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Donor funds new piano room at IMHS

From left, Aiden Ellis practices his piano lessons as music teacher Ed Williams assists Juliana Tapio with an assignment in the new piano room at Iron Mountain High School. (Theresa Proudfit/Daily News photo)

IRON MOUNTAIN — A continuing donation from a 1961 graduate has allowed Iron Mountain schools to create a new music room with 16 pianos — enough to let every middle school student in the district take six weeks of piano lessons.

Benefactor Gary Johnson had a connection with longtime band director Wally Swanson, who instilled a love of music in him. In 2013, Johnson pledged $200,000 to enhance the music program — an immediate $100,000 donation, plus $10,000 a year through 2023.

“Music departments are expensive to run, and they are expensive to maintain, so that financial support has been great,” music teacher Ed Williams said. “Instrument repair bills, dry cleaning bills and travel expenses — schools nowadays don’t have that extra cash to do that kind of stuff. We have been lucky that we have been able to keep those things going with the money we have from Mr. Johnson.”

The new music room, on the C floor of the high school next to the chorus room, has been fitted with sixteen Casio pianos, headphones and basic piano music books purchased for $3,500 from Jim’s Music in Iron Mountain.

“The $3,500 was left over from last year’s $10,000 donation,” Williams said. “Usually, we spend it on things the school can’t afford — instruments, transportation. If we want to bring the kids to a performance or a clinic, there is money there to pay for the buses. It paid for a clinician to come into work with the chorus. The clinician is usually a guest speaker or conductor, usually a college professor.”

They eventually plan to have 24 pianos in the music room.

In the past six years, the school also has spent $55,000 on new instruments for students in fifth through 12th grade, purchased an online electronic elementary music curriculum, added new electric pianos and replaced band uniforms.

The piano lessons for the middle school students are “a self-paced program,” Williams said. “In their lesson books, they have basic songs, so they have to play songs to get points in the grade book. Right now, they are all at the same level because it’s the first year, but next year the eighth-graders will get pushed a little more.”

He added, “The kids that I didn’t think would be into it at all, they love it. You just never know if you don’t give them that opportunity.”

Seventh-grader Aiden Ellis had never played piano before, but Williams said he already has gone far in his lessons.

“I didn’t think that I liked piano until we started and I didn’t know anything,” Ellis said, “so I think a lot of people will like it in the future, too.”

Juliana Tapio, also new to the piano, said a highlight for her is learning new songs.

“The joy of getting it right the first time is really fun,” Tapio said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for kids to learn piano in seventh grade. It’s just fun for kids to calm down and learn.”

Theresa Proudfit can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 245, or tproudfit@ironmountaindailynews.com.

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