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Bryan man spreading the sounds of joy to Ukraine's orphans

March 20, 2007, 6:10 3883 Author: Jim Butler TheEagle.com George Stuart hopes to use donated instruments to teach Ukrainian orphans

George Stuart hopes to use donated instruments to teach Ukrainian orphans. Eagle Photo/Dave McDermand

Once upon a time there was a shiny new trumpet, and it made a little boy very happy when he blew it with all his might, even though the boy's parents had their hands over their ears.

But it wasn't long until the little boy found a new best friend in a soccer ball. The trumpet was put away on the top shelf of the boy's closet and forgotten.

Years later, the boy's son tried the trumpet, but again, the trumpet went back in the closet. Then one day, the boy, who was now an old man, took the trumpet out of the closet and sent it on a long journey where a little boy in a faraway land fell in love with it, and the trumpet made joyful noises. And the listeners didn't put their hands over their ears.

George Stuart reckons he sold hundreds of instruments in the 15 years he owned Stuart Music Co. in Bryan. Some of them were cast aside in favor of new infatuations such as sports or dance.

Stuart would like to recycle smaller horns and wind instruments that are idle in the Brazos Valley for use by an orphanage band in Odessa, Ukraine.

"Instruments last a long time. I still have the cornet my parents bought me when I was 9," said Stuart, who calls himself an "old codger" but refused to disclose his precise age. "At church last week, a guy came up and told me I could have the cornet from his closet."

Stuart's goal is to return to Odessa in two months with enough instruments for his students and enough money for his expenses.

He hopes to receive donations of trumpets, cornets, clarinets, trombones, saxophones, flutes and French horns. "I'm not a string person, and I don't know if I could find someone to teach strings."

His unlikely story starts in 2001, when Stuart accompanied his elder son, Randal, to Odessa to meet his son's future wife, Olena. (Stuart's younger son, Tim, also married a woman from the Ukraine, but that's another story.)

During that first visit to Odessa, George Stuart taught music and English to kids in a Presbyterian church. Through the church's youth minister, George Stuart met Paul Becker, whose organization, Project Heritage House, helped support Internat No. 4, an orphanage 45 minutes from Odessa.

George Stuart returned to Odessa in 2006 with the intent of working with the church. (He is a member of Bryan's First Presbyterian Church, and part of his expenses have been paid by the church's mission committee.) But before Stuart made arrangements with the church, he got a call from Becker.

"I ended up teaching at the orphanage every day," Stuart said.

When he went back to Odessa, Stuart brought a set of 25 tone chimes for the students to play.

The orphanage, which is run by the ministry of education, was built for 200 children but has 400 residents 5 to 18 years old. Stuart's students are all in fifth grade.

"They are a beautiful bunch of kids," he said. "They are no different from children anywhere. One boy, Vlad, had a crush on one of the girls, Olya, and just had to sit by her."

The class's favorite song was Holy, Holy, Holy, and the class name for the hymn came from Stuart sounding out the notes: ding dong, ding dong, ding dong. Because the students spoke no English, and Stuart spoke no Russian, the song became "Ding Dong."

"I got T-shirts made for them that had a picture of a tone chime with the words Ding Dongs, and that was the name of the band. The kids loved it. They are very talented and eager to learn."

Because of the language barrier, Stuart hired a translator and paid her for two hours' bus time plus time at the school.

"She [the translator] was also a musician, so she helped me teach," Stuart said.

Stuart took photographs of the instruments to class and asked the students whether anyone wanted to play one of them.

"All of them raised their hand except one boy. I asked him why, and he said he didn't believe he could ever have an instrument."

Stuart recently spent three months in Odessa, returning to Bryan in February. When not at the school, he spent time writing music for the students and walking around the city. "Odessa has more than a million people. It is a combination of the old architecture and a lot of new glass and steel."

Besides seeking donated instruments, Stuart needs money for expenses. The mission committee has been a help, but most of Stuart's financing has come from his own pocket "and it's running out."

Anyone desiring to help with instruments or money can contact Stuart at 229-4954 or by e-mail at gstuart2001@ hotmail.com.

"When I saw how fast the kids progressed with the chimes, I said, 'I've just got to get them some instruments.' I just know there has to be a lot in closets."

Jim Butler's e-mail address is jim.butler[at]theeagle.com

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