Amid Sacrifice, A Gift Of Music
Donated Instruments To Aid Wounded Soldiers
By DAVID FUNKHOUSER
And MARY ELLEN FILLO Courant Staff Writer
February 19, 2006
MADISON -- George Hauer and Clark Kniceley know something about trauma and about music. So it figures they would cook up Operation Music Aid, an effort to donate musical instruments to servicemen and women wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For several months Hauer, who owns Madison Music Center on Orchard Park Road, has been rustling up support from dealers in the music business around the country. He and Knicely have raised thousands of dollars in cash and donated instruments and accessories.
The two men say the musical instruments are a way of saying thanks to military personnel for their sacrifices. They hope the keyboards, guitars and harmonicas they have gathered will help the wounded in their physical rehabilitation and their psychological recovery. They cannot take other instruments for a variety of reasons.
More than 17,000 U.S. servicemen and servicewomen have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the independent website, icasualties.org, which bases its figures on Department of Defense numbers.
Hauer and Kniceley held a press conference at the music store Saturday to publicize the effort, which landed an endorsement Thursday from singer David Crosby.
The first shipment of instruments heads out Monday to the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. Another shipment will go to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., next month.
Meanwhile, Hauer and Kniceley have a lot of packing to do.
At Madison Music Thursday, a tall stack of Yamaha keyboards and large boxes full of Johnson guitars filled the center of the store. A water jug sat on the counter to collect donations, and beige "Operation Music Aid" T-shirts sold for $15.
In the back room, FedEx had just delivered a box of guitar straps donated by Levy's Leathers. Donated goods have come in from all over: guitar strings and picks from D'Addario and Ernie Ball, Korg electronic guitar tuners, Hohner harmonicas and instructional books, keyboard stands and keyboard set-up kits from Yamaha.
The Indiana Guitar Co. donated six instruments painted like an American flag. A white Kurzweil Mark 5 electric piano, a $5,000 digital marvel donated by Lavinia Dale of Milford, will go to the nondenominational chapel at Walter Reed.
Dale said Saturday the donation was about celebrating the "love of her life" and finally "letting go."
"Everyday I would look at the piano and remember my husband, the love of my life, playing it," she said of her husband, Matthew, who died three years ago. "Music was his hobby. He loved to play and he loved to write music," she said about the Royal Air Force veteran she was married to for 46 years. "I don't play and none of the children do, so it was just sitting there in my living room," she said. "I read about the music drive and thought it would be a donation that he would be proud of me for making."
Lucy Saglio presented a $500 check Saturday on behalf of the American Legion Auxiliary in Clinton.
"When I am down in the dumps, listening to music or playing the piano always makes me feel better," said Saglio, an officer with the legion auxiliary. "When I saw the notice asking for musical instruments and donations, I called our president and suggested it was a worthy cause and one that the auxiliary would want to be involved in."
Bill Burton, a friend of Kniceley's and Hauer's, never served in the military but his father was a veteran.
"This isn't about politics or whether you are for or against the United States' involvement in the war or if you are a Republican or a Democrat," Burton said. "It's about people in hospitals who are injured and are trying to recover, trying to make their lives better. Hopefully this will help."
Also making a donation was state Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, who gave $100. State Rep. Deborah Heinrich, D-Madison, also attended.
Hauer said staff members at the hospitals that will receive the instruments have already volunteered to teach patients how to play.
A box of Dunlop harmonica holders will help some of the wounded who have lost the use of one or both hands, Hauer said.
Hauer, 66, dressed in a black turtleneck and black pants and wearing a green felt hat, gave a visitor a tour of his shop. He has been in the music business since 1966, working as a radio disc jockey, concert promoter, instrument sales representative and music dealer. He's owned Madison Music for five years.
His father was a trauma surgeon in the Pacific in World War II, and Hauer vividly recalls his tales of the effects of war. Capt. Emanuel Hauer won a Bronze Star for saving the lives of 14 men who had been shot or stabbed in the chest during combat in the Philippines.
George Hauer, deaf in one ear, never served in the military. But he has been deeply moved by stories and pictures he has seen of some of the thousands of wounded who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.
He has cajoled dealers into giving him items for free or at discounted prices for Operation Music Aid. He held a raffle and gave away a keyboard and a guitar. His shop is covering the shipping costs. Blue Line IT of Ohio will donate a website for Operation Music Aid.
Hauer's friend, Kniceley, 50, knows about the traumas of war first-hand. He served in the Army from 1972 to 1993, a veteran of the 101st Airborne and a medic who volunteered to serve in the first Gulf war. He was shipped home with chronic headaches and has had a string of surgeries for intestinal problems believed to be related to his time in the Gulf.
Hauer is "my oldest friend in town, in both senses of the word," Kniceley said Thursday, sitting in the back room dressed in jeans, a leather jacket and a Grateful Dead shirt. The two share a kidding, sarcastic humor.
Kniceley, who is collecting disability from the military and is studying auto mechanics, took his guitar to the Gulf and remembers how much it meant to him to have the distraction. "We used to play music on top of 50,000 tons of ammunition," he said. "For a while it would take away the war."
While working in military hospitals, Kniceley said, he noticed how little there was for the patients to do. So he and Hauer dreamed up Operation Music Aid one day at the music store.
"For a brief moment while you're making music, you're not in the hospital," Kniceley said.
To contribute, send a check or money order to Operation Music Aid, P.O. Box 303, Madison, CT 06443. For information, contact the Madison Music Center at 203-318-5007.
Copyright 2006, Hartford Courant
Visit www.courant.com for Connecticut news updates, sports stories, entertainment listings and classifie