My name is Mindy Jo Hamme and I live in York, Pennsylvania. In February 2011, my husband and I purchased several violins for our daughter Emily from Joe Cali who owns Kagan and Gaines Music Company Inc. We purchased both a “good” violin and a “school” violin based upon the recommendations from both her private lesson teacher and Joe. 

My daughter will be a senior in high school this year and continues to play her violins. She plans to attend a college that has an orchestra and she will continue to play. One thing I have noticed is that in addition to the personal enjoyment she gets from playing her instrument, most of her friends are in a music program at her school. 

We live in York Suburban School District and I learned at the end of this past April that a grant written by the head of our Music and Orchestra Department was not funded by our state’s Educational Income Tax Credit program. The grant was written for $5,000 to purchase 21 quality used instruments so that the school would be able to lend out instruments to those who could not afford monthly rental fees. Almost 30% of the students in our district receive free or reduced lunch and/or breakfast at school. These same students would not be able to take free lessons that are offered by the school without being able to borrow a school-owned instrument. What we have on hand ready to lend in a functional condition is one violin and one viola. 

I thought about this problem and decided that, as a mother and private citizen, this was an unacceptable situation for my school district and community. The very first call I made was to Joe Cali. I explained the situation to him and told him I was going to try to raise the $5,000 and I sent him the list of the 21 instruments. Joe told me in no uncertain terms that he would support this project and if I could come up with the money, he would figure out how to price the instruments so we could afford them. I went ahead without knowing how I was going to accomplish this but certain that it was worth doing. 

I quickly discarded the idea of trying to write another grant as I wanted the instruments in the school this August. So I started to ask people for money. I simultaneously made a partnership with our school district’s 501c3 to process the donations. Calling people I didn’t know was not as easy as I thought it would be. Actually none of this was easy. 

However, one thought kept me going: I think that if one child who would not have had the opportunity to learn to play a string instrument can do so if we buy these instruments, then my time is well-spent. I know that playing an instrument is like exercise for the brain. I’ve also seen how in high school the music kids tend to hang around each other. The day my daughter told me she was a “music nerd” was a very happy day. I’m not trying to create a Yo-Yo Ma or Itzhak Perlman but rather to give kids the opportunity to become proud music nerds. The music nerds are good kids and very welcoming. They get good grades and then they go to college. That is why I am doing this. 

From start to finish, Joe Cali has been only a phone call or an email away. He has boosted my spirits when I felt down and urged me on. I just talked to him today and he is packing the instruments. We managed to raise $6,625 and are getting 30 instruments for our elementary students. We are also getting 11 extra bows. Joe is donating the bigger instruments (the basses and some of the cellos) so that we could meet our budget. He believes in the power that music has to change children’s lives. 

You are so fortunate to have this quiet unassuming hero in your community. Joe doesn’t do this for honor, recognition, or money. He does this because he truly believes in what he does and he wants to help open the world of music to children. You are very fortunate to have such a person in your community. 

Mindy Jo Hamme

York, Pennsylvania