Violinist Abigail “Abi” Stephens considers it a blessing that she took up her instrument 12 years ago. Today, the 17-year-old performs in a youth symphony and professionally.
Around Thanksgiving, Stephens created a plan to help more students get access to music education. Through December, she requested donated instruments on social media and researched regional Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace listings offering musical instruments for sale.
Stephens contacted the sellers, asking if instead they’d be willing to donate their instruments to the Music Conservatory of Coeur d’Alene, a nonprofit that offers music education classes. Other donors gave directly after seeing her online posts. On Dec. 29, Stephens delivered about 16 donated instruments to the conservatory, which will offer them to its students as low-cost rentals.
“I’m really hoping that it helps the next generation of music students, and that it makes a difference just having instruments available locally,” Stephens said.
“I understand how much music means to people, and how blessed it can make someone’s life. I’m very happy to have organized getting these instruments so students can love those instruments as well and find a passion in music.”
Stephens, a Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy senior, is president and conductor of her school’s chamber orchestra. She performs in multiple ensembles, including the North Idaho Youth Symphony, where she’s the concertmaster.
She also has played the violin with the Northwest Academy of Music and performed professionally in the Dec. 4 “Messiah” concert hosted by the Music Conservatory of Coeur d’Alene.
“I’m also a soloist, and I play professionally as a soloist and in a quartet,” she said.
On Oct. 5, she received an excellence in arts award from the Coeur d’Alene mayor. Stephens said that award inspired her to do more.
“I was able to give a speech at the awards ceremony, and I tried to focus on how much the community has given to me through the music provided and how wonderful this community is about raising awareness about music and the arts, just promoting music education for other people.”
She then decided to support the Music Conservatory of Coeur d’Alene, because of its reach providing music education for a wide range of people in the region.
Stephens said she went with her dad to pick up the instruments during the past month, although at least one person dropped off an instrument at the conservatory.
“We even had someone who donated and said he was willing to let music conservatory students use his recording studio,” she said. “He’s in Hayden.”
The conservatory offers classes for people from toddlers to older adults, said its director Julienne Dance. Its mission is to make music instruction accessible for all.
“We have served kids from 1 year old in our early childhood program, and up to people in their 80s and 90s,” Dance said.
Its classes include learning instruments, voice lessons and understanding music. Many students range in age from 15 up to seniors, but the hope is to broaden that, she said.
“We are seeking to work more with the ages 8 to 18 group,” Dance said. “We work with the families and try to meet their budget needs.”
Dance said Stephens’ project will boost the conservatory’s work. The collection brought in several violins, two flutes, about three clarinets, a cello and trumpet, one banjo and an accordion. The donated instruments came from people in Coeur d’Alene, Spokane, Sandpoint and outlying areas.
“I think Abi decided to give back to the community because she was awarded the mayor’s student excellence in the arts award, so she did this project on her own, which is amazing,” Dance said.
“She got this idea and looked on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace where people were trying to sell their instruments. She asked them if they would like to donate them to the music conservatory instead, and a tax deduction receipt could be given to them.”
About the same time as Stephens offered to help, Dance heard from Ben Barnes, who regularly returns to Coeur d’Alene from Western Washington. His business repairs violins, and he’s offered to help maintain the conservatory’s instruments on a quarterly basis, she said.
“I just want to say I’m so appreciative of those people who donated their instruments,” Dance said. “It shows that the music conservatory is being supported, that there are people out there who want to help children learn music.”
Dance said the nonprofit now could use more support for its scholarship program, through donations or a sponsor. However, she said the donated instruments soon will be put to use by students.
Stephens said she’s grateful for the music in her life. A younger sister and brother also regularly play musical instruments.
“I really wanted to give back to the community in a way that is meaningful through music.”
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