Conn-Selmer Visits U.S. Virgin Islands to Help Music Programs Post-Hurricanes

Mike Lawson • News • May 15, 2018

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A team of consultants from Conn-Selmer recently visited the U.S. Virgin Islands to assess the damage of many instruments from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and also develop a plan to rebuild music programs there.

The team was invited by Dionne Donadelle, territorial director of music for the Virgin Islands Department of Education. 
The team included Mike Kamphuis, managing director of the Division of Education, Dr. O’Neill Sanford, educational support consultant for Conn-Selmer, and Choni Arri, operations director for the North Carolina A&T State University Band. 

“After the two category five hurricanes in September, we have lost over 3 million dollars of instruments, equipment and music. I won’t begin to discuss the loss of schools and buildings,” said Donadelle. “As we begin to rebuild better than ever, we are seeking assistance in moving forward and upward as we continue to support the ARTS in our schools.”   

“I just want everyone to know the Virgin Islands are more than a vacation destination and great things are happening here,” said Arri. “There are issues however with students and band programs not being able to afford instruments, not to mention maintaining them and getting them serviced.  Because of the circumstances, I wanted to give back to the people of the Virgin Islands. As a product of the Virgin Islands Department of Education, this was a very important connection for me to make.”

Arri was responsible for scheduling meetings with important school administrators, music educators, and government officials.

“Immediately after hearing about the horrific storms and devastation, I contacted several of my friends, colleagues, and former students’ families to check on their well-being,” said  Dr.Sanford. “Several of them told me the storm impacted their personal properties, schools, as well as did severe damage to their band rooms and musical instruments.” 

The team toured several different schools to assess the instruments and provide immediate feedback, and Kamphuis trained the directors how to use the Conn-Selmer Inventory System to use when organizing the instruments in a database, recording their values, and determining which of them needed to be replaced. 

“The schools are rebuilding. The parents, students and teachers are very positive and resilient,” Kamphuis says. “After seeing the devastation first hand it pains me to see people without the vital resources they need to live their day-to-day lives. I witnessed the musical culture first hand at many schools and the joy it brought to the students in the midst of all they have gone through. Music was taking them to another place they could not find any other way. I’m grateful to all the people I met and interacted with during my visit and I look forward to working with the schools for many years to come.”

During the trip, the team met some of the island’s music leaders, including Kevin Hendricks, band director at the St. Croix Educational Center, and Dion Parson, the director of music at the University of the Virgin Islands.  

“We have students coming to us from economically disadvantaged environments,” says Hendricks. “I find music helps to keep the students engaged academically.  Regardless of their choice of studies, their musical ability helps them earn additional funding they otherwise would not have garnered on their pathway to higher education.”

“This is a dream come true. Conn-Selmer recognizes the need to assist and invest in a community from the ground-up,” said Parson about the partnership developed between the University of the Virgin Islands and Conn-Selmer. “One of our many challenges in the Virgin Islands is having direct access to quality music, musicians, educators, and instruments. This affiliation affords our students access to these resources, the ability to attend music camps, help set up a viable instrument sales/repair shop/program on the island, as well as provide professional development for our music educators.” 

“I am positive the love for music was key in helping the people endure the impact of these two storms,” said Dr. Sanford. “When the people of the islands play and dance to the music of their culture, they free themselves from the problems and challenges in their lives.”

“With music being such an important part of our island heritage, it is imperative we are equipped with nothing but the finest,” Arri added. “As a member of this global community there is no better way to make a bigger impact than through music!”

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