SPARKS — Roughly seven years ago, John Ascuaga’s Nugget began a partnership with KTHX Radio that spawned a fundraising idea to benefit the local economy. ‘Beatles for Bucks’ and ‘Dylan for Dollars’ became two of several stages for local musicians to pay tribute to all-time greats while infusing cash to local organizations.
During last week’s ‘Petty for Cash’ local performers played their favorite Tom Petty and Johnny Cash songs in an effort to raise funds for the Washoe County School District. The fundraising continues this week as the school district’s Honor Orchestras and Honor Choirs take the stage in the Rose Ballroom at The Nugget. Chief Operating Officer of The Nugget, Stephen Ascuaga, said the partnership makes sense for the Music and Fine Arts program and The Nugget.
“We have all this great local talent, a lot of whom came through the various programs at the school district, so why not give the money back to them,” Ascuaga said Wednesday. “So often these programs are the first ones to get cut.”
Ascuaga estimates about $15,000 will be raised from the accumulation of ticket sales for ‘Petty for Cash’ and the WCSD choir and orchestra performances. He said the amount of money may seem small, but the benefit to the school district and its fine arts students will be huge.
“It is not a huge amount of money and yet, on the flip side, it will really help families and their out-of-pocket expenses for instruments,” Ascuaga said, stressing the importance of music programs in schools. “There are numbers that show what it means to have music in a kid’s education. It doesn’t necessarily mean a kid is going to go on and be a musician, but it helps them with their overall academics and provides a different way of thinking. A lot of them are not going into music, but they are able to get to college to pursue something else.”
Ascuaga formed a partnership with David Branson, coordinator of the Fine Arts Department at WCSD, two years ago when The Nugget became the host of the Honor Choir performances with proceeds going back into Branson’s department. Branson said the partnership has proven vital to the department’s budget.
“With all the education cuts there have been in the last four years, if it weren’t for fundraising events and grant writing we wouldn’t have a budget to operate on,” Branson said. “It’s not due to a lack of support for us because the school district, the board (of trustees) and our superintendents have been really supportive and have done a great job keeping our teachers and programs intact, but everyone in the school district is affected by not having operating money. That makes these types of fundraisers and the things The Nugget has done for us hugely important.”
Despite budget issues, Branson began and has continued a tradition of excellence in WCSD, which has been named one of the Best Communities for Music Education five years running by the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM). Branson said the national recognition is important for grant purposes, but means much more on an internal level.
“It really recognizes the hard work of the teachers and how effective they are with the kids,” Branson said. “(The recognition) is hard to get and we are one of the few school districts that has received it that many years in a row. We really want every child to have a great experience in the arts if they can. We know it makes a huge difference in their academic lives.”
Branson said extensive research proves the importance of music and other arts programs in young students. He said as the job market intensifies and the world becomes more complex, the skills learned in fine arts classes become increasingly important.
“For centuries, civilization has known that the arts are important. They just didn’t know why,” he said. “Now we have this huge volume of research that definitely shows that is the case. If you study music in school we know you are going to be successful, your graduation rates are going to be significantly higher and kids who are in the music program have a tendency to go on and get into higher education at much higher rates.”
The WCSD Honor Orchestras performed Wednesday and the Honor Choirs will perform tonight at 7 p.m. in the Rose Ballroom at The Nugget, the final performance in the week-long run of shows benefitting the school district. Branson said guest conductors, such as the University of Nevada, Reno’s choir instructor Dr. Paul Torkelson, will be teaming up with WCSD conductors like Dr. Alec Mariani of Shaw Middle School and Spanish Springs High School in providing a high-quality show.
“Every time I talk to someone who has never been to one of these concerts, they are thoroughly impressed and kind of blown away by the quality after they come to it,” he said. “There are a lot of people who think middle school and high school may not sound great, but even I am amazed every year and this is what I do for a living.”
Tickets for the WCSD Honor Choir tonight are $6 and can be purchased online throughout the day or at the door beginning at 4 p.m. For more information on the event, visit www.janugget.com or www.washoe.k12.nv.us.
PHOTO: Students sing the words to “Our Nevada” during Wednesday morning Barbara Walsh’s choir class at Lena Juniper Elementary School in Sparks. Washoe County School District music and info arts programs are holding a fundraising concert at The Nugget tonight at 7.pm.