Instrument of Hope: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s Response to Tragedy and Gun Violence

Mike Lawson • Features • June 6, 2019

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Art frequently finds its inspiration in the events of despair. The vast majority of these art works focus on the hope that arises out of the horror rather than the pain of the actual event. The few words that follow will focus on that hope and the possibilities that can, and do, and have risen from it.

The collaboration which is Shine MSD, Camp Shine and the Instrument of Hope began almost immediately after the loud noise of horror and the equally loud noise of silence that followed. It would begin with a student in the drama program at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School in Parkland, Florida, Sawyer Garrity.

Early examples of art building on the debris of firearms include trench art of the world wars. The term trench art is derived from the many examples created in the trenches of WWI. That conflict involved artillery barrages that left piles of spent brass shell casings across the French countryside. Many began the practice of working designs into the found shell casings using the tools at hand including their knives and bayonets. Smaller shell casings became cigarette lighters and other practical objects. While many inscribed military or patriotic related images and words, others expressed faith and more peaceful themes. Later conflicts, especially WWII, with an ample supply of smaller shell casings and more tools available, expanded the practice.

Today, unfortunately, the widespread availability and use of firearms, and especially high-capacity weapons, has created the battlefield debris fields of spent shell casings in our shopping malls, houses of worship, and on our school’s floors. Mankind’s inclination to take ugliness and hate and form something that speaks of peace and tranquility has created a new generation of trench art, a brass trumpet formed from today’s spent shell casings.

Just as a brass instrument starts and ends every military day, calls the troops to battle, and eventually sounds over their graves, this brass instrument has become the weapon of choice in the battle against gun violence in schools.

The students, families, and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School, perhaps unknowingly, are repeating these histories by picking up their memory’s shell casings and creating a melody of both hope and action for change. Through the acrid smell of gunpowder, words and a melody began to “Shine.” Sawyer Garrity and Andrea Pena, drama students at Douglas, were inspired to collaborate and write what has become today’s anti-gun violence anthem. Just as the unlikely victory of a chorus of seven shofars over the stone walls of Jericho, the chorus of “Shine” and the sound of the Instrument of Hope can, and will, bring down the walls of indifference, indecision, and inaction that have allowed our schools and houses of worship to become bloody battlegrounds.

Garrity wasn’t seeking fame and fortune as she wrote the first lyrics to “Shine.” She was simply trying to cope with the enormity of the tragedy at her high school. “There were just too many emotions!” she told SBO. Many of the drama program students had been creating songs and music as an emotional outlet long before the events on Valentine’s Day.

Even though Sawyer plays guitar, is learning ukulele, and plays some piano, it was a text conversation with a fellow drama classmate, Pena, that escalated the effort. Pena, who plays piano, and Garrity each realized that this song effort “allowed them each to feel and took a little off their shoulders.” They felt that perhaps it would help others as well. Their drama teacher had always encouraged the students to think outside the box when using their creative abilities. The girls decided to create a song that might help others in the

Parkland community deal with their trauma and emotions. While Pena had played piano, she had never composed anything before. Garrity and Pena became musical collaborators. They demonstrated this collaboration in creating “Shine.” They then shared their project with their drama instructor. CNN’s Jake Tapper contacted the drama instructor to see if there were any students that could appear at a community town hall scheduled the week after the shooting.

The girls were asked to perform an early version of “Shine” at a CNN world-wide televised town hall shortly after the tragedy. Their performance was planned to be outside the televised portion. Tapper, CNN’s moderator of the event, overheard the girls rehearsing while he was conducting an interview for later broadcasting and was struck by what he heard. He asked the producers to alter their broadcast plan and close the televised portion of the town hall with the girls singing “Shine.”

Neither of the girls had performed before an audience before. Pena sang and played piano but never done both at the same time. The audience was highly emotional, tense and divided in the aftermath of the shooting. The girl’s performance brought a calm over the gathering and a sea of cell phone lights suddenly began to “Shine” in the arena. In the audience two couples sat near each other. While the girls were performing, the couples became aware that they were the two girl’s parents. They had not met before.

A series of follow-on performances drew in additional collaborators including noted music arranger, composer, and conductor Kim Scharnberg. Although based in Connecticut, Scharnberg also works with the Boston Pops and their Broward (County, Florida) Center performances. One such Pops performance included Garrity and Pena performing “Shine” and through that performance Scharnberg became a “Shine” collaborator.

