A South Medford High School mariachi "air band" is playing real instruments, thanks to the generosity of community members.
In its first year, the mariachi class was approved by Medford district officials but funding was never allocated for instruments, band director Yoko Kan said. So the 10-student group practiced on borrowed guitars, "air violins" and an old trumpet.
Kan posted a request a couple of months ago on donorschoose.org, a fundraising website for school projects and supplies, for two key instruments: the guitarron, which provides the deeper tones in mariachi music and costs $390, and the smaller vihuela, which costs $250.
One resident donated three violins, the Medford Jazz Festival provided a trumpet and cash donations enabled purchasing a pair of guitars.
"It was awesome — just totally unbelievable how much the community stepped up to help us, Kan said. "We got phone calls and emails, people just saying, 'Where can I send a check?'"
Emanual Alvarez, a senior who attempted his own mariachi group last year, sported a shiny new trumpet this week.
Previously given a horn to use from a favorite teacher, Alvarez said, "Now I get to practice at home because I have this one at school."
The 18-year-old was excited for the small group to receive community support.
"I never thought it would happen as fast as it did. Now we can really play and get better," he said.
Sophomore Julissa Martinez, who had to practice on an "air violin" before, joked that the new violins "sounded so much better."
"I'm just really happy and really grateful," she said. "It's hard to learn to play an instrument you don't even have."
The Bellwood Violin music store in Ashland offered to keep stringed instruments up to par and to fix any donated instruments that needed help before they could be played.
Kan said the group's only remaining needs are straps, nylon strings and an additional viola, but "we're in great shape compared to before."
Kan said the positive community vibes the students received were just as important as the instruments.
"We're very grateful. Now we get to work on getting better so people can hear us play."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at email@example.com