On Feb. 19 at 8 p.m., the Tokyo String Quartet, the Britney Spears of the classical music world, will be holding a concert at Dominican University in River Forest. That afternoon, however, members of the quartet will lend their talent to a valuable and often-forgotten cause: they will be raising money for local music scholarships.
The fundraiser is a collaboration between Forest Park’s Music for Life Foundation, Dominican University and the Tokyo String Quartet.
For $20 per adult and $10 per student, music lovers will have the opportunity to go inside the mind of a master musician as they witness the Master Class, a teaching concert on Feb. 19 at noon.
“There will be three groups playing, two trios and one quartet, chosen through a competition amongst students in a 60 mile radius of Forest Park,” said Daniel Gasse, co-director of the Music for Life Foundation.
“We communicated with all schools where music is taught and extended the opportunity for students to compete,” Gasse said.
At the Master Class, the winning students will be playing concert-level pieces for up to 10 minutes per group. After that members of the Tokyo String Quartet will evaluate the musicians and coach them, teaching them how to move from the level they are at to a superior technical and artistic level.
“In 15 minutes you see how these kids come in playing well and leave playing so much better,” Gasse said. “It is a mixture of a beautiful concert and a superior class.”
The Tokyo String Quartet concert is $35 for the evening, but Dominican will be giving anyone attending the Master Class a 50 percent discount to the evening concert.
After the concert, the quartet will continue their fundraising efforts, going to dinner at Hemmingway’s Bistro in Oak Park. Seating is limited for the dinner and tickets are $200.
The funds collected will go directly to the foundation’s scholarship program.
“There are different levels within the scholarship program. We have one for Forest Park residents that covers 100 percent of the cost of the class,” Gasse said. “We have another one for 50 students from outside Forest Park that covers 50 percent. We also have a special possibility for children who are especially talented and have demonstrated their intent to continue studying.”
Classes, Gasse said, are offered anywhere a student or organization wants; the foundation is only in charge of dispensing the scholarships and ensuring that the teachers are certified and the needs of the students are real.
Currently, said Sarah Gasse, co-director of the foundation, there are six scholarships and several openings for students to study at the Mohr Community Center. This program can take at least nine more kids and is set up until the end of the year.
The students, Daniel Gasse said, not only learn to play beautiful music, but earn a benefit for life as music has a direct effect on all of a child’s school work.
“In the last 10 years there have been many studies that have proven the link between academic performance and music,” Daniel Gasse said. “Students with some type of instrumental musical education excel in languages, mathematics, sciences and even in physical activities.
“It is not that the smart children elect orchestra,” he said. “Children who are in orchestra are getting better results because musical education is comprehensive education. Music needs you to understand, organize, plan, memorize, coordinate visual and motor skills, express yourself and have emotional balance.”
“When you are playing you are using many different parts of your brain,” Sarah Gasse said. “You are reading music and doing a physical and creative thing at the same time. You are also doing a mental thing, taking what is written on the page and translating that into notes.”
The idea for this fundraiser event was born from the generosity and initiative of many Forest Park music aficionados as well as careful planning by the foundation’s leaders.
Daniel, a cellist, and Sarah, a viola and violin player, have been doing concerts to raise money on their own, but saw they were only reaching a small portion of the population whereas they wanted to have a larger impact, Daniel Gasse said.
“We sat down in a commission and said, ‘What else can we do to go farther?’ So we began to look around to find groups that were already going to be in the area to see if they could do just one more thing while they were here: fundraise,” Daniel Gasse said.
For Daniel and Sarah the foundation and its mission are personal. They represent a chance to provide children in America with the same opportunity they received in their home countries: musical scholarships without which many cannot afford to learn music.
“Both myself and my wife are a consequence of free musical education. In Argentina, musical education is in the hands of the state,” Daniel Gasse said. “I studied at a free provincial conservatory. Without the help, my parents never would have been able to afford it, and I wouldn’t be a musician today.”
Sarah Gasse studied music in England, where she received financial help to study.
“When Sara and I entered our professional lives, we realized that here in America things aren’t the same. Schools don’t provide free music classes, and so we felt the need to give back to a community what it gave us,” he said. “We think it is unfair for children to have the talent and devotion, but not the right.”