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Pine Ridge high schools receive hundreds of donated instruments

PRHS Instrument Donations.jpg
A Pine Ridge High School student holds up a new electronic keyboard donated to the school by the band Widespread Panic's "Tunes for Tots" program.

High schools across the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation received a donation of more than 900 musical instruments Wednesday as part of the rock band Widespread Panic’s “Tunes for Tots” program.

The donation not only supports the high school music programs, but also the Lakota Flute Society and the Rock the Rez music program.

A nonprofit organization, Conscious Alliance, brought the most recent delivery to Pine Ridge High School. Students in the music program helped unload the instruments. The school’s music teacher, Ann Chesley, has been keeping the school’s music department alive any way she could.

“A lot of the instruments that we have I have put together, I’ve bought at garage sales and pawn shops — beg, borrow and steal anywhere we can get them," Chesley said. "And these are new. These are specifically what we want, what we asked for. Nothing's used. It’s all new, it’s the top of the line, it’s the very best.”

Kristen Two Lance is a junior at the school and started playing the trumpet when she was in ninth grade. She hopes to continue playing the trumpet in college.

“It feels nice because they told us about this a couple of times, but we never really got to see them or have it happen,” Two Lance said. “What I think is that there is going to be more people that are going to probably join, because of the more instruments and more percussion items that showed up.”

The collaboration started two years ago when Widespread Panic’s Tunes for Tots program and Conscious Alliance met with music teachers and Lakota culture teachers to expand access to instruments for students. Conscious Alliance often collaborates with musicians to raise food awareness and is committed to youth empowerment initiatives across the United States. Natalie Hand is the organization's Pine Ridge field director.

“Our belief at Conscious Alliance is music is medicine, and we have so many gifted and talented young Lakotas that just need the resources in order to express themselves and share their talent," Hand said. "And so to me, this is giving them the tools that they need to share their gifts. A lot of them are self-taught musicians, and now they are going to have amazing new equipment to perform with.”

The Pine Ridge Flute Society received multiple flutes for its student members. Will Peters is the Lakota Studies instructor at the school and director of the society. Under his mentorship, the society’s debut album won “Flutist of the Year” at the 2018 Native American Music Awards.

Peters said students will have an opportunity to earn ownership of the new flutes.

“A lot of these Flute Society members have graduated, they’ve gone on. But since they started, the recognition from our own people comes from when they’re asked to come to play at a wake or a funeral, or a wedding or a Sundance to offer spiritual uplifting," Peters said. "The thing that is amazing about it is it’s actually a young people’s society. It brings that sacred aspect that these young people have.”

All instruments were selected by teachers and staff to fill their specific needs in the classroom. Red Cloud High School, Crazy Horse High School and Little Wound High School are also receiving instruments through the program.