Sixteen string, brass and woodwind instruments, and even a banjo, were donated Monday to three Scottsdale elementary schools as part of the mission of a Tempe-based charity to bring music to children.
"To get one instrument is a feat, to get more is incredible," said Wendy Cohen, principal at Yavapai Elementary School, during an assembly at the school.
The school is one of many that have received donations of instruments or music-related field trips since the nonprofit started in 2007.
"This is fantastic," said Erika Wadsworth, a music teacher at Yavapai. "Part of the problem as a public school is we need a lot of instruments; this allows more students to participate."
Ear Candy, a Tempe-based charity, collects donated instruments, cleans and refurbishes them, and distributes them to schools that need them. The nonprofit also accepts monetary donations to help cover the costs of cleaning and getting the instruments ready to place in schools.
The charity started in 2007 after Nate Anderson, the founder and executive director of Ear Candy, realized there was a major deficit in music education. Arizona currently ranks near the bottom nationwide for the amount of money it gives to schools per student, something that Anderson learned would negatively effect the music programs in public schools.
While he doesn't call himself a musician (despite having taken piano lessons as a child), Anderson has always held a lifelong appreciation for music, he said. The charity began out of his townhouse and quickly overwhelmed the small space.
In September of last year, Ear Candy made the move to its current space at the Community Services Building at Arizona State University.
But more space wasn't the only thing that the growing charity needed.
"I found I was spending all of my time driving from one side of town to the other," Anderson said. "The logistics were a major problem and the firehouse really helped with that."
Soon, the nonprofit developed a partnership with area fire departments. People could drop off instruments at the firehouses, donations would be taken to a single location, and someone from Ear Candy would pick them up.
The nonprofit also takes students from low-income schools on field trips to encourage their musical growth.
"I want them to know that there are more ways to be involved in music than just playing in a band," Anderson said.
The field trips usually also encompass demonstrations of light and sound checks, talks with musicians, and the ability to experience music outside of the classroom.
At Yavapai, nearly all of the students in the band and orchestra program rent instruments from the school.
It costs Scottsdale Unified School District students $30 a month to rent, Cohen said. However, most of the students who rent from Yavapai also qualified for waivers to rent the instruments for free.
Scottsdale's Tavan Elementary School also received instruments from Ear Candy. And while it is limited in funds, the school always finds a way for every student to participate if he or she wants to, said Margaret Serna, principal at Tavan. Sometimes that means teachers or administrators sponsor a student, as both Cohen and Serna have done.
Study after study shows music can positively impact students in a number of ways, including improving math and language learning abilities, Ear Candy's Anderson said.
With each donation, generations of students may benefit.
When it comes to donations, the charity needs more than just flutes and pianos, Anderson said. Part of its greatest need is donations to fix instruments up so they can be placed in schools.