Brian Pertl, dean of the Lawrence Conservatory, raced back to Lawrence earlier this spring with a van full of musical instruments; a generous donation that he, himself, would be donating to those who could put them to use.
“As someone who loves musical instruments, to have a van full of instruments was like, ‘Ok, this is a great day,’” Pertl said.
After the owner of Schmitt’s Music in Racine retired and closed the shop, he donated his stock to the local Racine Arts Council. Swamped by the massive donation, however, the director wrote to Pertl, asking for assistance.
“She knew about the Lawrence Conservatory, but she also had heard Lawrence had a lot of connections with bringing music into the community, and was hopeful we might be able to use those connections to find homes for the rest of the instruments,” Pertl said.
The donation totaled nearly 60 violins, violas, brass instruments, and a cello, Pertl said. Many are fractional instruments, meaning they’re smaller versions made for children.
“I wanted to get these instruments into strings programs that had a robust way of lending out instruments, taking back instruments when a kid outgrew them, and giving them the next size, so we’d really maximize the impact of these instruments,” Pertl said.
He called the Superior Strings Alliance, based in Marquette, Michigan. Executive Danielle Simandl ’09 remains connected to her alma mater. She agreed to the donation and traveled to Appleton, where she received eight instruments for the alliance.
“SSA will be able to lend these instruments out to elementary-aged students who are interested in beginning violin or viola but may not have the resources to rent or buy an instrument right away,” Simandl said.
Pertl’s next call was to the Latino Arts Strings Program, which is based in Milwaukee and mixes classical strings education with mariachi music. Some of their instruments were over 30 years old; the program received the most of Pertl’s donations.
“The students are amazing; it’s incredible, it’s robust, and they have multiple orchestras for different students,” said Pertl, who hopes to send Lawrence’s Mariachi Ensemble to perform with the program in the near future.
Pertl’s final planned donation is to send some of the brass instruments to Haiti via the BLUME Haiti organization.
“I find this whole thing really exciting, because here were these instruments that were just sitting there, not being used, and now because of this partnership … these instruments are going out and will inspire the next generation of musicians,” Pertl said.
The biggest challenge, he said, was the sheer number of instruments. He had to fit all 60 instruments into a single Lawrence van on the way back from Racine. After that, it was pretty smooth.
“It was actually a very easy process because of these connections we already have in the community to just make calls and play Santa Claus,” Pertl said.
He said his hope is to see a future auditioning student at Lawrence who began their musical journey on one of these donated instruments.
Simandl said that many Superior Strings Alliance attendees become Lawrence music majors, and end up back at the program as instructors.
“There is a distinct pattern that many folks who attend Lawrence Conservatory start out wanting to help their music communities in some way and end their time at LU as change-makers with many, many helpful tools,” Simandl said.
“It was a serendipitous thing; nothing like this has ever happened before, but I think it’s just a beautiful story,” Pertl said. “I am so grateful to the Racine Arts Council for reaching out. Their gift will change the lives of hundreds of young musicians."