Instruments in the Attic donations help Arkansas schools


Just weeks after a massive tornado destroyed their high school and half of their town, music students in Wynne, Arkansas, were able to continue their music education and even keep some performance dates, thanks to George Mason University’s Instruments in the Attic (IiA) program.

Five adults stand in what looks to be a childrens' classroom, surrounded by multiple guitars and many other instruments in cases.
From left, Matt Geske, MCAA operations manager; Mary Lechter, MCAA executive director; Shawn McCracken, Wynne Schools music teacher; Matthew Cooper, Wynne Schools music teacher; and Samantha Clarke, MCAA Instruments in the Attic coordinator. Photo provided.

Instruments in the Attic, which is part of the Mason Community Arts Academy (MCAA), recycles used instruments donated by community members and gets them in the hands of students in need. In April, the program was able to provide more than 100 instruments and accessories to the middle and high school students in Wynne.

Matthew Cooper, a middle school music teacher in Wynne Schools, reached out to IiA Coordinator Samantha Clarke earlier in the academic year seeking instruments for the program. Cooper had learned about the program when he was teaching in Maryland and had received instruments from IiA, so he sought help from the program again in his current job.

They were in the midst of coordinating the details of the instrument pick-up when the tornado struck. Weeks later, Cooper and a colleague drove from Wynne to the Mason Community Arts Academy in Fairfax, Virginia with a trailer in tow, in order to get instruments and supplies back to their students.

The donation included band and orchestra instruments, guitars, percussion equipment, and various accessories, and it has made it possible for music to continue for the students in Wynne despite the hardships they are facing. While the Wynne community is on a path to recovery, it is expected to take two to three years to rebuild.

A group of grinning students hold up guitars for the camera, grinning. Many of the kids hold their guitars above their heads in exuberance.
Donated instruments kept the Wynne Guitar Ensemble strumming. Photo provided.

“These instruments could not have come at a better time,” said Cooper. “This is going to help us so very much moving forward out of this disaster.”

Receiving these instruments has allowed the students to attend and perform at Music in the Parks at Magic Springs in Hot Springs, Arkansas, and the guitar ensemble to remain intact.

“It is such an amazing gift to be able to provide instruments to those in need in order for them to have access to the impact of learning and participating in music,” said Clarke, who graduated from Mason with a doctor of musical arts in May. “As a music educator, I can directly relate to the feeling of wanting to give your students everything, but not having access to the resources necessary to make it happen.”

A man is packing smaller instrument cases into a larger bin, to more easily transport the cases.
Music teacher Matthew Cooper traveled to Fairfax to pick up donated instruments. Photo provided.

Since it was established in Fall 2008, Instruments in the Attic has provided hundreds of instruments to teachers and students throughout Virginia, with a focus on donations to Title I schools. In addition to helping local school band and orchestra programs, the program has also supplied instruments to music students throughout the United States and internationally (through special arrangements) to students in Africa, Costa Rica, Haiti, Jamaica, and El Salvador. The program also assists Mason students in the Dewberry Family School of Music training to become music educators by providing instruments to help them build their skills.

“At the heart of what we do in the College of Visual and Performing Arts is the core belief that ‘The Arts Create Community,’ and the Instruments in the Attic program is one of the most tangible examples of this that we have,” said Mary Lechter, executive director of the Mason Community Arts Academy. “Whether we are putting a single instrument into the hands of a deserving student so that they may join the community of their school music program or supplying enough instruments to create a full community orchestra in Costa Rica, the reach and impact are significant, and truly fulfills this important mission.”

Instruments in the Attic is always seeking instrument donations to help those in need. If you would like to make a donation or to find out more, please visit the program’s  web page or email