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Music to his ears: Hillcrest Middle School band director asking for instrument donations to help program grow

Band Director Cornelius Blanding says the band currently has 56 members. He hopes to expand it to at least 80 students, but says he needs more instruments first.

SUMTER, S.C. — If you've got instruments lying around, a Sumter school could use some help. Hillcrest Middle School is trying to grow its band program and is asking the community for donations. 

"I started band in the fifth grade and I was like, 'Oh, this looks interesting," seventh grader Shyla Sylvester said. "So here we are." 

Sylvester plays the saxophone at Hillcrest Middle School and says having instruments on hand is helpful.

"The importance of having them is that so new people can join band and, like, enjoy this experience overall," Sylvester said.

It's why Hillcrest's new band director, Cornelius Blanding, is hosting an "Instruments in the Attic" donation drive.

"My goal is to get the kids to perform and to start spreading their love and joy for music in any way, shape possible," Blanding said.

To help with this, he's asking anyone with instruments or mouthpieces to consider donating them to Hillcrest. This will help students financially so they don't have to pay a recurring rental fee, Blanding says, but it can also help the size of the band grow. There are 56 members, but Blanding says his goal is to increase the band's size to "at least 80 kids."

"Definitely that continuity piece between the middle school and high school, maybe venture off into some other ensembles," Blanding said about what he sees for the band's future. "Right now, we're solely focusing on concert band. I love to have, like, a pep band for the basketball games, even maybe some cultural ensembles, Latin ensembles, drum lines. Whatever the kids want, I'm here for."

"The more students learn the opportunities, have bigger chances to get a scholarship for doing band, and going to college," eighth grader Caden Rogers said.

Rogers plays the drums and says having extra instruments for the band is helpful "because we didn't have a lot of instruments last year. A lot of people bring their own instruments, so there wasn't a lot. So it was a great donation for us."

A donation that is giving students like eighth grader Daesha Chatman the chance to explore music while making friends.

"I didn't know these people," Chatman said, referring to her classmates in band. "This is my first year being here, and it's fun."

"It allows them to learn how to work with different people from different backgrounds. Even this year and these first four or five weeks, I've seen kids who, when they first started the class, didn't necessarily talk to certain people," Blanding said. "And now we're all just one family. We're all coming together through the love of music."

Blanding says this was a quality he noticed about the band when he first got involved as a saxophone player.

"My band director at the time, Mr. Brian Moss, really saw something in me. He allowed me to become drum major. While being the drum major, I kind of arranged the tunes for the band and kind of began working in teaching band then," Blanding said about his start. "I just fell in love with it. And I really just loved how the band brought students together from all different walks of life, and from the time practice started to the time practice ended, we were all one family, one unit. It didn't matter what was going on outside of those doors. Once that practice started and the band struck up, we were all one."

And now, Blanding is working to bring that unity in his new role at Hillcrest.

"All donations are welcomed because again, we're looking to grow. We have 55 students, 56 students in the band now. We are looking to grow and I would love to have instruments on hand for them because interest is still high," Blanding said. "So whatever you have, whatever anyone has, if you want to donate to our band program, we will gladly take."

If you'd like to donate to the band, email Blanding at cornelius.blanding@sumterschools.net.

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