Music Is Instrumental Benefit Concert Raises Funds For Burbank Public Schools

Image Courtesy Burbank Unified School District

The Burbank Unified School District and the Musicians at Play Foundation present the annual Music Is Instrumental benefit concert on Saturday, January 27, at Burbank High School’s Wolfson Auditorium.

Actress and comedian Retta, a music lover and longtime supporter of the arts in public schools, will emcee the event.

Conductor Angel Velez returns to lead the Burbank Unified All-District Symphonic Orchestra and Choir, who will play with their professional musician mentors from the Musicians at Play Foundation.

This is the fifth benefit concert since the campaign began in 2017, and the second performance since the pandemic. The funds raised from Music Is Instrumental will go towards instrument repair and replacement and for auditorium lighting and sound equipment to serve all of the performing arts at Burbank public schools.

The event raises money not only from ticket and concession sales, but also from a variety of donations and sponsorships.

“The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent three-year restriction on live instruction, performances, and fundraising events, had a devastating impact on parent and teacher-led fundraising activities,” explained Burbank Unified Career and Technical Education Coordinator Peggy Flynn, who also serves as Co-Chair for the Music Is Instrumental benefit concert.

Proceeds from the performance “will again support John Burroughs and Burbank High School music and Stage Tech programs as they continue to raise funds to narrow the gap in the District’s $1.4 million need identified in 2017,” she added. “Despite a six-year budget crisis, BUSD has maintained its commitment to sustaining student access to quality music instruction through maintaining music educator positions. Fundraising efforts remain essential to ensuring ALL students have access to functional, well-maintained instruments and performance venues.”

Every year during the fall semester since 2016, mentors from Musicians At Play spend time working with high school musicians at Burbank and Burroughs. The mentors are members of the Hollywood Studio Symphony Orchestra in Los Angeles, California, a rotating group of classically trained musicians responsible for playing the soundtrack music for motion pictures since the 1920s. They also perform with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and in concert venues throughout the world.

Co-founders of Musicians at Play Foundation, Don and April Williams, along with conductors Anthony Parnther and Angel Velez, work with Burbank Unified high school music teachers Brendan Jennings, Brett Carroll, Annie Cavanaugh and David Espana to present the annual Music Is Instrumental concert, along with a host of parent and community volunteers and district staff.

The program for the 2024 Music Is Instrumental concert includes music from Star Wars, Home Alone, John Williams’ Olympic Fanfare Theme, in addition to the second movement of Verdi’s Requiem, “Dies irae.”

The Music Is Instrumental benefit concert grew into an annual affair after the success of the inaugural performance in 2018. It was the culminating event of a 2017-18 year long community campaign known as “Music Is Instrumental.”

The campaign’s goal was to raise at least 10% of a $1.2 million identified need for instrument repair and replacement at Burbank high schools. By the end of 2018, more than $136,000 had been raised. By the January 2020 Music Is Instrumental benefit concert, contributions reached $260,000.

“The event was such a special experience for students, mentors and the community that we decided to make it an annual tradition,” added Flynn. “After several years of interrupted ability to perform and fundraise, the Music Is Instrumental benefit concert has returned and includes the JBHS and BHS vocal, instrumental and stage tech programs.”

music is instrumental
Burbank Unified All District Symphonic Orchestra and Choir and professional mentors from Musicians at Play Foundation amazed the audience at Burbank’s Wolfson Auditorium for the Music Is Instrumental fund-raising concert. (Photo By Ross Benson, May 2018)

“It is so important to nurture music and the arts in schools,” commented percussionist and co-founder of Musicians at Play Don Williams. “MAP offers an opportunity to inspire young people to consider a life in music. It takes not only the schools to educate young people but there is a need for assistance from the private sector. We see MAP as an educational tool that helps students tap into their talent and artistic interests. Music and the arts is as important as everything else that is taught in the classroom.”

“The mentors we have for our ensembles help so much and Angel Velez is AMAZING!” said Burroughs band member Zane Hodnett. “Getting to play on stage with professionals I’ve paid to go see before is just really fun and the crowds’ reaction is just – WOW!”

Being a part of of MII has opened my eyes to what it’s like to be a professional studio musician. We get to work with incredibly talented professional musicians and a conductor who is awe-inspiring,” commented trombonist and drum major, Sean Cuevas. “It’s really an honor to be a part of this.”

“It is so motivating to be up on that stage performing the same pieces our mentors play professionally and share with the audience what we as musicians can accomplish,” Cuevas, who also serves as President of the Burbank High Instrumental Music Association, added. “They get to see how much we want to learn and how hard we have worked to reach this level. We may go on to pursue careers in other fields but the collaboration, the dedication and commitment we all have made to growing as musicians will carry over into whatever path we may choose.”  

Image Courtesy Burbank Unified School District

What a ridiculously tremendous opportunity for these students to receive coaching from these incredible musicians and teachers,” commented Velez. “They are experiencing a rehearsal environment and level of musicianship that is demanded of Hollywood’s most elite professional musicians. I mean, come on – we’re performing the works of composers John Williams and Verdi – it’s going to be a really great show! It truly is extraordinary and I’m so lucky to be a part of it!”

“The Music Is Instrumental concert shows exactly why Burbank is one of the best cities for music education in the country,” said JBHS Vocal Music Association Director Brendan Jennings and event Co-Chair. “Our top student performers are paired with world class professionals in a concert collaboration like no other. You will forget you are watching high school students!”

“Our partnership with the Musicians at Play Foundation has had such a positive impact on our students and our community,” Flynn continued. “They are true partners who are dedicated to bettering the lives of students through music education. Music Is Instrumental concerts are exceptional – like no other. Audience members can expect a deeply moving and meaningful experience.”

“The foundation of MII is the student-mentor experience,” she went on to say. “Providing exceptional learning experiences for students is the primary goal. When the need for well-functioning, well maintained instruments became urgent this extraordinary mentor program evolved into a benefit concert.” 

“The student experience and the community response has since grown into so much more than we ever anticipated. It is truly a labor of love for everyone involved. Bringing students together from each of our high school vocal and instrumental programs is no small task. It truly takes a village of parents, teachers, facilities staff, community partners and professionals from the Arts, Media and Entertainment industry.” 

“I think the primary motivation is seeing what it does for our kids,” Flynn also said. “The students get so much from the Music is Instrumental experience – the opportunity to work with their MAP mentors is extraordinary and they know it. Performing with their mentors, alongside peers they normally compete with, and generate the overwhelming response from the audience is magical and something they will carry with them throughout their lives.”

Tickets may be purchased in advance online here. VIP Balcony and Orchestra seats are $50, general admission is $25 and student/senior tickets are $10.

The performance runs from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Saturday, January 27, at Burbank High’s Wolfson Auditorium, located at 902 N. Third Street in Burbank.