Money for the music

ISHPEMING – When Anne Asplund received a $20,000 check from the Cliffs/Eagle Mine Marquette County Community Fund for her after school music program, it was like a dream come true.

“One day that check just came in the mail, and I was shaking,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it. I haven’t even spent any money yet, because I’ve never had money to spend, so it’s just been an overwhelming joyful thing for us.”

Asplund, a teacher of music, gym and technology for Birchview Elementary and Ishpeming Middle School, has been involved with the after school strings program for 10 years which was started by Ishpeming Middle and High School music teacher Sheila Grazulis. Asplund said she took over the class three or four years ago, and teaches the violin to about 35 elementary school kids and a whole spectrum of orchestral instruments to about 20 middle school kids. Everything she uses to teach, including all of the instruments, were either donated by the community or purchased with funds raised by community members.

She said she learned about the community grants last spring and was told to make a list of “everything we could ever dream of” to use in the music program. She made a list totaling approximately $11,000 that included violins of every size – she said she “went crazy.”

“In August they came back to me and said, ‘You didn’t spend enough,'” she said. “I thought I’d gone over the top.”

So Asplund said she went back and put in for transportation to go play at various places around the community, she put in money for supplies, music, storage units and T-shirts. When she was done, the wish list totaled $20,000. She said she never thought it was going to happen.

Asplund said that the money will be instrumental in ensuring that the program stays free.

“It’s always been my dream to have enough instruments to keep this program free, because it really is, to the best of my knowledge, the only after school program that is free to the students, except the rental of the instruments,” she said.

She said that music programs such as hers are incredibly important because they offer emotional and intellectual development that kids might not get in their other classes.

“The correlation between reading music, understanding rhythm, understanding note reading, all ties in to reading skills,” she said.

And for the middle school kids, “they can express feelings that are not always allowed – sorrow, joy, excitement,” she said. “Among their peers, there’s a lot of learning how things work, and the arts allow you that comfort zone to really explore different facets of your personality and gifts that aren’t always seen in the academic world.”

“(What) I like most is getting to play and just playing with my friends,” said Taylor Longtine, 9, a fourth-grader who participates in the program. “I like reading the notes.”

Ericka Olson, an eighth-grader at the Ishpeming Middle School, participates in the after school program for the middle school and volunteers to help Asplund with the elementary kids. She said she’s been involved with the program for five years, and loves that she’s able to learn music and keep involved with the arts. She also loves “the inspiration within the pieces and the sound when you harmonize with other instruments.”

“I just love how it sounds, and the inspiration, and bringing a smile to our parents’ and our families’ faces,” she said.

Zach Jay can be reached at 906-486-4401.