Earlier this year, Eddie Van Halen donated 75 guitars to The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, single-handedly putting the foundation on the world’s radar once again.
Freelance writer Alison Richter interviewed Felice Mancini, the executive director of The Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation. In this interview, Mrs. Mancini explains the history of The Foundation, describes the hard work that they do and why they need support, and of course shares the details of how those 75 guitars made their way from Eddie Van Halen’s personal collection into very needy and very appreciative schools.
All the Van Halen content from the interview is below. For the full interview, see Examiner.com.
We can’t close without talking about “that fateful day.” The timing couldn’t have been better: new album, new tour, everyone is talking about Van Halen … and then the 75 guitars. It was the shot heard around the world to put this foundation back on the map.
In fact, this is funny, because this is how a lot of people find us and start good, strong, happy relationships with us. Eddie’s management company knew that Eddie wanted to give these guitars away. He didn’t want to sell them, he didn’t want to auction them, he wanted them to go to schools — to kids who would actually play them. They did a search and we came up. We usually do if somebody types in “music charity” or whatever. They called and said, “We have a client who is interested in doing this,” and they talked to us for a long time. They were just doing their due diligence. Eddie wanted it to be a credible charity where he knew that his wishes would be honored. We had several conversations back and forth. This went on over a period of months; it wasn’t a “pick up the phone and it happened.” They did not tell us who it was until they were sure that they liked us and that we were the ones. And we found out and we thought, Whoa! OK! Wonderful! We found some schools for them and they said, “We can make this announcement.” The timing with the tour — it wasn’t all that strategic. It just happened that the stuff came out when it did because Eddie was very busy rehearsing. He didn’t really have the time to do it before, so we had to wait until he was ready. We just wanted the guitars to get to the schools during the school year so that they could use them. Like you said, it was like a perfect storm, and we couldn’t believe how this thing kind of blew up. It was really wonderful.
How did you get the guitars?
He has a very dedicated and wonderful guitar tech who came to our office and talked to our program director, and he brought the first batch of guitars over. It took a long time also because he wanted to test each guitar and make sure it was in perfect shape and ready to leave there. So he worked on these guitars, they’re new instruments, and they came over in batches when they were all ready. We knew where they were all going. We started calling teachers to tell them, because we didn’t tell the teachers where they were coming from, so that was a huge surprise for them. And they were thrilled! Some people said, “Oh my god, you should have him sign the guitars and you should put them on eBay!” We said, “No, that’s not his wish. He wants these kids to have this experience. He wants the kids to benefit.” So that’s what happened. He came to our office with his lovely wife and took some pictures with the staff. He’s a lovely man and very shy. It was fun. Eddie’s wife was delightful; they were just so happy that this happened. Eddie did sincerely want to feel that he gave something back, and he did. It was win-win all the way around.
How many schools received his guitars?
There were seven schools that we had previously worked with. We knew that they were secure and had programs that could use them, we already knew the teachers, so it worked out well.
He is an icon, a guitar god, to so many of us, but the bottom line — and this really comes back full circle to the foundation’s mission statement — is that he is who he is because someone put musical instruments in his hands.
The same thing happened with my dad. His father put an instrument in his hands. With Eddie, he grew up in a different generation, and he’s pretty clear that music saved his life. He is an icon. There are people who are just meant to play music, and sometimes that one thing is enough to trigger it. We don’t expect all the kids we help to become musicians, but they certainly will have an experience that will enhance their lives, make them feel better and give them something real to go into life with — their own sense of accomplishment and their own way to express themselves. Getting through life is hard enough as it is, especially in school, and if you don’t give them these opportunities, it’s such a waste. It’s a shame. You miss this window of time when they’re receptive and talented and they’re just dying to grab on to something that means something to them. If you take all of these things out of the school experience, you’re losing generations of kids that won’t have fulfillment, so it’s really important that we give kids every chance in school — every option and every tool.
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