CHIMACUM — For the past few years, Andy Mackie has had a worry in the back of his mind.
When his health no longer allows him to carry on, who will organize in-class and after-school music lessons that he offers free to schoolchildren?
Who will make the strum sticks and back-pack guitars that he puts together in his workshop and hands out for the children to learn on?
So when a philanthropist contacted Mackie after seeing him CBS News “Assignment America” last spring and asked what he could do to help, Mackie knew what to suggest — funding for a class where students would make instruments, learn to play them, then teach other students to play.
Last week, that suggestion became a reality as Mackie met with Chimacum High School Principal Whitney Meissner in the high school shop to approve the partnership agreement between the school district and the Andy Mackie Music Foundation funding an instrument-making class.
“This is the first partnership on such a large scale,” Meissner said. “We’ve never offered a full trimester class with private funding.”
While Mackie’s music foundation is funding the bulk of the program, it is also supported by an anonymous local donor, Meissner said, as well as a philanthropist who saw Mackie on “Assignment America” last spring, who also prefers to remain anonymous.
According to the agreement, the Andy Mackie Music Foundation provides training and salary for a certified teacher for a seventh and eighth grade class that will meet five days a week for 12 weeks, starting in December, and repeat in the district’s third trimester in the spring.
The school district will advertise the position, Meissner said, which has a salary range of $10,000 to $18,000, depending on experience.
The woodworking part of the job is relatively minor, she said, as the school will provide someone to oversee cutting out the instruments.
“We are looking for someone who likes working with children, can manage a long-term project and has a music background,” Meissner said.
“We’re hoping the person who fills the position will help document the program.”
That’s so it will develop into a sustainable program that will perpetuate Mackie’s work, as well as be a prototype for other school districts, Meissner said.
With the cutbacks in school budgets for art and music, that is especially important, Mackie said.
“When other schools see how easily it can be done, and how affordable it is, they’ll jump all over it,” Mackie said.
“I see the potential for schools all over the country, all over the world, being able to make their own instruments for kids.”
While the stringed instruments he makes would cost several hundred dollars in a store, Mackie is able to produce them for about $25 in his Chimacum shop.
In addition to the instructor’s salary and training, his music foundation is providing plans, tools, Mackie’s expertise and materials.
“It’s possible we could make as many as 1,000 instruments by the end of the year,” Meissner said.
Each class will be full. On pre-registration forms, almost every incoming seventh and eighth grade student indicated wanting to take the instrument-making shop as an “exploratory,” or elective class, Meissner said.
For sixth graders, the school district is offering instrument-making and playing as part of its music and fine arts class, Meissner said.
The school district also is providing the high school shop, tools and a safety trainer, and the high school’s media productions class will document the program.
There is also an option for bringing Port Townsend middle school students in for classes or workshops.
Dallas Jasper, the mother of a young musician, suggested Mackie for the “Assignment America” segment, which drew the attention of the philanthropist, an East Coast resident who likes to provide funds to continue community work that people have started.
“It’s amazing that he wants to help this little school out here,” Jasper said.
Mackie’s free, after-school music classes start Monday, with guitar and mandolin lessons at the Port Townsend YMCA and at Chimacum Schools.
After-school violin lessons are offered Tuesdays at Grant Street Elementary.
“If you have a child who is learning, a parent can come and learn with the child,” Mackie said. “If you play one of those instruments, come along and help.”
Mackie also is offering an instrument making class at Port Townsend High school Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, with clock hours for teachers.
For more information, go to www.andymackiemusic.org.
________Port Townsend/Jefferson County reporter-columnist Jennifer Jackson can be reached at [email protected]