Making Beautiful Music Together
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Making Beautiful Music Together

A Foundation associate makes a special visit to the St. Petersburg Music Boarding School

Brian FitzGerald, Grand Circle Foundation's Controller & Director of Finance, works every day to ensure that Foundation-supported schools are properly funded. But it wasn't until October of 2011 that Brian finally had a chance to visit one of these schools in person. During a business trip to the Baltics, Brian was scheduled to head back to Boston without visiting St. Petersburg—but he insisted upon continuing his trip. "I had to see in person what the Foundation was doing," says Brian. "And I'm so glad I did. The experience was eye-opening."

Brian paid a visit to the St. Petersburg Music Boarding School, which has been a Foundation partner since 2005. Known locally as School No. 8 "Muzyka" St. Petersburg, the school was founded during the 1930s as a secondary school for boys. Music was added to the program after World War II, to provide boys who had lost their parents during the war with special professional training. Brass military bands had become very popular, and including music in the program allowed the orphaned boys to earn money through their playing while they attended school.

Today, the school is co-ed. One hundred teachers provide 250 students, ages seven to 17, with academics through secondary-school level, accompanied by the highest level of music education. Half of the students board at the school, and room and board are free to students who are from poor or troubled families or orphanages, or whose home is a distance away. Training in a musical instrument, as well as chorus and orchestra experience, is provided, and students also perform at official events and for veterans groups, hospitals, and other organizations. It is the only school of its kind in all of northwest Russia.

Unique though it was, the school was in grave danger by 2004. The school building had badly deteriorated, it faced financial difficulties, and, rather than help the school, local authorities decided simply to shut it down. Students, parents, teachers, the school principal, and residents of St. Petersburg decided to fight to save the school.

Serendipitously, that was also the time when Tatiana Alexeeva, Area Manager in Grand Circle's regional office in St. Petersburg, had been charged with looking for a new site for the Foundation to support in Russia. She began looking for a school that would be accessible to travelers visiting Moscow and St. Petersburg and happened on the St. Petersburg Music Boarding School. She arranged a meeting with the school principal, Irina Olegovna Tovpich, who was very excited by the idea of a partnership with the Foundation.

"At that time, the school was falling apart, literally and figuratively. I saw that someone like Mrs. Tovpich could revive the school," Tatiana says. The uniqueness of the school and, as Tatiana puts it, "the goodwill of teachers who make music education available to all children irrespective of their family budget or place of residence" sealed the decision. "We are happy to be among the first to provide that support and to breathe new life into the old school," Tatiana says.

Happily, the campaign was a success, and the school moved into its new building in September 2005. For its part, Grand Circle Foundation has donated over $60,720 to the school over the past seven years. In the school's 250-seat concert hall, where the students are able to share their accomplishments, the Foundation has provided audio equipment and helped the school orchestra with the recording and printing of its first CDs. Foundation donations have also been used to fund the establishment of a computer lab, to invest in new instruments, and to renovate the school's kitchen, restrooms, bedrooms, and heating system.

In addition, when Grand Circle's private Russian river ship, the M/S Tikhi Don, was refurbished beginning in late 2004, the school received a truckload of tables, chairs, blankets and bed linens, tableware, and  kitchen utensils that had previously been used onboard.

When Brian visited the school in October, he didn't do so empty handed. "We had consulted with Tatiana and the principal and determined that the school could benefit from a new photocopier," says Brian. "So I took the opportunity to personally deliver the funds myself." The new machine was delivered the day after Brian's visit.

The gift felt even more meaningful after Brian had a chance to interact with the students and watch them perform. "I really was impressed by both their music skills and outgoing personalities," says Brian. "Tatiana tells me they used to be shy before Grand Circle started visiting. Now, they can't wait for the chance to perform and interact with visitors."

Now, having returned home, Brian can think of those smiling faces as he goes about his duties as Controller & Director of Finance. "After working to help these schools behind the scenes, it was an honor to be able to do so in person," says Brian. "It really drives home what I do every day."

Featured in our October 2011 E-Newsletter. Read the full issue here.