'Everybody who wants to should be able to join the band'

'Everybody who wants to should be able to join the band'

MAHOMET — When Ally Sussman launched Band Together 4 Music over four years ago, she wanted to ensure that all students — no matter their family circumstances — were able to participate in Mahomet-Seymour's band program.

Sussman, then a few months shy of her 12th birthday, played the trumpet at Mahomet-Seymour Junior High. But she knew that some of her classmates couldn't afford to buy an instrument. So she launched an organization that matches donated instruments with student musicians who need them.

Now 16 and a junior at University High in Urbana, Sussman is looking to expand her mission to a new pool of possible donors: the campus community.

"I still feel as strongly as I did back then that everybody who wants to should be able to join the band," she said.

Over the years, she's facilitated the donation of 27 instruments of all kinds to young musicians at Mahomet-Seymour — something that band director Michael Stevens said has "helped a lot of students who wouldn't otherwise be able to play in the band."

Stevens works as a bridge between students in need and Sussman, who said she doesn't know the identities of the musicians she's assisted. Neither do their classmates, putting everyone on an equal footing as they begin their musical education.

"We usually have a handful of students each year who ask us for help," Stevens said. Sussman passes out information about the program to fifth-grade students on their annual "instrument selection day," as well as at parent meetings.

Availability of instruments depends on what's been donated. Stevens said clarinets and flutes tend to dominate, but added that those are often the instruments in highest demand for new musicians.

Recipients of the instruments are "just elated," he said. "The parents are extremely pleased that the program is there."

Sussman recently began working with a team of business students from the University of Illinois to further develop Band Together 4 Music's mission. With the help of the three students, who are part of the Illinois Business Consultants program, Sussman has expanded her reach on Facebook and launched an online survey aimed at getting the word out.

The students — who include an MBA candidate as well as underclassmen majoring in accounting and information technology — have "given me a lot of great ideas of how to reach out to the greater U of I community," she said.

Instruments for donation can be dropped off at Mahomet IGA, Mahomet Public Library, The Music Shoppe, Sinai Temple in Champaign and the Harding Band Building on campus.

Monetary donations go toward refurbishing instruments that aren't in top playing condition. Sussman said she's also grateful for the help of students in the band instrument repair program at Minnesota State College, who've volunteered their time to fix some instruments needing special attention.

Some of the instruments she's received have been particularly memorable, including a rare French horn dating from the 1920s that, after evaluation by the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music at the U I, was donated to South Dakota's National Music Museum.

Although Sussman isn't sure yet where life will take her after graduation, she hopes to keep Band Together 4 Music going.

"Our goal is to help as many people as possible," she said.

Amelia Benner is editor of the Mahomet Citizen, a News-Gazette community newspaper. For more, visit mcitizen.com.