Curtis Cotton III, the band director at Philo-Hill Magnet Academy, is a testament for his students to the power of music. He says it’s what kept him in school at an early age, and ultimately led to a scholarship to UNC Greensboro.
When Cotton came to Philo-Hill eight years ago, about five students were in the band program. He has nurtured the program to the point where it now has 126 students.
Only two of those students can afford to own their instruments.
But on Tuesday, a donation of about 100 musical instruments — including guitars, saxophones, trumpets, trombones, snare drums, clarinets, flutes, violins, a cello and recorders — was presented to Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools by National Pawn & Jewelry, a North Carolina company.
Jaiden Howell, 14, is in the eighth grade and one of the students who pays $40 a year to play a trumpet owned by Philo-Hill. He started playing band in sixth grade and he loves it.
“I like how we all come together and sound like one,” Howell said. “I appreciate the donation. The (instruments) look good. We need it.”
Eighth-grader Jared Cruz, 13, also plays trumpet. Like Howell, he began in sixth grade when he came to Philo-Hill.
“I heard people on TV playing it and I wanted to try and see if I liked it,” he said, adding that he’ll continue in high school.
Cruz said he was excited to see the instruments.
“I think it’s cool,” he said. “Thanks for the donation.”
Philo-Hill was one of the schools selected for the gift of instruments after Cotton wrote a letter to Bob Moulton, the president of National Pawn. National Pawn opened its first store in Winston-Salem in December, at 3600 Reynolda Road.
“Closed mouths do not get fed,” Cotton said. “If you don’t ask, how will you know? You need to be responsible for your own success.”
He had heard that Moulton had donated instruments to schools in the past and sent him the letter in May.
In fact, Moulton, 55, has made donations of instruments and $2,000 for the past six years to school systems in counties where he has businesses, including Durham, New Hanover, Wake, Orange, Mecklenburg and Cumberland counties. This year donations will also be made to Gaston and Guilford counties.
The recorders will be given to Easton Elementary School, which asked for some before the donation, said Brad Oliver, the school system’s director of arts education and summer enrichment programs. The guitars will be given to Walkertown Middle School, which also asked for more before this opportunity arose. It will also get a few stringed instruments.
The band instruments are being split evenly between Philo-Hill and Mineral Springs Middle School because they need them. The four schools will split the $2,000.
Cotton called it, “a humbling experience,” to know his letter was able to generate instruments for the school.
“There are not too many opportunities to fill out a raffle ticket and win,” he said.
Philo-Hill is a Title I school with 100 percent of the students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches, according to school officials. Cotton said music can have a big impact on their lives.
“It can be a struggle to work with these students, knowing the neighborhoods they live in,” he said. “I may be the only positive thing they have that day. I may help them get their scholarship to college.”
Moulton said the instruments donated to schools each year come from his pawn shops, with the exception of the recorders and guitars, which he buys wholesale. If someone brings an instrument to one of the shops to pawn, it is saved to be donated to schools.
“I had incredible memories of being in band, and I want to put instruments in kids’ hands,” Moulton said. “It’s a really exciting, fun thing to do and it’s very important to me. I’m lucky because I’m in a position to do it.”
He challenged “former band geeks” who have instruments they no longer play to donate them to schools. Moulton said if they can’t afford to donate them, then bring them to his stores and they will buy them so they can be donated.
“There is such a need,” he said.