Music and charity will come together this Saturday at The World Music Festival when students and professionals alike perform to raise money for scholarships.

This benefit concert for the Music for Life Foundation will feature the exotic sounds of the Sandalwood Sitar ensemble, down-home folk songs from the Farmer’s Market Band and the world renowned guitar and flute combination of Forest Park’s own Cavatina Duo.

The Music for Life Foundation is a nonprofit group that provides scholarships to young musicians who could not otherwise afford private lessons.

Daniel Gasse and his wife Sarah started Music for Life four years ago, as a natural outgrowth of their Gasse School of Music. The foundation raises about $10,000 per year and awarded eight scholarships annually.

“The scholarship students are picked on the basis of financial need and desire to play,” Daniel Gasse said. “Basically any student who is eligible for free lunch is eligible for a scholarship.”

Deserving students are recommended to the foundation by parents and teachers. Music for Life, however, has struggled in reaching promising young musicians in Forest Park. Free music lessons were offered at the Community Center but there were few takers. Now the duo is hoping to partner with District 91 to provide lessons in the public schools.

“We’re open to the idea of allowing music lessons.” Superintendent Lou Cavallo said. “We want to provide as many learning opportunities as possible for our students. Kids who are involved in music tend to do better in school.”

One of the foundation’s teachers, Linda Van Dyke, has been conducting private lessons at Oak Park River Forest High School for the past 20 years. She enjoys a good relationship with the school’s band director and said she has gotten great satisfaction from teaching students who otherwise could not afford it.

One of her scholarship students, Melissa Elie of Oak Park, has been taking clarinet lessons for the past three years.

“Melissa is doing wonderfully,” Van Dyke said. “She’s a very natural player who’s been making significant advances.”

Elie will be one of the featured performers at the World Music Festival, playing three solos by Igor Stravinsky. The high school senior first discovered the clarinet in fifth-grade.

“My sister played the flute, but I couldn’t make a sound with it,” Elie said. “Then I tried the clarinet and made a good sound right away.”

Elie continued to make good sounds on the clarinet but craved private lessons. In her sophomore year she applied for a Music for Life scholarship. She received a recommendation from her teacher and started weekly lessons. Steady practice paid off, as Elie was elevated to section leader of the marching band. She also won the school’s concerto competition with her clarinet.

After she graduates, Elie plans to pursue a double major in history and musical performance. Elie’s ultimate goal is to become a music teacher, she said.

The benefit concert is being held March 15 at 7 p.m. at First United Church. Tickets are $15 per adult and $45 per family with all proceeds benefiting the foundation.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.