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Young Musician Takes Fundraising to the Streets

By Jakob Schiller
Friday January 16, 2004

Christmas shoppers on Fourth Street this past month who caught the mellifluous strains of Miles Davis wafting through the air were surprised to find that they did not come from a store playing a CD a little too loud but instead from the golden horn of 13-year-old Nate Schneider, performing his renditions of the late, great trumpeter’s tunes.  

Nate, a seventh-grader at Martin Luther King Middle School, left many a shopper smiling as he sat outside in the cold on four December days to raise money for the Berkeley Unified School district music programs, victims of a $138,000 budget cut this year that left a district well-known for its music programs scrambling to make do.  

The concerts, which helped raise $325.26, were part of Nate’s obligatory community service in preparation for his upcoming bar mitzvah when he turns 13 in June. All of the money collected will be donated to the Berkeley Public Education Fund, which will in turn route the money to the district’s ailing programs. 

“I had to do some kind of project for my bar mitzvah and I didn’t want to do something ordinary,” said Nate. “I also wanted to get some experience as a musician—to throw something out there and see what people thought.” 

Since 1994 Berkeley middle school and elementary students have been the beneficiaries of the Berkeley Schools Excellence Program or BSEP, a parcel tax passed in 1994 to fund district programs including music. 

But with the ensuing inflation, the monies raised from the tax aren’t enough to meet the music program’s needs. Consequently, several of the schools saw their five day-a-week programs diminish to three, two music teachers positions were cut and fourth-graders lost their instruments. 

And while Nate might not pay attention to the numbers, he saw the impact of the cuts at school and decided to do his part to protect the programs. 

“When you see our band room, you see broken down chairs and music stands and worn out instruments. It was something that was also directly affecting me,” he said.  

Nate, who currently plays with the Martin Luther King Middle School Band and the Marty Wehner ensemble at the Berkeley Jazz School, says he eventually aspires to play with the renowned Berkeley High Jazz Band. He’s been interested in music since fourth grade when he started playing the recorder and quickly developed an interest in jazz after seeing performances in New Orleans on a family vacation.  

Afterwards he came back and started tootling around on his own recorder, teaching himself how to improvise in an effort to copy what he’d heard. 

“I’d like to think I was the first jazz recorder player,” said Nate. “I must have sounded pretty funny then.” 

In fifth grade, he was able to choose a larger instrument and quickly picked the trumpet after writing a report on Louis Armstrong for Black History Month. He says he had also been reading a lot about Miles Davis in the A-Z Jazz History book and it wasn’t long before he discovered his parent’s copy of Kind of Blue, quickly falling in love. 

“I was hooked on him immediately,” he said. 

His dad says that ever since, all Nate’s done is read about and play Miles Davis. “It’s been all Miles all the time,” he said. “He’s become the foremost authority on him.”  

Nate is scheduled to play several more times in a continued effort to raise more money and his parents have also scheduled a jam session of sorts for this coming weekend, inviting parents and some of Nate’s friends who are quickly becoming jazz aficionados. 

In the meantime, Nate has captured the hearts of others who are struggling alongside him to try and save the Berkeley music programs. 

“I think it’s a great effort,” said Trina Ostrander, executive director of the Berkeley Public Education Foundation and also one of the shoppers down on Fourth Street who happened to wander into Nate’s performance. And while it’s not $138,000 she said “it’s enough to really make a difference.” 


Those interested in contributing to Nate’s efforts can mail donations to the Nate Schneider Bar Mitzvah Project, 1233 1/2 Henry Street, Berkeley, CA, 94709. Checks should be made payable to the Berkeley Public Education Foundation/Music Program.