Pop singer Barry Manilow is donating a new Yamaha piano to Westbury High School, launching a local music-instrument drive as part of his longtime Manilow Music Project to benefit music education.
“One of my friends said that his daughter was really interested in learning how to play the sax, but her school didn’t have a sax,” Manilow, 74, says on how the project began, about a decade ago. “He said, ‘Yeah, the high school is running out of musical instruments.’ And I couldn’t believe it, of course, but after that I couldn’t stop thinking about it. So I looked it up and most of the public high schools around the country, because of budget cuts, are all running out of anything to do with music — music stands, band outfits, sheet music — because the first thing that goes is music and art. So I thought, ‘I’ve got to do something.’ ”
Manilow, who plays the renovated Nassau Coliseum on Thursday, regularly donates a piano at places where he tours “and I ask the audience if they have any instruments that are just collecting dust in the attic or the basement to bring them down to the arena. Then we fix them up if they’re broken and give them to the school districts and they distribute them,” he says.
Anyone who donates a new or gently used instrument will receive two free tickets to the concert. A Coliseum spokeswoman said people were encouraged to donate at the box office in advance of the show, daily from noon to 5 p.m. “No refunds will be granted if they’ve already purchased tickets, but they have the option of claiming two more free tickets,” she said.
“Once [school budgets] start cutting sports equipment, you will hear the biggest scream coming from everybody,” notes the singer-songwriter, who donated a piano to the Uniondale school district when he played the Coliseum in March 2015. “But the arts — I don’t know whether people realize how important it is to young people. I speak to principals and teachers and . . . sometimes I’m told that [some students] would drop out if there wasn’t a music class. It’s really important — it’s not just playtime. They turn into better human beings.”
Manilow, a Grammy, Tony and Emmy Award-winner, recently released his 31st studio album, “This Is My Town: Songs of New York,” featuring both original and existing compositions. Raised in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the Songwriters Hall of Fame inductee — who actually retains a bit of borough accent in his speaking voice — still considers himself a New Yorker.
“Listen, when you come from New York, like I do, it’s always there,” he says. “I will always be a New Yorker, even though I [have] lived on the West Coast longer than I lived on the East Coast. I am a New Yorker: I talk fast, I walk fast, I think fast. I’m always fighting,” he adds metaphorically, “for a seat on the subway.”