Above, from left, Columbus Middle School teacher Joseph Nemchik, Principal Debra McIntyre-Sciarrino, Instructional Director Margaret Kim, School Board Member Scott Schmerelson and teacher Monique Brusca pose with the digital piano donated by the VH1 Save the Music Foundation.
The battered upright piano that has accompanied generations of choirs and musicians at Columbus Middle School was replaced this week with a state-of-the-art digital model, thanks to a $10,000 grant awarded to the Canoga Park campus.
Donated by the VH1 Save the Music Foundation, the Casio hybrid piano was unveiled Thursday during an assembly in the school theater. The top-of-the-line instrument emits the rich chords of a grand piano, as well as the sounds of nearly three dozen other instruments. VH1 also donated three new portable keyboards that students will be allowed to take home to practice.
The Columbus music teachers said the Casio will add a level of professionalism to their lessons that the school’s original acoustic piano – which is at least 50 years old – just can’t match.
“Our students deserve to have equipment that is as good as any other school in the country,” said Joseph Nemchik, who arrived three years ago as Columbus’ choir teacher.
Added instrumental music teacher Monique Brusca, “Music is my passion, and I want to bring the same thing to my kids.”
Brusca is an award-winning music teacher whose knack for writing grant applications equals her talent as an educator. She secured the VH1 donation, along with $40,000 in band and orchestra instruments the school received last year from the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation.
Those resources are essential to the Conservatory of Music, the small learning community that Columbus Principal Debra McIntyre-Sciarrino launched in Fall 2016. There are a full range of classes – band and orchestra, piano and guitar, choir and musical theater. The arts are integrated into all of the academic courses offered at Columbus, which also has a new Medical/Math/Science Magnet. In addition, the school is about to embark on an $80,000 upgrade of the theater’s sound and lighting systems.
“Arts education is foundational to what we do,” McIntyre-Sciarrino said. “That’s how we begin to think about how we want our world to be.”
Thursday’s assembly was a scaled-down version of an event planned a week earlier, when VH1 and its partner, Annapurna Pictures, had arranged for the cast of the movie “Detroit” to visit the school. That event was cancelled when the Creek Fire forced the closure of San Fernando Valley schools, but McIntyre-Sciarrino still wanted to celebrate the VH1 donation.
During a first-period assembly, students were treated to a performance by the school choir, with eighth-grader Amanda Mirando playing an introduction on the new digital piano.
“It made me feel like a real musician,” said Amanda, who is taking piano lessons from Brusca during home room class.
School Board Member Scott Schmerelson also addressed the assembly, commending the principal, Brusca and Nemchik for their diligence and innovation in creating programs to appeal to their interests.
“There are children who come to school for the arts,” said Schmerelson, a retired principal. “They come for the music, they come for the band, they come for the choir. The arts hook you into the school and make you want – and enables you – to become a successful student.”