The saxophone is now in the care of Fruitport High School senior Andrew Hartung, who said the instrument “could potentially change my life.”
Knowing he would have to return his school horn upon graduation, Hartung wrote a letter this past fall to Lew Russ, executive director of the Grand Haven-based Spread the Music Foundation, to ask for help purchasing a new one.
“I told him that high school could potentially be the end of my musical career — just because there was no way for us to afford a tenor (sax), and there was no real means of me getting there,” said Hartung, who plans to pursue a college education in music.
The letter hit home with Russ.
“My first thoughts were — here’s a kid who is trying to further his music career, but he doesn’t have the tools to do it,” Russ said. “I read (the letter) several times because ... you know that little voice tells you, ‘This is sincere. You need to make this happen.’”
Strapped with a $350 budget per child, Russ called Hartung’s mother, Dawn Enders.
“(He) asked if I had budgeted anything,” said Enders, a single mother. “I have three in band — and (with) all the instruments and everything, I said no.”
So Russ began his usual search on Craig’s List, but kept the tenor he had spotted previously at A-Z Outlet in mind. When he realized he would need donors to help fund this horn, he remembered Terry Trove, who had helped the program buy a student an instrument last year.
Without hesitation, Trove donated $1,000.
“You can tell from that letter, this kid’s future’s entwined in what he’s doing right here,” Trove said. “... This is not a kid just spending an hour in band in the afternoon then going home — this kid lives it.”
The weekend before talking to Trove, Russ had also mentioned the situation to his friend from Denver, Tammy McFadden. Russ was surprised to find a check in the mail from her for another $1,000.
“You get two people from opposite ends of the country who don’t even know each other who came in to buy an instrument for a kid in need in our community who’s going to further his music education, and it’s just awesome,” Russ said.
Trove said he doesn’t know anything about music, “except how to turn a CD on,” but his donations to Spread the Music are about much more.
“It’s just giving back in the community itself,” Trove said. “It’s not so much that I’m involved or my kids are involved in music as it is it’s something special for the kids here — because there’s so many kids that need it,” he said. “This is something that furthers your future and your opportunities.”
Russ presented the horn to Hartung and Enders in person in December.
“I was blown away,” Hartung said. “I thought I was going to be getting a somewhat lower-quality tenor. I mean, it’d still be an instrument. I would have been thrilled either way. But this one is more of the professional series, which was a big boost for me because it plays like a professional tenor.”
Enders was also shocked and thrilled.
“(It was) another one of those amazing moments where his eyes just lit up,” Enders said. “It was fun to watch Lew’s reaction, too, because he was so excited about it.”
Russ said Hartung assembled the instrument and began playing some scales.
“He sounded great,” Russ recalled. “He’s got some chops.”
Hartung said he’s already been able to practice more and improve with his new saxophone.
“I figured out a couple of things that I wasn’t able to do on the old one,” he said.
Hartung was in awe of the generosity of the horn’s sponsors.
“It was amazing to know that there are people out there that love music as much as I do, and that they would do anything to let somebody they don’t even know,” he said. “I’m just some kid from the street who they’re going to throw large amounts of money at just so I can continue my musical growth.”
Hartung has been involved in music since sixth grade, when he started on alto saxophone but switched to tenor within a year. The teen said he continues to pick up new instruments for the fun of learning them. He can currently play alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, bari saxophone, euphonium, a little bit of guitar, drums and “very small amounts” of piano.
Hartung participated in marching band for all four years of high school, taking over as drum major last fall.
“Marching got me to the point where I wanted to learn more about music, so I started not really paying attention more in class, but learning deeper,” he said.
Hartung also performs with the West Michigan Concert Winds. He said the older and more experienced players in the group have taught him a lot, but he said marching band is what made him realize he wanted to continue his musical career in college.
“(As drum major) I was more of a teacher than I was a student,” Hartung said. “My band director did help out a lot. He kind of inspires me and pushes me at the same time. … I loved teaching just my peers.”
He hasn’t yet decided where he will attend college, but he’s looking at Muskegon Community College.
Although Hartung hasn’t met the man who sold his saxophone to the pawn shop, Russ hopes to get the two in communication.
“I would kind of like to thank him for pawning it, just because now I have an instrument of my own,” Hartung said. “But I’d like to see how he’s doing, if the money did help, if he’s doing a lot better, and just assure him that the tenor is going to be played and loved.”
Hartung said he sees the saxophone staying with him for the rest of his life, but the instrument’s story won’t end there.
“After I die, I’d either like to keep it in my family if there’s another saxophone player,” he said. “Or, if there isn’t one in my family, I’d like to see it go back to Spread the Music so it can be given to another student who can grow.”