Horns for the Holidays still has a trickle of donations coming in – apparently, a lot of people clean out their closets after the new year, and sometimes they uncover an old instrument that’s gathering dust. Four such instruments – a violin, viola trumpet and flute – had been dropped off at the Ann Arbor School of the Performing Arts, and last week The Chronicle headed over there to meet with the man who started this project 12 years ago, Ken Kozora.
Kozora was there to pick up the instruments, adding them to the 50 or so others already donated since the drive began Dec. 1. Though it started in the Ann Arbor schools, this year Horns for the Holidays included Ypsilanti, Manchester and Chelsea as well.
The idea is to give instruments to kids who can’t otherwise afford them, Kozora said. In Ann Arbor, the district provides instruments free of charge for one year, but after that students must rent or buy their own. That can be a barrier to some, he said, since even used instruments can cost several hundred dollars.
Since the program started, Kozora has teamed with Ken Michalik, a music teacher with the Ann Arbor Public Schools, who identifies kids that need donated instruments. Now Kozora also works with teachers in other districts – each one serves as a point person for finding students in their schools.
Kozora traces his own interest in music to a trumpet someone gave him as a kid. “It was the most wretched horn you ever saw in your life,” he says, laughing, “but I practiced five hours a day.” Kozora says that’s not what caused him to start the program – he actually forgot that he’d been given a donated trumpet until several years after launching Horns for the Holidays. He was being interviewed for an article and was asked about his own musical past – when he remembered how he got started, he said he began crying. Most people have deeply personal relationships with their instruments, he said.
“Music changes people’s lives,” Kozora said. “We all know this – that’s why we’re involved.”
Kozora told The Chronicle that he hopes to expand the program to eventually include lessons and even an orchestra. That prompted Stephanie Weaver, executive director of the Ann Arbor School for the Performing Arts, to suggest having a party in their space, where kids could perform using the donated instruments they’d been given. “We love having parties here,” she said.
The School for the Performing Arts was one of several drop-off locations – since October, it’s been based in the basement level at 637 S. Main, a former buggy factory and the same building that houses the Firefly Club. The school has a scholarship program that subsidizes music lessons on a sliding scale, so Horns for the Holidays was a good fit.
The Ann Arbor Arts Alliance is acting as a host for the program – the alliance’s nonprofit status allows donations to be tax deductible. That’s important for cash donations, too, which Horns for the Holidays needs to help repair some of the instruments it receives. Sometimes repairs cost as much as the instrument itself, Kozora said.
In fact, he thinks of Horns for the Holidays as a recycling program, in a way. He worked in music stores for several years, and felt that a lot of the things he sold would just end up in landfills. Then one day, as he was waiting to hear about a job offer for music store manager, something clicked – and the idea for Horns for the Holidays “just came to me,” he said. “I almost think of it as a spiritual moment.”