The clarinet stood out to Lupita Lopez. It was black — not shiny like the other ones — and sounded lovely. She knew it was what she wanted to play.
“It's just a way to express myself,” said Lopez, a junior at Santa Fe South High School who has been in the band since seventh grade. “I'm not very artistic, like drawing, so music is an easy way to express.”
But the clarinet she loves to play isn't hers. It belongs to her school.
“It's a really good thing that the school lets us borrow instruments,” Lopez said. “There are a lot of people like me who couldn't afford one. We can just play and not worry about the money.”
Of more than 300 students in the band program at Santa Fe South High School and the middle school, only two own their own instruments, Director Scott Filleman said.
The free loaners are one of the reasons the program grows every year. It's also the reason about 20 students are still lacking instruments even though school has already started, Filleman said.
“If the school does not provide band instruments, we would not have a band at all,” Filleman said.
The band program at Santa Fe South began with the school board president meeting with middle school students during the lunch hour, Filleman said. When interest grew, a regular program was established in 2007.
The first year, 34 students showed up, and the school had only 19 instruments, Filleman said. Donations, grant money and sharing kept the program alive.
“We've been kind of making due with it,” Filleman said.
The program has expanded so much that he is offering band to fourth-graders this year.
“Their first experience is priceless,” Filleman said. “You just can't describe it. ... It's this sense of wonder and amazement. This is something. This matters.”
About 95 percent of Santa Fe South students come from families that qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, according to Oklahoma City Public Schools statistics.
The school provides everything — reeds, valve oil, sheet music. Students borrow instruments for the year for free. Filleman can do most of the small repairs himself, but he needs cash donations to pay for the major repairs.
He's never had to repair an instrument because of abuse.
“It's just normal wear and tear,” he said. “When you look down the streets and you see graffiti and tagging, houses broken into — we don't have that.”
Band is a privilege for students, said Zachary Taylor, a junior who plays the tuba.
“If you listen to the teachers, they never have problems with band students,” Taylor said. “It really affects your behavior. You're grades have be to up. It gives you motivation.”
Filleman said his goal isn't to churn out professional musicians. He wants students to learn the basics of responsibility, leadership and dedication.
“It transfers to other areas of their lives,” Filleman said. “Then they want to do better in school. They work through it and they work at it.”