At a time when students are faced with the results of budget cuts to the art and music programs in many school systems, a select group of students in the Triad area will receive new equipment that is guaranteed to fill their lives with joy and music.
The John Coltrane International Jazz and Blues Festival has announced the winners of its Student Essay Contest ahead of its upcoming concert on Sept. 2 through 3 at Oak Hollow Festival Park, located at 1841 Eastchester Dr., in High Point. Contest winners will be presented with their new instruments on stage during the festival. The contest, spearheaded by the Friends of John Coltrane Inc., connects the influential jazz musician and his legacy to a community he lived in and to a community of young people seeking to continue their journey into music education.
“I wanted to do something where people could see the results immediately and touch lives in a more direct way,” said Joe Williams, one of the event organizer’s. “We’re hearing wonderful stories and getting good reactions about how these kids instruments are changing lives. Instead of kids being out in the streets, they’re practicing or joining outside organizations like church, bands or the Coltrane Youth Workshop.”
Middle and high school students in Alamance, Guilford and Forsyth counties can compete for prizes of brand new instruments of their choosing by entering the John Coltrane International Jazz and Blues Festival Essay Contest and submitting a 150 to 250-word essay explaining what music and jazz means to their lives, musical aspirations, affinities and needs.
This year, 17 students have been selected to receive an instrument. To date, there have been over 50 instruments awarded to aspiring students at a retail value of more than $75,000. The brand-new instruments are presented to middle and high school students by one of the festival headliners, who encourages them and gives them advice to for developing a career in music. Prizes are made possible by Bill Banks, Joe Williams and KHS America Inc., an instrument manufacturer and local sponsors.
Julian Ortega, 14, wrote about how music has impacted him and will receive a trumpet at Sunday’s event. Ortega plans to use his trumpet at school, camp and church.
The ninth grader said he heard some of his classmates at Penn-Griffin School of the Arts talk about the opportunity and decided to give it a shot himself.
“Music has gotten me through the difficult parts of my life whether it be with my family, school, grades or friends,” he said. “Being able to play gave me the courage to move on and do something about the problem. It gave me a way to express myself.”
When 17-year-old Kyrah Lymas received the news that she had won a tenor saxophone, she was at the Queen City Battle of the Bands scouting for potential colleges. The Northeast Guilford High School senior is currently in the marching and jazz bands in schools and is looking to continue the practice in college where she’ll major in music performance.
“Music has really given me opportunities that I wouldn’t have dreamed of. Getting into music really wrote my ticket for everything I want to do and everywhere I want to go,” Kyrah said. “Getting this instrument is a great and amazing opportunity that some people aren’t allowed to get. It’s a once and a lifetime opportunity. I just want to thank the people for giving this opportunity for kids interested to music. It’s amazing what they are doing.”
Her mother, Yolanda Townes-Lymas, agrees and said that out of all three of her children, Kyrah has always been shy and soft-spoken until she found music. Now Townes-Lymas said her daughter spends countless hours playing throughout the house.
“I’m proud of her and her hard work. She’s really dedicated,” Townes-Lymas said. “Music has changed her and made her more outspoken. Music has inspired her and built up her self-esteem. This speaks volumes to where she’s come from and where she’s going.”
Williams hopes this is just the beginning and to reach students in needs all over the state. He said he’s received calls from other parts of the state asking if they can participate and what a wonderful program it is.
“As the festival grows and we get more donations and sponsors, we would love to be that vehicle where band leaders can come to us for new instruments and to be able to provide workshops that they can send their bands to,” Williams said. “We want to be that organization to further musical education far beyond just giving one child an instrument. Our goal is to outfit music departments across the state.”
The two-day festival will be hosted by Dyana Williams and will be packed with the some of the largest names in the jazz and blues genres. On Saturday, there will be performances by the Coltrane Jazz Youth Workshop participants, Matthew Whitaker, Robert Randolph, Eddie Palmieri, Jonathan Butler and Gerald Albright. On Sunday, there will be performances by the Gate City Divas’, Special EFX, Spyro Gyra, Alexis Morrast, and the duo Joey Calderazzo and Branford Marsalis.
For more information or tickets, visit www.coltranejazzfest.com.