School music program owes much to ‘transformer’

Heroes, men and women who inspire us to do brave and noble things, make our world a better place.

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Superhero movies are a profitable franchise because everybody likes a hero. The good guy in the white hat who saves the heroine/cat/baby/teetering school bus is the stuff of feel-good stories, no matter how old you are.

And rightfully so.

Heroes, men and women who inspire us to do brave and noble things, make our world a better place.

Sometime in mid-May, a friend asked if he could bring some money by the house for me to take to our local central school for the music program. I said sure; he’d done this before.

This friend runs the town recycling and transfer center, and has been collecting bottles and cans (he calls them “the nickels”) since 2002 to redeem for our school music program.

That was the year we began a fundraiser to purchase a grand piano for the new auditorium, believing firmly that a school auditorium wasn’t complete without a big black grand piano.

Two local artists painted Toulouse-Lautrec dancers on a large round container, named it “the Can Can,” and took it to our Saturday social event (fondly called the dump) for people to put their redeemable bottles and cans in.

The gentleman in charge of the Saturday social event, Carl Walther, agreed to collect and redeem these bottles and cans to help buy a grand piano.

It was such a success that we raised enough money with the nickels, “selling” piano keys and other fundraising to purchase a Yamaha C5 grand piano with bench, cover, keyboard lock and spider dolly, as well as a new studio upright for the music classroom.

Ongoing success story

Since then, Mr. Walther has continued collecting bottles and cans for the music department, making it possible for them to purchase a full drum set, a bass guitar, and to pay for tuning the school’s five pianos together for a free Piano Jamboree concert in 2009 with six piano players, celebrating the 300th birthday of the piano.

Jump back to the present.

When Carl Walther plopped a grocery bag full of cash on our dining table, he said he “didn’t know how much was in there, but it’s been three years or more, so take it to the school for me, would you?”

We counted it after he left, came up with way over $5,000, and I took it to the school the next day. They counted it again for deposit in the special music fund, and came up with a higher number (some bills had stuck together) and took it to the bank. The bank came up with an even bigger number— $5,845.

The music teachers were thrilled, the school board pleased, and Carl was surprised at how much it was. After a brief story about this appeared in the paper, I got a phone call from a local person who was inspired by Carl’s gift to donate $155 to bring the fund up to an even $6,000.

Carl tells me that Saturday bottle donations have tripled since the story came out, and he is continuing to redeem “the nickels” for the school. The work is tedious and slow, but what Mr. Walther has done is to inspire the community to support a worthy project and the children in our school.

Pulling off a miracle

Carl is more than a superhero, he’s a transformer. Transforming bottles and cans into a grand piano, instruments and free concerts, and inspiring others to donate is a miracle, and not to be sniffed at.

He will be thanked publicly at a school assembly this month, an ordeal for such a shy and modest man.

We’ll try not to embarrass him, but just say “thank you” and let the students and parents there know that because of Carl Walther, kids can be in the bands even if they can’t afford an instrument.

And that, in my book, makes him a real hero.

Karen Cookson lives in Sharon Springs and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Gazette Opinion pages.

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