Full Circle: Nick and Lisa Rail Benefit Budding Musicians
California-born Nick Rail grew up in the shadow of his older brother, a talented artist and academic. Struggling to find his own identity, in the fourth grade, Rail discovered what would become the defining force in his life, music. Captivated by a school presentation by “this guy from the local music store,” Rail gravitated toward the cornet and rushed home to tell his parents they absolutely must buy him the instrument.
The excitement for a young Rail faded as the day progressed, as he realized that his parents were not in a financial position to cover the extravagant purchase of a new cornet. With little hope, Rail approached his parents anyway, and to his great delight, it was a resounding “Yes!” The course of his life became cemented, and as Rail became immersed in all things school band, his purpose and self-confidence skyrocketed, not to mention his grades.
Fast-forward and Rail has led a life filled with music. With nearly 50 years in the industry, he owned and operated Nick Rail Music, a series of six music stores throughout California, and focused heavily on serving school music programs across eight counties.
Rail sold the company in 2019, and with no children of their own, Rail and his wife Lisa started to talk at length about the idea of what to do with the sale's proceeds. He said, “While it represented a significant portion of our net worth, we looked back to the city, community, and county that brought music into my life and realized we had a chance to change many lives for the better for a long time to come.”
The couple's hometown of Crescent City in Northern California had struggled financially since its heyday in the 1950s and 60s. Rail remarked, “The kids are as good as they are anywhere. The music program has good teachers, but there is no money.” He reported that band directors were buying 40-year-old instruments on eBay, trying desperately to fix them up just enough for their students to play.
Determined to change the status quo, the Rails sought the help of their financial advisor, who educated them on charitable giving and connected them with an expert in the field. The result of these meetings was that the duo signed over the entire check from the sale of Nick Rail Music to their financial firm to facilitate their philanthropic goals in supporting the arts in their local community.
Shortly after the initiative expanded through an association with the Wild Rivers Community Foundation, a non-profit in the community that “promotes and encourages generosity, leadership, and inclusion to strengthen its communities,” and the establishment of the Rail’s own non-profit, Partners for the Performing Arts. To date, the Rails and their allies have donated over 300 new instruments from trumpets to timpani to schools throughout the local area.
Rail reports, “We have closed the gap for student participation in the band here. For the first time in this county, no child will lack the opportunity to play in the band due to lack of an instrument.” Beyond the ongoing instrument donation, the funds have established a full repair shop at the high school, where classes for students interested in pursuing instrument repair as a vocation take place. Further expanding the project, a dilapidated student performance space has undergone renovations to include upgraded seating, state-of-the-art stage lighting, a fresh coat of paint, and new floors.
Today, you can often find Rail at the repair bench or in the high school working with students. When he isn’t changing his community, Rail still finds time to stay involved in the industry, most recently accepting the 2021 NAMM Believe in Music Award. In his downtime, he and Lisa are working on establishing a scholarship program, a visiting artist program, and are aiming and have initiated a $42 million capital campaign to build a 1,000 seat Center for the Performing Arts on the high school campus by 2028, an endeavor to which the duo has publicly pledged an additional $1 million.