‘Play it Forward’ music to students,’ teachers’ ears

Music can be life-changing, and a local organization is making sure every kid has the chance to pick up an instrument.

As a part of its “Play it Forward” drive, the La Crosse Symphony Orchestra works with the La Crosse School District and the Boys and Girls Club, providing used instruments for students who need them.

The campaign is in its third year with another donation event coming up, and students and teachers said just having an instrument to play can open up the door to so much more.

“I always thought the trombone was cool,” Logan high school sophomore Johnny Marcou said.

Marcou used to play the euphonium, which is similar to the trombone, but for Johnny, it fell a little flat. That’s because he said it was missing one key part — the slide.

“You can’t do cool slide stuff,” Marcou said. “But now, yay, I can.”

Thanks to the La Crosse Symphony Orchestra’s Play it Forward drive, he can now do all the ‘cool slide stuff’ he wants by playing one of their donated trombones.

“There’s a second life to every instrument, maybe a third or fourth life,” Jean Ann Gundersen, on the La Crosse Symphony Orchestra Board, said. “Just listening to Johnny … and the excitement he has to have this instrument — it’s very rewarding.”

“It’s fantastic,” Logan High School band director Mark Lakmann said.

Lakmann said about 10 “Play it Forward” instruments have made their way into the hands of his students who may not have been able to play otherwise, and many have kept up with it long after leaving his classroom.

“I think it’s the most genuine experience that I feel is now they’ve become lifelong music lovers and players as well,” he said.

Along with donating to the La Crosse school district’s instrument loan program, the La Crosse Symphony also provides instruments to the strings program at the Mathy Center Boys and Girls Club.

Now, strings group member Rebecca Strittmater has a viola at her fingertips.

“It’s really low and it’s really calming,” she said.

It’s been instrumental in both growing her playing skills and her skills outside of music.

“It helped me become a leader, because then I can teach other kids how to play,” Strittmater said.

She said part of what she loves about her viola is the harmony it brings.

“It’s a great fit for the violins,” Strittmater said.

Lakmann agrees it’s all about the harmony music can bring between each other.

“It’s about people being able to work with each other, and compromising and being able to get along, and we need more of that, and that’s what’s happening here,” he said.

“It’s really cool to see that can actually happen,” Marcou said.

If you own a gently-used, playable instrument, you can donate it at the “Play it Forward” drive on March 11 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m at Valley View Mall.

The La Crosse Symphony is holding its Valentine Ball fundraiser Saturday night, and part of the money raised will go toward repairing any donated instruments through the “Play it Forward” program.