ROBERTSDALE — Thirty members of the Robertsdale High School band found themselves sitting in the school cafeteria on Wednesday, May 25, with no idea of what awaited them in their band room.
Just a short distance away, the band directors were setting up nearly 30 new instruments. The instruments were purchased thanks to a $100,000 donation from RHS alumni Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Corporation. Some of the instruments, such as French horns and tubas, cost between $8,000 and $10,000 apiece.
"This is incredible, you're talking 30, 40 years' worth of use out of these instruments," said RHS Band Director Lee Hughes. "It's going to affect thousands of kids. This is huge for the band program."
At the beginning of May, Hughes and the other directors met with Principal Joe Sharp about the band program's needs. In 2018, the RHS band was comprised of less than 90 members. Now, 230 members will take the field when the next school year begins.
"Our band director came to me and said that our band is growing faster than we can keep up, and we have some needs," said Sharp. "Typically, our parents, our boosters, help us with trumpets, clarinets and the flutes, those are a little bit more affordable. These larger instruments are instruments that the school usually pays for."
After discussing the band's needs, Sharp decided to reach out to Cook, saying the worst thing that could happen would be to be told, "no." Instead, he got a resounding "yes." Cook, a high school band member himself, offered the school the large donation.
"It's so exciting to see our kids come in here, it's like Christmas morning with them opening up the cases and actually peeling the plastic off of these new instruments," said Sharp.
Sharp began communications with Cook in 2018 after becoming principal at RHS. In recent years, Cook has made donations to other programs within the school, as well as donating roughly $50,000 worth of scholarships annually to seven graduating seniors.
"He's definitely given back to his alma mater and is making us and the community proud," Sharp said. "I'll be sharing some videos and pictures with him later, sharing what a day he created for our students."
Fine arts are growing within Baldwin County, as is the need. Sharp said the band program needs approximately $30,000 more to fully purchase all the instruments needed for the students. The directors and students are working to raise the funds to make that happen.
"We have 98 fine arts teachers in Baldwin County," said Amy Plunkett, fine arts supervisor with Baldwin County schools. "They're just so impressive, all of them, they share their heart, their passion, and their enthusiasm with the students. They love what they do, and however they can support it, they do."
Plunkett said the school system has earned $350,000 in Alabama Arts Initiative Grants over the past three years, which awards programs with approximately $20,000. Many fine arts teachers are instrumental in receiving the grants for their programs, Plunkett said.
You can watch videos of the RHS band performing on their website, www.robertsdalehighschoolband.com. Donations towards the band can be made on the site as well.