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Bronx high school students surprised with $88,000 in new musical instruments

Lovelytheband also surprised the students with a performance of their hit, "Broken."

Students at Pelham Prep in the Bronx were surprised by StubHub and The Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation with $88,000 in new instruments and a private performance by lovelytheband on Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018.  (Credit: Newsday / Yeong-Ung Yang)

Students at a Bronx high school were surprised on Thursday with $88,000 worth of new musical instruments during a pep rally that almost didn’t play out exactly as planned.

Pelham Prep's band director "told me even today instruments were breaking and he was nervous this ensemble that he and the students put together might not come to fruition," says Jeff Poirier, general manager of StubHub.

The ticket company partnered with the Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation and lovelytheband, of “Broken” fame, to gift the Astor Avenue school with a music grant that’ll help replace some crumbling instruments that have been in use for decades.

“It was a struggle for us to get new instruments. Some of the kids have been working on instruments from the 1950s. Even this week we were having issues with instruments breaking down,” says band director Steven Oquendo, 38. “If we didn't get this grant, we would have been definitely struggling."

The school received 49 new instruments, which were unveiled onstage during what the students thought was an average pep rally, complete with cheerleaders and performances from the band.

“Today’s program is gonna be lit!” Jonathan Berenguer, the afternoon's MC, warned the auditorium over the cheers of nearly 500 students. 

The school was selected by the organization Opus Foundation in partnership with StubHub to receive the funds due to its status as a Title 1 school, meaning a large number of its students qualify as low-income.

The grant is a part of a nationwide measure to help preserve the arts program in "at-risk public schools," fronted by the two organizations. According to Poirier, the program will donate $1 million per year over the next three years to various schools, selected by principal nominations.

"Music, I think, for all of us, in school was a bit of a release and a place we could run away to and express ourselves when we were figuring out what that exactly meant," says Mitchy Collins, lovelytheband's lead singer.

He performed alongside bandmates, Jordan Greenwald and Sam Price, who say the music education programs at their high schools helped them pursue eventual careers in the industry that’s landed them on the Billboard charts.

"Our music teachers played a big role in that and allowed us to be ourselves for a period of time a day when in a school setting that's not always allowed," Collins says.

“I did drum line, marching band, concert band, jazz band, I was heavily involved. If something like that would have happened, we all would have freaked out,” adds Price, the rock band's drummer.

At Pelham Prep, Oquendo says in five years he’s seen students thrive from their involvement in the program. The school's band currently includes 31 children, a number that is expected to grow with the schools expanding band closet that can now accommodate 57 students.

Band "gives them another way of expressing themselves," explains Oquendo, a Soundview resident. "That's the way I look at it. We have kids who come here with no social skills."

He explains the program has helped many shy students find their voices and learn how to properly interact with their peers.

"They start to become individuals . . . I see that it's something that gives them that boost of confidence."

Within the past three years, StubHub and the Mr. Holland's Opus Foundation has donated 328 instruments — a total value of $377,632 — to school programs in the New York area, benefiting more than 2,500 students, according to a release.

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