Keeping Music Alive in Our Schools

The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation donates high-quality musical instruments to deserving, under-funded music programs, and provides an array of support services to school districts.

I was introduced to The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation by my friend Megan Jones. She sits on the Board of Directors of the organization.

I remember her being so passionate and proud about all the good that this Foundation does. So, when I started insidewink and we began to highlight charities, I immediately thought of The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation as one I wanted to include.

The president of the Foundation is Felice Mancini. She is the daughter of the famed composer, conductor and pianist Henry Mancini. With music truly in her blood, no wonder Felice is inspired to dedicate her time to this wonderful organization.

Here’s Felice…

Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation
“My parents must have passed along some of their “give back” sensibility and it stuck. Their generosity and passion for music helped to sustain many organizations and artists.”

— Felice Mancini

Daughter of Oscar winning composer Henry Mancini
and noted vocalist Virginia “Ginny” Mancini

Who is the founder of the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation and where did the name come from?

Michael Kamen was an accomplished composer and musician, whose experience writing the music for the movie, Mr. Holland’s Opus, about a music teacher and his impact on generations of students, inspired him to find a way to keep music programs alive. He saw the decline in funds and support of music and arts in school and wanted to try to reverse the trend. So he started The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation (MHOF) in 1996. He focused on the one thing that could provide an immediate result – putting instruments into the hands of more students, improving the quality of the experience and giving more kids access to the opportunity.

Michael was a musical genius, with a magical personality and a vision that was based on his own experience attending public school in New York City. His music education was freely given to him and he wanted that for everyone in school.

Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation
The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation was inspired by the acclaimed motion picture “Mr. Holland’s Opus”

The movie, Mr. Holland’s Opus, is based on the true story of a reluctant music teacher and composer Glenn Holland, played by Oscar-winning actor Richard Dreyfuss. Throughout his career, Mr. Holland had a profound effect on generations of students with his passion for teaching music and perseverance in his struggle to keep music part of their education.

Michael Kamen passed away far too early, at age 55, in 2003, but I had enough time with him to absorb his spirit and intentions. He kept the mission narrow – just instruments – because it was immediate and tangible, and the most costly thing for a school music program.

The original mission expanded in 2016, when MHOF launched Music Education District Support Services – MEDSS®️, where we work with school districts to build and strengthen their plan for music education on all campuses in the district, giving more students access to this life-enhancing opportunity.

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Covid-19 and Resources for Music Teachers

“During this difficult time, we are in touch with music teachers and school district arts coordinators every day, responding to their immediate needs where we can. When students go back to school, we will be there for them. We’ve gathered a list of resources to help teachers adapt to distance learning.”

Felice, how did you become so personally involved?

In 1988, a good friend invited me to volunteer for a new youth center he created in the Rampart district of Los Angeles, tutoring kids, making lunches, and serving on their board. It was a safe haven for kids surrounded by gangs and little supervision, and it’s a thriving program to this day.

I helped them with fundraising and really took to it, so I enrolled in a certification program at UCLA for nonprofit management and fundraising. Then a friend who was the Executive Director for another local music nonprofit told me about a new foundation that was looking for someone to run it – The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation.

It took more than a year for the stars to align, but I took the reins in 1998 and put my past fundraising experience, love of music, and unique style to its best use and here I am 22 years later. I’m happy that Michael Kamen and his board trusted me to shape the mission and programs and lead the organization forward. I feel a tremendous responsibility to our donors to deliver a thoughtful, quality service, and to use their funds as wisely as possible.

My parents must have passed along some of their “give back” sensibility and it stuck. Their generosity and passion for music helped to sustain many organizations and artists.

Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation

“Playing music with their peers anchors (students) to their social group and improves their behavior and attitude.”

Tell us about MHOF’s current programs and future goals

MHOF focuses on donating new, quality instruments to under-served school music programs, and delivering MEDSS to school districts who request it. Because of the current crisis affecting all of us, and especially low-income schools and students, the future of MHOF will be shaped by learning how it’s all  going to impact music education when kids and teachers are back in school full time. The remedial work may be so overwhelming that music and arts programming may suffer while kids catch up in their core academic subjects.

On the other hand, schools and districts that offer to music to their students are very aware of its benefits and how playing music with their peers anchors them to their social group and improves their behavior and attitude. There could be even more of a demand for instruments because sharing instruments, once a common practice, will be eliminated and schools will be caught short.

School leadership may see the opportunity to fully utilize music education to its best effect. It remains to be seen. Our future goals will always hang on the ideal that all students, especially those with the least access yet the most to gain, have a chance to play and learn music while in school.

Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation

“Our future goals will always hang on the ideal that all students, especially those with the least access yet the most to gain, have a chance to play and learn music while in school”

How is the MHOF making a difference in the lives of students?

The students we serve go to schools, and live in neighborhoods where access to opportunities is limited. Because schools usually don’t have enough decent instruments to give to all the kids who want to play, they have to share with others, remain on a wait list, or miss the chance altogether. Their parents can’t afford to rent or buy one for them.

The impact is immense: greater student achievement and enjoyment in school; having better instruments and a more abundant inventory from which to choose, kids have more time to play and practice, are more engaged in class, come to school more often and are more likely to graduate; social skills and behaviors are honed while students come together and confidently play quality instruments. Often, music class is the reason kids come to school, giving them a safe haven, place to belong, and a creative identity.

Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation is Making a Difference With:

Awarded Schools

Donated Instruments

Students Impacted

What do you personally spend most of your time doing for MHOF?

I am the primary fundraiser and spokesperson for the organization. To say that I ask for money isn’t really how I see it – I tell our story, which is inspiring to me, and I express certain values and dreams that can be realized when people contribute.

I see MHOF as the middle man – we connect people’s desires to what they care about, with the assurance that something good will happen. I enjoy doing that –  laying out those details and making the case for music education as a means to succeed and thrive for kids – that excites me.

So I spend most of my time writing grants, creating messaging, communicating with donors, doing research to find people interested in supporting music for kids, reading about news in the field, and making sure that our board is informed about our activities and finances. We have a small staff, all with essential jobs, and I’m in touch with them every day.

Even now, working remotely, we’re all connected probably more than before. I also spend time working with a range of partners who have a strong commitment to our program and the kids and teachers we serve, finding creative ways to raise funds and make the most of shared assets and mindshare.

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Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation

“…the ability to work hard and create something with others –

a skill that’s yours forever,

is life changing.”

What inspires you about MHOF, perhaps a specific story you can share?

My own experience learning to playing an instrument was revelatory and really gave me an appreciation for what MHOF does.

When my father passed away 25 years ago, I acquired two of his flutes. The flute was his first instrument that he learned at 8-years of age, and he continued to play the flute in every concert he ever did. I remember him practicing very complex scales and drills before a concert.

I decided to learn how to play the flute, in honor of my dad, and started lessons a few years ago. I had learned how to read music early on playing piano so that was very helpful. But what I never realized was the effort involved learning to play a new instrument – breath control, posture, rhythm, fingering, focus. It was a huge challenge! But when I could actually play songs and play to accompaniment and play a duet with my teacher – I experienced such joy and accomplishment. I could barely keep playing because I kept smiling and laughing knowing I was making music in this way.

I then realized how difficult it must be for a kid playing an instrument in school, especially having to play something 30-years old and shared, having to work even harder to produce a good sound. But the rewards – indescribable. We have thousands of letters from students, parents and teachers who are so grateful that we’re there for them. Being able to play a proper instruments that’s clean and new and sound like it should makes such a difference. But even more than that, the ability to work hard and create something with others – a skill that’s yours forever, is life changing.

Music Has the Power to Changes Lives…

 

And donating to MHOF will give you a chance to do just that.

Is there anything that you wish more people knew about MHOF?

And how can people get involved?

For a national organization, we keep a pretty low profile and just try to affect as many kids and schools as we can. We see the disparities and lack of resources across the country and we know that we can’t do it all. But what we do makes a difference.

It’s lovely to hear from teachers after getting a donation of instruments for their program. They are thrilled for their students, but they’re also so grateful to be heard and supported. Many teachers who are ready to quit at a school, or quit teaching altogether because of lack of resources experience such a boost from our help, and are re-motivated and proud to give their kids enough quality instruments to play. And the school districts that we help with our support services are hungry for the tools and data we give them that make their planning and organization so much better.

For those who know the power of music in a child’s life, donating to MHOF will give them a chance to see that happen. That’s the best way to get involved.

Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation

The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation keeps music alive in our schools by donating musical instruments to under-funded music programs, and vital support services to school districts nationwide, giving economically-disadvantaged youth access to the many benefits of music education, leading them to success in school, and inspiring creativity and expression through playing music

By JEAN TREBEK

Jean is a Professional Religious Science Practitioner, Reiki Master and Sound Healer. She grew up on Long Island, NY, and now lives in Los Angeles with her wonderful husband of 29 years, Alex, and has 2 amazing adult children, Matthew and Emily. Jean enjoys taking long walks, watching movies, and traveling. She is very grateful for her family, Willy the dog, friends and good coffee.

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