Simonsons stage benefit for student musicians
WORTHINGTON -- The dozens of District 518 music students who are nearing the end of four weeks of band and orchestra lessons are learning a lot, but they probably don't know that one local cellist is simultaneously striving to make music instruct...
WORTHINGTON -- The dozens of District 518 music students who are nearing the end of four weeks of band and orchestra lessons are learning a lot, but they probably don't know that one local cellist is simultaneously striving to make music instruction for them and their classmates even more accessible in the future.
"My family didn't have much extra money when I was growing up, so I didn't get an opportunity to play an instrument, even though I have always loved music," Sue Simonson said.
But for the past five years, with her three children successfully launched, Simonson finally had the time and resources to begin music lessons. She chose to learn the cello.
"I loved the sound of the cello, and I found a wonderful cello teacher, Dr. Karren Melik-Stepanov in Sioux Falls, S.D., and he helped me from the beginning," Simonson explained. "A string instrument is difficult, and learning as an adult is different than learning as a child, but I absolutely love it."
Aided by her encouraging husband, patient instructor and one hour of practice daily, Simonson has progressed sufficiently to perform in recitals, such as the benefit recital she has helped organize for 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Proceeds from the performance, which is sponsored in part by Prairie Holdings Group, will be directed to the District 518 music programs, with the specific goal of purchasing instruments for music students' use.
"We knew the school district was in a money crunch, and we think music is a really important part of education, so when I was planning to do a private recital here for family and friends, we thought we could expand on it and do an additional performance as a fund-raiser for the school music program," Simonson said. "It was really Randy's (my husband's) idea."
With more than 50 students beginning band instruments at the elementary level annually, and about two dozen students starting on orchestra instruments, local music instructors often scramble to outfit students at all levels with the appropriate instruments. While a handful of students are able to purchase their own instruments, most either rely on renting from the school or a music store.
"I can't say enough about what music exposure throughout their school years meant to our children," Simonson said. "It helped them become more confident people, more capable adults."
Simonson and her husband, Randy, came to Worthington 25 years ago when Randy, who has a Ph.D. in microbiology, was recruited to join Oxford Labs. He currently is the manager of Newport Labs.
"I've helped hire 100 families through the years, and when we are trying to convince the people we need to hire -- often people with Ph.D.s and D.V.M.s -- to move here, the quality of our public educational system is critical," Randy said. "It was certainly one of our top areas of concern when we considered coming here.
"It's not just about music -- it's about education," Randy continued. "When we saw an opportunity to perhaps support the school district's music program, we thought we should take it."
More than $7,000 has been raised in advance of the Saturday benefit, and the Simonsons are planning to exceed that figure. Guests at the invitation-only affair will be treated to performances not only by Simonson and her "cello partner" Mary Jo Jaqua, another adult student, but also by Dr. Melik-Stepanov and his wife, Julie Melik-Stepanov. The Melik-Stepanovs, both natives of Russia, are music instructors at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, members of the Sioux Falls Symphony Orchestra and accomplished professional musicians.
The Simonsons are hopeful the referendum put to District 518 voters this fall will successfully pass, as they believe maintaining a high quality public school system that includes opportunities in the arts is necessary to keep the community and its economy healthy.
"We need to help our local businesses grow and expand, but to do that we need an educated local work force," Randy said. "Education is important, and instruction in the fine arts is a vital part of a quality education that we'd like to make sure all interested students, regardless of financial ability, can experience.
"I'm a scientist, so I know science can prolong and save lives, but music and the arts are what make life worth living."