CORVALLIS - When Willi Prince took over as the Corvallis Middle School band director last year, what she found wasn’t exactly music to her ears. Many of the instruments were decades old and decayed, some made in the late 1950s. They were truly relics of a bygone era.

“They were really in poor shape after being used that much,” she said. “It’s really frustrating for the kids to have to play on the instruments that weren’t working, and for me too because our school district doesn’t have a lot of money, and so, it’s not like we could just buy new instruments.”

So last spring, Prince and high school band director Nancy Brown applied for a grant from the New York City-based Steele-Reese Foundation, an organization that gives a grant each year to support the arts in rural areas in Montana, Idaho and Southern Appalachia.

“They helped us start our orchestra program here in Corvallis 10 years ago,” Prince explained. “Martha Ilgenfritz, the orchestra director, applied for a grant to get the string instruments for that program. She told us about the organization, and so we applied.”

A trustee from the Steele-Reese Foundation actually flew out to Corvallis to inspect the school’s instruments, and finally, the school was awarded a whopping $25,000 grant for new instruments.

“It’s pretty special,” Prince said. “We counted it up, and we’re going to buy 10 instruments, a percussion cabinet, new folders and a stand cart to put all the music stands on. And then we’ll have some money left over and we’ll see if we want to buy some flutes and clarinets, that type of stuff, or put in for one more big instrument. Nancy and I talked about what instruments we needed the most to put in the grant. We kind of collaborated on that.”

On new instruments, kids will have a much easier time learning and playing professionally, Prince said.

“It definitely makes the tuning way easier,” she said. “Playing the low notes and the high notes becomes easier too. The overall sound will be far above what it is now. It also provides kids with the opportunity to play instruments that they probably wouldn’t get to play. For example, we’re going to be purchasing a baritone saxaphone, which is about $5,000 new, and that’s more expensive than their cars are.”

Prince said the old instruments will still go to good use.

“We’re going to keep fixing up the old instruments and keep them going,” she said. “The high school will probably use the newer instruments, because they are a little bit more coordinated and can take care of things better, but we’ll receive the older instruments. The stuff that’s totally unplayable – because we do have some instruments that are not even worth putting the money into – we’re going to part them out to a place in Missoula and he’ll give us money for repairs.”

Prince said that the French horns will be purchased next week, and the public will get a chance to hear the new instruments for Corvallis’ Homecoming on Sept. 21 when the football team takes on Hamilton.

The first middle school band concert of the year will be Dec. 4.

“The kids are pretty excited,” Prince said.

Reach reporter David Erickson at 363-3300 or

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