St. Olaf Band Donates Instruments, Teachers to Mexican Village
Minneapolis Star Tribune
31 December 2003
Richard Erickson unlocks a small room in the basement of the
St. Olaf College music building to show off a small pile of
"So far," he said, "we've collected 36 instruments
trumpets, saxophones, a trombone -- from all over the country."
The instruments are destined for a small village in Mexico, to
help the residents start a community band.
Erickson, the associate manager of music organizations at St.
Olaf, will join two professors and 79 St. Olaf band members
in Mexico for much of the interim January class, performing
concerts and learning about the country's culture. But the
highlight of the trip is the visit to San Miguel Tzinacapan
and the donation of the instruments.
The idea for the instrument donation came from St. Olaf alumnus
David Brye, a 1960 graduate who lives near San Miguel and has
developed ties to the village.
"Through David's connections with San Miguel, we learned that
the residents have wanted to have their own band for a long
time," Erickson said.
"Unfortunately, it was a complete impossibility for them to
think about buying their own instruments," he said. "Their
list was for about 24 instruments; we've received well beyond
He said donations mostly have come from alumni, parents of
students, and faculty and staff members. Erickson estimates
the value of the collected instruments at nearly $13,000.
The band has collected several boxes of music as well.
Teachers to stay
But the St. Olaf connection will last for several months after
the band members leave. Three St. Olaf alumni with degrees in
music education will remain for four months, living in San Miguel
and teaching the village's young people how to play and care for
Rachel Widen, one of the three music educators, is looking forward
to that challenge. Widen, a Minneapolis native and May 2003 St.
Olaf graduate, says four months is not a lot of time to get the
"I'm a little nervous about the communications issues -- I've
had four semesters of Spanish -- but I'm sure the immersion into
the community and culture will help," she said.
"But an even bigger issue is making sure the program simply
just die after we leave," she said. "We need to help the
become comfortable using these instruments. We don't want them to
become so fearful about damaging them that they put them away so
one can use them."
To help overcome that hurdle, Widen said she and her fellow teachers
have teamed up with a Mexican band federation. After the St. Olaf
graduates leave in May, the federation will continue to help the
villagers with music lessons, instrument repair and other issues
related to the community band.
Everyone involved with the program hopes that the band's visit
San Miguel and the instrument donation will lead to a long-term
relationship between the villagers and the college. "I can
in the future, our music education students doing their student
teaching in the village," Erickson said.
Matt Elzinga, a trumpeter from White Bear Lake, agreed. Elzinga
is a senior majoring in music education. "The instruments are
one-time donation, but the lessons learned -- by everyone involved
-- will last longer, continue to grow, and have a long-lasting
impact," he said.
Elzinga is helping to keep track of the instrument donations as
they arrive at the college. "It's been cool to see the donations
come out of the woodwork," he said. "People who have donated
genuinely excited to contribute."
The band members will spend the first part of January doing classroom
work preparing for the trip. They will learn about Mexican cultural
traditions in family life, religion, economics and politics, and
about the pressures that have brought significant social change
The group leaves for Mexico on Jan. 14, and will spend the rest
the month traveling around the country. Members will perform eight
concerts and explore many of Mexico's historic sites.
Erickson hopes the students will get more out of the trip than
the experience of traveling outside the country.
"I hope this trip will give the students some exposure to
and a culture overlooked by many Americans," he said. "When
travel overseas, most often the destination is Europe, and when
make those trips, quite often they don't delve into the
culture as much as they could.
"This trip will give our students a brand new appreciation
and help them understand some of the problems and challenges facing
people living in very different economic situations."
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