CRESCENT CITY (January, 2020) — Del Norte County Unified School District can take pride in the quality of its music program, staffed by dedicated teachers who attract more students than programs in many larger Northern California cities — yet most students in band classes are stuck playing worn out instruments that should have been retired years ago.
That’s all changed with the recent donation of more than $70,000 from Del Norte High School alumnus Nick Rail, a new donor with Wild Rivers Community Foundation who, along with his wife Lisa, are placing 100 new, quality band instruments in students’ hands — a gift that will last for years!
“Many of the current instruments barely work; some are over half a century old. That isn’t right,” said Rail, a 1968 graduate of Del Norte High School. “This is an opportunity to strengthen the existing music program and give students the tools they need to succeed.”
Those tools include five trombones, 12 saxophones, 16 flutes, 14, clarinets, 12 baritone horns and a variety of drums and related equipment.
“Giving other students these opportunities just means the world to me,” Rail said.
Celebration of music
Everyone in the community is invited to celebrate the unveiling of the new instruments during a special “Ta Da!” event at 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, at Mary Peacock Elementary School (1720 Arlington Dr. in Crescent City). The one-hour event will also feature student and teacher testimonies, and performances by the Del Norte High School marching band and Tsunami Swing Band. Light refreshments will be served. People are encouraged to RSVP online at bit.ly/TADA2020 or call 707-465-1238.
“The purpose of the “Ta Da!” celebration is to get people excited about changing childrens’ lives via music,” Rail said. “I hope others will notice what we’re doing and want to be a part of it.”
Nick Rail and DNHS Music Teacher Dan Sedgwick
Long-time Del Norte High School music teacher Dan Sedgwick, who, as a teen, purchased his first band instrument at Rail’s Santa Barbara store, said most of the schools’ current instruments are “pretty darned tired” and the new instruments will give students “an edge up on success.”
“This is an awesome gift!” he said. “The quality of the new instruments is way higher than most of our inventory, but the quantity is the impressive part — this is something that would take 20 years for my booster club to fundraise for.”
Wild Rivers Community Foundation Director Gina Zottola is thrilled by the Rails’ generosity and the impact the gift will have in the community.
“We are so happy to support Nick and Lisa with their philanthropic dream,” Zottola said. “We hope this gift will create an upswell of support for cultural involvement and enrichment throughout Del Norte County.”
Discovering a love of music
Long before Rail found success as the owner of a chain of music stores in Southern California, he lived with his parents and brother in Crescent City. As a fourth grader at Redwood Elementary School, he was struggling to find his own creative niche when the school offered band class for the first time and, during a school assembly, a man demonstrated the various band instruments students could play.
“Music! That’s what I wanted to do,” Rail recalled. “Of course joining the band meant buying an instrument. My parents didn’t have a lot of money, but I made ‘the pitch’ to them anyway and, to my surprise, they said yes.”
His instrument of choice was a cornet — and it changed his life forever.
“It was an incredibly empowering and magical moment for this nine year old — I was the kid with the iron-on patches on his jeans, and to this day I have no idea how my folks could afford it,” he said. “Holding that cornet and being in a band, it was though someone flipped a switch deep inside me and ‘Shazam!’ I was suddenly part of an invincible team, setting out on a musical adventure so big and so wonderful, and we had no idea where it would lead.”
Rail continued to perform in music groups through high school and college, and ultimately established a career in music retail, specializing in the sale and repair of band instruments. From Southern California, he and his wife, Lisa, followed what was happening in Del Norte County, often donating individual instruments to the schools here and repairing countless others at little or no cost.
“For years Nick and Lisa have been coming up to Crescent City every Fourth of July and Nick has marched with our community marching band in the parade,” said Christie Lynn Rust, former Del Norte music teacher and director of the local Pacific Music Guild. “As we practiced the night before the parade and the day of, you could find Nick repairing a missing pad on a clarinet, realigning a trombone slide, oiling instruments or perhaps pulling a stuck mouthpiece. Through it all, you could hear his calm supportive encouraging voice as he is helping others.”
Nick has first-hand knowledge of the remarkable legacy of the music programs in Del Norte County, and when he learned from Sedgwick about the challenges facing the music students today, he and his wife knew exactly what they wanted to do.
“It was time for me to give back, to provide children in Del Norte County the same opportunities I had when I was growing up,” he said.
The gift of music
He contacted Wild Rivers Community Foundation and established the “Nick and Lisa Rail Music Fund” to improve the scope and quality of band instruments for all elementary, junior and high school music programs so no child would be denied the chance to play. In addition to the initial donation of $70,000 (which was used to purchase instruments with a retail value of nearly twice that amount), he wanted to do something more to guarantee the instruments stay in good working condition for years to come.
Nick Rail visits music students at Del Norte High School
Starting in 2017, Rail visited Crescent City several times to give instrument repair seminars to music teachers, including Sedgwick and Sara Rogers, the band director at Mary Peacock Elementary. With no repair facilities in the region, Sedgwick and Rogers had spent years repairing instruments themselves with the few tools and supplies they had on hand. In 2019, Rail bought a complete, well-outfitted repair shop from a retiring music store owner in Southern California. Rail and Sedgwick loaded the tools and supplies in a 40-foot trailer and drove back to Del Norte High School, where they set up a dedicated repair shop in the band room.
“This is an amazing opportunity for Del Norte High School because I hope to soon have a class on instrument repair for students to take,” Sedgwick said, adding, “I find all of what is about to happen in our community very surreal. I am honored to be a part of Nick and Lisa’s vision and hope to be the music teacher who will continue to inspire young musicians with a positive experience in school.”
Rail hinted that more financial support for the arts in Del Norte County is to come.
“The students will get instruments now, but we’re just getting started. We have more plans that will benefit the entire community, but you’ll have to stay tuned to Wild Rivers Community Foundation for future announcements,” he said.