One of the video production team knew a New-York-based creative arts therapist, Jessica Asch. With both a professional and personal interest in the healing power of the three creative modalities, drama, visual art and music, she knew the importance of an immediate response and the availability of an emotional outlet. Asch joined the collaboration creating and directing Camp “Shine.” The camp’s mission is to harness the power of artistic expression to inspire hope and bring unity in the aftermath of the Parkland community tragedy.

Realizing fairly early that the song and the performance requests could get out of hand, the two girl’s parents and three other MSD parents formed the non-profit Shine MSD to manage the song, its performances and to develop marketing for this effort.

The initial purpose of the non-profit was to launch and support Camp Shine. Information about the non-profit is available at

Requests for performances and use of the song went viral and Fabio Ozorio, an associate with Publicis, a global public relations firm, became aware of the project and brought it to the attention of the Publicis team in New York. (In a touch of divine intervention, Fabio’s wife is from Coral Springs and they know some of the Parkland parents.) Publicis’ website is

A previous Publicis project had considered a custom brass musical instrument component and had identified J. Landress Brass in New York City as the craftsman to be involved. Josh Landress is widely known for instrument restorations, repair, and hand crafting custom-made instruments in his Manhattan workshop. Publicis and Josh Landress designed a one-off trumpet that not only would be symbolic of the “Shine” efforts but also playable.

Landress’ design would utilize rifle shell casings to form the leadpipe of the Instrument of Hope (IOH) brass leadpipe. The rim containing primer would become the trumpet finger buttons. Landress had never undertaken a project like this. Shine MSD now had an instrumental collaborator creating an Instrument of Hope. Typical lead time for a project with Josh Landress can be two years. The IOH was completed in less than one month. The Landress website is

Josh shared his mixed emotions in taking on the project: “There was pride and happiness at being included along with grief that these acts of gun violence can even take place.” Landress is an former Marine. Then the IOH began its travels as an ambassador for “Shine.” The IOH concert appearances are scheduled by the Shine MSD non-profit. Top trumpet performers spend time with the instrument and then play it in concert.

The most recent such performance was at the New York City’s Tribeca Theater on May 15 in the hands of Randy Brecker. This instrument not only speaks to those who hear it, but also to those who play it. Brecker knew some of the parents of the Sandy Hook Connecticut school shooting victims. In one of those strange ironies, Randy was warming up with the

IOH offstage by softly playing along with a previous performer. The song was “Funny Valentine,” and when a photographer reminded Brecker that the Parkland tragedy was on Valentine’s Day, Randy teared up. “If this Instrument of Hope can help us address and stop gun violence and the associated mental health issues, I, and the others who play it, will be thankful for the opportunity to have been involved”, offered Brecker. He will join more than thirty trumpeters in New York City during a June recording session of a new Scharnberg brass arrangement of “Shine.”

All of these efforts are not only to send the message about gun violence but to support the Camp Shine, which uses the three arts disciplines, drama, visual and music, as ongoing therapy for the Parkland students and the community. The first camp, just a few months after the tragedy, was originally scheduled to be only two weeks but became a six-week session. Therapists in each of the three creative arts provided the programs. The 2019 camp will be three two-week sessions with each session focusing on one of the arts disciplines but still including all three in all sessions.

So, what is that I hear? An Instrument of Hope performing an “Overture to Change.” More than likely it’s the compelling sound of dozens of accomplished trumpeters in a recording and filming session in New York, again in Los Angeles and possibly a hundred musicians in Miami at the International Trumpet Guild Conference in July.

Scharnberg summed this up with, “I’m very excited about what will certainly be an historic event in gathering the top trumpet players in the U.S. and beyond who will come together in support of ending gun violence and keeping this conversation on our nation’s main stage!”

What should all this mean to you, the music educator? Your students are learning, adopting and putting into practice those skills, disciplines, and methodology they learn from you as they deal with their life’s experiences. They also are impacting their communities with these very same skills and disciplines. You are part of this collaboration.

Bree Gordon, the Camp Shine music therapist, put it very directly to music educators, “YOU ARE IMPORTANT! Don’t let anyone tell you that music, art and creativity are not valuable or necessary. Camp Shine is proof that children and their families connect and communicate through the arts, unlike anything else.”

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