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Laurie Niles

A Violin in a Soldier's Hands

May 8, 2009 at 8:40 PM

I wanted to update everyone on the funds that were leftover from getting U.S. Army soldier Timothy Weston his violin in Iraq, and also let you know how he's doing.

Timothy Weston
Timothy Weston, at home, with his violin

First, a huge thank-you to David Burgess, whose organizational efforts brought all this good will together, and who also took responsibility for the donations. Last week he sent the funds that were left over, $223, to Operation Happy Note, an organization that sends instruments to soldiers in Iraq.

Recently I spoke to Barb Baker, who founded Operation Happy Note with her husband, Steve, after they sent a guitar to their son in Iraq, and then one to his friend, and they realized what a difference it made in the lives of soldiers.

Barb said that they don't just send guitars, but "we also send a lot of violins!"

Since starting the effort in 2005, Operation Happy Note has sent more than 2,700 musical instruments to soldiers, including everything from a set of bagpipes to cigar-box guitars, she said. In 2008, they sent more than 1,200 instruments, and postage alone was around $22,000, she said. Barb said that the funds donated by members will help mostly with shipping expenses. The instruments they send are often donated, or they buy surplus instruments at a discount from vendors. For example, once they caught a deal on violins that were colored.

"We had red, green and blue violins – even a purple violin!" Barb said. "I'd like to be a little mouse in the corner when they opened those up!"

Every month they receive 300-400 instrument requests through their website from soldiers overseas.

"There is no way we can fill all of them," she said. She personally answers every request, and "the hard part is, who do you pick and choose?" They try to choose those who are in the most need.

The instruments seem to help the soldiers because instead of being in the corner, watching T.V. or listening to CDs, they can explore the possibilities of an instrument.

"It's a hands-on thing. They tell us that when the guitar comes, they sit down and start playing. Pretty soon, other soldiers gather around, and maybe someone will come with another instrument and play along," Barb said. "It brings them together as a group."

Barb said that once she went to speak at a Rotary club in Minneapolis, and when she was showing pictures of Operation Happy Note recipients, she came to a picture of a soldier with a violin. "That's my son!" said a woman in the audience. The woman went on to explain that her son had surprised her by coming home on leave, simply showing up at her doorstep in uniform one day. She was delighted enough to see him home, but he had another surprise in store: he pulled out a violin and played her a song.

"She had no idea he had learned to play the violin," Barb said. Another soldier had given him lessons, which is often how deployed soldiers learn an instrument.

And it appears that Timothy, who received his violin in early March, is wasting no time learning to play. I recently received an e-mail from Timothy's wife, Carissa, who said that he had come home to Cincinnati for an R&R break April 18th to May 4th, and that they'd had a wonderful time.

"As soon as we got back to my parents house, even before he showered, Tim took out his violin and was showing it off to the family," Carissa wrote. "He played 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' and something else I don't remember, but I was so excited to have him home nothing else mattered. He was so proud of the little bit he can do and he told us all about it and the neat things in his case. He really liked the silk bag and note book that was made for him as well. I could totally see a joy in his eyes while he talked and played and tried to play."

Happy playing, Timothy!

From Elinor Estepa
Posted on May 8, 2009 at 11:06 PM

this kind of stories always warm my heart...  Thank's for posting this Laurie.


Congratulations to this site and Hats off to everyone!

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on May 9, 2009 at 12:37 AM

Yes, Elinor it warms up mine too!  A violin or any other loved instrument is such a refuge!


From Don Sullivan
Posted on May 9, 2009 at 4:46 AM

As a Navy veteran, I can appreciate how those soldiers must feel.  When you are far from home, music is a real connection to what you have left behind.  God bless you all who have participated in bringing music to this and other members of our armed forces. It really is comforting to hear.

From Daniel Blomdahl
Posted on May 9, 2009 at 4:25 PM

Wow I've never heard of that but it sounds like an awesome program. 

From Timothy Weston
Posted on May 12, 2009 at 11:30 PM

I again would like to thank EVERYONE involved in helping me with the violin. I am still amazed that things turned into what they had it is like I am waiting to wake up and find it was only a dream.  The songs that I played, were a few more than my wife remembers, for the fam were Ode to Joy, Twinkle Twinkle, Row Row your Boat, Amazing Grace, the beginning of the Star Wars theme, and the beginning of Dueling Banjos. lol. As soon as my buddy and I finish working out all of the Notes on it we are going to do a "dueling" violin and guitar and put it on Youtube. he he.

My wife was right in saying that I was excited to show the family the violin. The picture that Laurie has heading this column is my first day back, fresh off the plane and less than 1 hour stateside. They all pretty much "Ooohhhed and Aaahhhhed"  over it. It was really neat.

Ok it is late here in Iraq, almost 0230 and I am due for some downtime, finally, for today. I just wanted again to express my appreciation towards the named and nameless individuals that helped turn this snowflake one mans wish,  into the snowball that it became.


   Spc. Weston jr, Timothy V       US Army

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