Play It Forward With Music City Texas
Most recent recipients of guitars from the Play it Forward program are Nick Kuntz and Ryan Mitchell from Linden-Kildare High Shcool. They were presented their instruments by Cathy Watson, David Hulme, and Anna Barber.
In 2003, an old American Legion hall from the 1950s in Linden opened as Music City Texas Theater, a place where local talent and nationally-known musicians perform. Its small stage and 400-seat auditorium with great acoustics that create a special place for memorable concerts and events.
Linden is the birthplace and hometown of Don Henley of the Eagles. He and Richard Bowden, Linda Ronstadt’s lead guitarist in the 1970s, grew up in Linden, played in bands at the former American Legion hall, and are enthusiastic promoters of the town’s impressive musical heritage.
Today the music is passed down from one generation to the next with a community program through Music City Texas called Play it Forward. The organization gives guitars away to local students in the area. They decide on a school and ask the school’s band director and/or principal to select students for this honor, based on their true interest in music. Financial situations are also taken into consideration, allowing sometimes for students to receive a musical instrument when they might not have ever afforded one.
When Play it Forward first started about nine years ago, the organization was presenting guitars just about every month. The presentations have slowed down some over the years and especially this year because they have had a particularly busy season of big concerts at the theater. They intend to kick the program back off in the fall when the kids return from their summer break, and the plan is to make presentations every two or three months.
Nice, name-brand guitars like Fender or Gibson are chosen and they get instruments with lighter strings closer to the body of the guitar so that it does not hurt the students’ fingers so much when they are learning. Students receive the guitar, a soft carrying case, and a small electronic tuner.
Patrons of the theater make contributions, and concert attendees are asked from the stage at some performances if anyone would want to donate to the program.
The hope of the Play it Forward program is that each recipient will learn to play, continue to love music, and someday perform, perhaps even at the theater. They could also volunteer at the theater and get to know others who have a love for music. Almost everyone involved with Music City Texas is a musician and they all realize how much music has meant in their lives. If the students do not know someone who can teach them to play the guitar, people at the theater can help them learn.
David Hulme, executive director of the theater, says he loves that this program expands these kids’ horizons. Hulme himself plays the guitar and the fiddle, and he says that music brings him joy. Another source of joy for him is being a part of presenting these guitars to the students at their schools. They are called to the principal’s office and sometimes the kids might worry that they are in trouble, but then they get a pleasant surprise.
Most of the kids are really appreciative and very excited about receiving these instruments and learning how to play. Hulme remembers one particular girl in Texarkana who, when presented with her guitar, broke down and cried and said, “This is my guitar? And no one is going to take it away from me?” It really touched his heart and he was happy to tell her, “Yes, it is yours, and no one can take it away.”
Through the Play it Forward program, they have covered schools in Texarkana, Longview, Atlanta, Hughes Springs, Linden, Bloomburg, Jefferson, and all of Cass County, and plan to continue to recycle back through these schools as long as the donations come in.
Music City Texas is an important part of this region’s musical history. For more information, call (903)756-9934 or visit www.musiccitytexas.org.