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Brooklyn native works to provide instruments, inspiration for students

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WILLIAMSBURG, Brooklyn — Music fills the halls at the schools of the Grand Street Campus in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

With the exception of exams, schools out for the students at all three schools, but a few members of the band like 11th Grader Ian Carter were still practicing Tuesday afternoon.

"This band program is like a second home," said Carter.

But it wasn't always that way.

Assistant Principal Mitch Schrager remembers a time not too long ago when the band had trouble recruiting students.

"I'm a percussionist and I would often have to fill in because they just didn't have enough players for the concerts," said Schrager.

Most of the members of the Grand Street Campus band never pick up an instrument before high school, students like senior William Morocho.

"I'd never touched an instrument and the moment I got here they taught me everything I know," said Morocho.

In the fall, Morocho starts classes at the Aaron Copeland school of music at Queens College, with a double major in music education and music performance.

Teacher Jeff Ball says it's not that the kids hate music at an early age, they just don't get the opportunity to learn.

"Most of our students live below the poverty line, which means their parents often cannot afford to buy or rent them their own instruments," said Ball.  "So the school owned instruments and the instruments that have been donated to the schools are 100 percent indispensable."

About half of the instruments in the Grand Street Campus Band are donated.

That's helped the program grow to include almost 450 students from all three schools which now make up four bands, two jazz bands, and several drum ensembles.

"The fact that they're able to lend students instruments, to be able to take it home, to be able to practice it, people treat it like it's their own and I really do take care of it as much as I can," said Morocho.

The band's next donation will come in the form of an upright acoustic piano from Barry Manilow himself.  Manilow graduated from Eastern District High School, which used to call the Grand Street Campus home.  Ball says the donation could not have come at a better time because the pianos the school has need some serious work.

"They're in very bad shape because I think they were here when Mr. Manilow went to the school," said Ball.

Manilow performs at Barclays Center Wednesday night as part of his "One Last Time" tour.  But Manilow and the Manilow Music Project are going out on a high note by using the tour to help improve music education throughout the city.

The singer is asking fans to donate new and gently used instruments in exchange for two free tickets to his concert.

Ball says he hope Manilow's fans will follow in the singers footsteps by donating their own instruments to music programs at other city schools that desperately need the help.

"Everyone of these instruments donated will equal dozens if not hundreds of students making music."

In return, Morocho says the music helps make the students.

"It's an outlet.  Whatever you're feeling, if you're sad, if you're happy, you're just excited, being able to put it through this horn really does mean something to me," said Morocho. "Nothing can compare to what music has brought for me."

If you want to donate an instrument stop by the American Express Box Office at Barclays Center any time between noon and 6 p.m., Wednesday.  Manilow's show starts at 7:30.