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Project Plays On: Senior raises money to buy her school a piano

Susan Notes:

Funny thing: It isn't a standardized test score that tests this young woman's mettle and reveals her value to her community.

By Kris Verhage

MAPLE CITY -- Many high school seniors answer the siren call of senioritis as the school year wanes, and coast through classes, counting the days until graduation.

Not Glen Lake High School's Emma Cook. In addition to balancing her schoolwork with playing on her school's girls soccer team, Cook this spring raised money for a new upright piano for the school's music department.

That new piano is expected to be unveiled June 21, at the "88 Keys Benefit Concert" she organized. The 8 p.m. concert is set to feature Chicago singer/songwriter Michael Smith. Cook and Glen Lake junior Will Hendricks will open for him. She's expected to play the new piano for the first time and sing.

The "88 Keys" drive stemmed from her Senior Exit Project that all Glen Lake seniors are required to complete. The school tradition encourages students to go beyond their comfort zone, said Patrick Niemisto, who teaches music and fine arts at the school and is a member of local folk group New Third Coast.

No student has undertaken a project as large as Cook's, he said.

Recognizing the limited funding for Glen Lake's music department, Cook wanted to raise funds for a new piano. Niemisto put her in touch with her mentor for her project, local concert promoter Seamus Shinners. He told her she probably wouldn't be able to raise the roughly $4,000 needed for the piano at one concert and suggested she start a larger fundraising project that became the 88 Keys Club.

"I didn't realize when I started what a huge undertaking it would be," Cook said. "But it's worth it."

In addition to organizing the concert, Cook recruited sponsors of $100 each to become the first members of the club. Shinners got Smith to perform at the concert and helped show Cook what's necessary to put on a show; Cook did the rest with the help of her family, friends and teachers and administrators at Glen Lake Community Schools.

Starting in March, she sent letters to music department alumni and supporters, the local business community and homes with Glen Lake Elementary School students. She found busineses willing to design and print posters and provide meals and lodging for Smith. Friends helped her put up posters and volunteered to work at the concert.

School administrators such as Principal Kevin Kelly helped print posters and make copies, while the superintendent's office collected and kept Cook abreast of donation checks coming in, she said. Cook also is having plaques and key chains made for donors.

The hardest part of the drive was staying organized, which she found overwhelming at times. But she was determined to finish her project.

"I promised the school I'd get them the piano," she said.

Last week, Cook secured the rest of the money needed to purchase the Yamaha P22 from Kurtz Music & Sound in Traverse City. The piano was delivered to the school on June 6, Niemisto said.

He said it's been exciting to watch her project unfold.

"When many students are at the beach, she's at school dotting the I's and crossing the T's and making sure everything is going all right," Niemisto said.

Concert proceeds will go to a fund that will cover show expenses and future repair costs for the piano and perhaps someday go toward the purchase of a new electric piano or toward bringing a performer to Glen Lake, Cook said.

Cook, who lives in the Cedar area, graduated from Glen Lake on June 1 and was elected by her class to write and perform the senior class song. The musician, singer and budding songwriter will head to the University of Vermont this fall.

Cook's accomplishment is a positive reflection of herself, her parents and Glen Lake educational community, Shinners said.

"Normally, you don't have a senior in high school recognizing that it's important to give back to your school," he said. "That usually comes later down the road."

Donations to the 88 Keys Club can sent to: Glen Lake Community Schools, Attention: Superintendent's Office; 3375 W. Burdickville Road, Maple City, MI 49664.

— Kris Verhage


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