NY Jets owners donate to Darien High School band, touched over their tribute to Ukraine

DARIEN — After a chance viewing of a Darien High School band performance of the Ukrainian National Anthem, one prominent donor gifted thousands of dollars to the program — which the school could now use to purchase a high-quality and unique instrument.

In March, the DHS Wind Ensemble performed the Ukrainian National Anthem in a show of support for the war-torn country, which was invaded by Russian forces earlier this year and has since been engaged in an ongoing struggle for independence.

Suzanne Johnson, the wife of New York Jets owner Robert “Woody” Johnson, decided to donate $5,000 to the band earlier this summer, after she was forwarded a video of the performance from a friend whose child is in the Darien band, said Colleen Thompson, the district’s music director.

The Johnsons did not specify a use for the money, leading school officials to dream big, Thompson said. The program is considering purchasing a rare instrument that they wouldn’t normally be able to purchase, such as an English horn, though no decisions have been made yet.

“We’re trying to find something that will just last for a long time and we can really point to and say, ‘This is as a result of this generous donation,’” Thompson said.

Woody Johnson, who served as former President Donald Trump’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, and Suzanne Johnson, who is Ukrainian American, have made headlines for donating significant amounts of money toward Ukraine relief efforts.

DHS band director Jonathan Grauer said he has been inspired to play pieces that connect to something happening in the world at the current moment.

The first time students performed the Ukrainian anthem in March, the room fell silent, Grauer said.

“I think kids were just reflecting on what was happening in the world,” Grauer said. “It’s one of the things that music can do that they’re not going to get from an algebra class.”