The strains of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony “Pastoral” echoed out from the concert hall to the lobby of the Music School of Delaware in Wilmington.
The whimsical violins were particularly pleasant to the ear on this summer day, because it fell on the announcement of a $750,000 donation that allows the school to expand its programs for young and old musicians alike.
The donation, offered by board member William Stegeman, is the largest individual donation the school has ever received.
“He announced it in a board meeting and all of us were stunned—there was silence in the room,” said Kate Ransom, president of the school. “We are just elated and beyond grateful.”
The donation completes $4 million in funding for a new wing, and allows the institution to move forward with the second phase of its capital campaign, which includes renovating the concert hall, and upgrading the school’s roof, and heating and ventilation systems.
Stegeman, the CEO and Senior Scientist at Jackson ImmunoResearch Laboratores, Inc., began his journey with the school 15 years ago when he wanted to learn how to play the violin and viola.
He said he wanted to retire the construction, which had a high interest loan looming over it that also prevented the school from starting new projects.
“I just love this school and its mission,” Stegeman said. “It’s important to keep the arts in the Delaware valley going and to keep the level of excellence we have now perpetuating.”
The Music School of Delaware was founded in 1924, and offers music education for all ages and experience levels. It also is home to several performing ensembles, and runs programs in its Wilmington and Milford locations, and at more than 20 satellite and outreach sites throughout the state.
The school, which currently enrolls more than 2,300 students, needed to support the expanded Suzuki program, the Delaware Youth Symphony Orchestra and several other activities there wasn’t room for.
The school currently receives about 30 percent of its income from donations and 70 percent from tuition. However, its goal is to reach 50 percent from each.
“That puts a strain on tuition rates, and we don’t want that,” Ransom said. “We want to keep tuition rates under control and we want to be able to reward our faculty and maintain our excellence.”
The new donation will greatly benefit students at the school, said Conor McAvinue, 16, a violinist since he was 4 years old. He said the school has been a second home to him and many of his fellow musicians.
“It really does mean a lot because it’s a way to help some of the younger kids here also aspire to be more advanced musicians,” McAvinue said.
Music education and participation in musical activities is an integral part of societies across the world, and it’s crucial to keep it alive in communities, Ransom said.
“It enriches life, it builds skills for young people and everyone,” she said. “It also is one of the consummate expressions of our accomplishment as human beings. Our accomplishment as a society is art, and music is one of the highest art forms.”