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These unwanted musical instruments can play on: Introducing Violins of Hope Pittsburgh

Several violins sit on the floor.
Violins of Hope
Violins of Hope Pittsburgh is holding an instrument drive with the Farina Foundation. These refurbished violins bear Star of David inlays.

This is WESA Arts, a weekly newsletter by Bill O'Driscoll providing in-depth reporting about the Pittsburgh area art scene. Sign up here to get it every Wednesday afternoon.

You know they’re out there. Maybe you even have one (or more) yourself — the junior-high-band clarinet in its dusty case; that violin resting mute for decades behind boxes of Christmas ornaments.

Pittsburgh’s Farina Foundation can find them good homes. The Westview-based nonprofit collects and refurbishes unwanted instruments and gets them to people who want them, mostly in under-resourced area schools. To date, it’s done so with about 1,000 instruments, distributed to students at some 200 schools and other organizations and dozens of individuals.

Starting this week, the foundation is teaming on a new venture — an instrument-collection drive with Violins of Hope Pittsburgh, a nonprofit that promotes acceptance, inclusion, and diversity through musical and other cultural events. The project’s first two collection events for string, woodwind, and brass instruments are 9:30 a.m. to noon Sat., July 22, and 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sun., July 30, both at Calvary Episcopal Church, in Shadyside. (No pianos, organs, or harps, please; they’re too unwieldy.)

Violins of Hope Pittsburgh hopes to collect 50 or more instruments, said the group’s chair, Sandy Rosen. The restored instruments will be presented to area youths at a World Kindness Day concert Nov. 19, at Heinz Hall, featuring the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra and the Junior Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh. The concert culminates a six-week Violins of Hope Exhibit at Carnegie Mellon’s Posner Center, featuring violins played by Jewish musicians during the Holocaust. (The international Violins of Hope movement began with an effort to restore such instruments.)

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The Farina Foundation is named for Frank Farina, who spent decades as a music educator at multiple Pittsburgh-area schools, though he’s best known for his 26 years as chair of the music department and director of bands at the North Allegheny School District. After his death, in 2012, his family created the foundation to honor his love of music education.

“People just started wanting to give us instruments, and before long we had an orchestra in our storage facility,” said Farina’s son, Frank, who chairs the small foundation bearing his father’s name. The instruments are collected and donated through its Play-It-Forward program. Brighton Music Center refurbishes the instruments, which are then distributed with help from the Education Partnership, a nonprofit that provides school supplies to students and teachers in underserved schools.

Farina said his father dedicated himself to connecting people from all walks of life through music. “It was something he was passionate about, something I’m passionate about,” said Farina, who runs the foundation in off-hours from his day job as a pilot for FedEx.

The Farina Foundation is backed by funders including the Pittsburgh Foundation and the Grable Foundation, and Pittsburgh Symphony Musicians Care Fund. Still, Farina said he understands that in a world of worthy needs and causes, redistributing underutilized musical instruments isn’t everyone’s top priority. So his foundation looks for innovative ways to accomplish its mission.

That has meant partnering with organizations like Violins of Hope, Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania, and the Westview Hub, a nonprofit social-services organization.

It’s also led the foundation to piggyback on other events, such as by taking donations at the Frick Pittsburgh’s Summer Fridays concerts — the next one is this Friday — and even staging an instrument collection at Marshall Township Household Hazardous Waste Collection Day, at 465 Knob Road, in Wexford. You can find Farina there from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. this Saturday.

“We want those instruments because kids need them and they’re doing no good sitting in your attic or basement,” he said.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email: