Public Schools that department. We are taking away too much from our children when that’s done, so we’re not cutting that,” Burke said. “We want our children to be the best and brightest that they choose to be and beyond, so it’s important that we, as community members and those persons who are making decisions, make them in the best interest of every child.”
The piano at Henry L. Marsh, III Elementary was delivered to the music room, where school officials say it will be used daily.
“Instruments aren’t models to be set in the corner,” Burke said. “So the music teachers, guest performers — it will be used every day.”
RPS Instructional Specialist for Fine Arts Christie-Jo Adams had the opportunity to play the new piano, as well. She tells 8News that she’s hopeful more music teachers at RPS will soon have a chance to try out the new instrument.
RPS officials say there are plans to hold the RVA East End Festival in some fashion in 2021, but details have not yet been finalized.