People are always showing up at Construction Junction with truckloads of stuff: tables, chairs, dislodged doors and windows. The Point Breeze nonprofit is a warehouse for deconstructed houses -- ovens share floor space with toilets, bunches of tiles are stored in crates, scrolls of wallpaper lean against walls.
But aside from the odd piano, not a lot of musical instruments end up on Construction Junction's shelves. So it was a rare sight, last Sunday afternoon, to see visitors arriving with large black cases, each containing a different instrument. Over the course of four hours, around 80 people arrived to shed their brass and strings.
Meanwhile, a youth jazz ensemble performed a groovy set in CJ's dim interior, followed by the adult Maproom Corner Boys. The music alone made stopping by worth it.
This was Play It Forward, a one-day collection of "gently used" instruments. Donors dug their unwanted instruments out of closets and garages, and most seemed happy to get rid of them. As local benefits go, this one couldn't be more local: The instruments' new owners are the Afro-American Music Institute in Homewood (0.46 miles away from CJ) and the Hope Academy of Music and Art in East Liberty (1.74 miles). Where possible, organizers asked donors to store their instruments in cases.
Ironically, the only inadmissible donation was a full-sized piano.
Play It Forward's origins are almost folkloric: Coleman Dougherty, a local 13-year-old, was contemplating a community-service project as part of his bar mitzvah preparations. As quoted in publicity materials, Dougherty put it this way: "Wouldn't it be cool to get people to donate the musical instruments that they're not using to kids who would like to learn how to play music?"
Cooler than anybody expected, actually. Starting last September, Coleman and his veterinarian mother, Kathy, did some background research and determined the two neediest music schools in the area. The Doughertys live in Allison Park, but they're friends with Mike Gable, CJ's director, who encouraged a one-day trial run. In the week before Play It Forward had its brief debut, news of the event spread through Pittsburgh, earning mentions in local media.
Gable described the event as "incredibly successful," though a full inventory has not been run. Chip Dougherty, Coleman's attorney father, estimated there were about a half-dozen keyboards, numerous trumpets and clarinets, a half-dozen guitars, and "a fair number of violins. There was a professional violinist who brought in three."
Chip adds, "[Coleman] was very happy with how everything turned out."
The only question now is how Play It Forward will progress: Will it become a regular event? A full-fledged nonprofit? Until a system is worked out, no one is sure. The only certain thing is that Coleman received his bar mitzvah a month ago at Temple Ohav Shalom ... and the boy who thought giving was cool has become a true mensch.