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Bus 52 Presents: Operation Happy Note

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Published on Sep 11, 2012

When Marte Byrne was deployed to Iraq in 2004, he received a guitar from his mother for his birthday. Little did he know that this one birthday present would soon turn into a nonprofit organization, aptly named Operation Happy Note, that has now sent over 4,500 instruments to deployed soldiers across the world in the past 6 years.

Barbara Baker, the co-founder of Operation Happy Note explains that it is "a nonprofit organization that sends music instruments to our deployed troops, the purpose to relieve stress and raise morale."

The idea came to her and her husband Steven when Byrne received several requests for guitars from friends in his unit after he received his present. The unit was very excited by the arrival of that first guitar and people's desire for their own soon caused Byrne to relay the requests back to his mother.

Baker explains that "at that time, we had a little Mom and Pop music store and we decided that we couldn't keep taking guitars off the wall, and Steven said 'let's have a little fundraiser and we can send some more instruments, more guitars, to his unit.'"

While they thought it might be just a one-time project, Operation Happy Note was far from being just that. After attracting a lot of interest from their community and the national press, they received enough donations of money and instruments to set themselves up as a nonprofit, and continue to ship instruments to deployed soldiers.

"We were sending out fifty, sixty, at one point, ninety guitars in one day," says Baker. But soon they started sending more than just guitars. Baker says they've sent "mandolins, violins, banjos, all kinds of horns, keyboards. We've even sent bagpipes, accordions, tons of harmonicas, kazoos, anything that people donate to us, any type of musical instrument that is donates to us, we'll send it to the troops."

Within the package that is sent, Operation Happy Note also includes any accessories that might be needed for the instrument. For a guitar, for example, they also send along a guitar strap and a tuner, as well as a set of DVDs that teach the recipient how to play the guitar.

Byrne recalls the excitement around the guitars he and his friends received in his unit. "We would have a drawing, everyone would put their name in a hat, we'd pull a name out and that person would win ... When the guitar came, everybody would get together so there'd be ten, fifteen people all together to see the guitar. We'd take pictures and laugh and joke around."

The camaraderie that is already built up by the circumstances in which these men and women find themselves is only increased by the addition of a musical instrument. "It was like Christmastime every time an instrument arrived and someone got to open it," says Byrne.

The instruments also provide an excellent distraction for the recipient. It means learning a new skill for those who have never played before or being able to continue with something that, while not new, can be very relaxing for those who can already play.

Byrne explains that "getting an instrument in a situation like that took your mind off the day-to-day things and created more of a fun environment where it wasn't so serious and everybody had a good time."

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