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College pianist playing for charity

Kelly Meehan | Thursday, April 13, 2006

When Saint Mary’s senior Jill Vlasek takes the stage next Wednesday for her final piano recital at the College, she will not only be gracing the audience with her musical skills, but will also be working to improve the lives of many.

Just one year ago Vlasek, a music major and Atlanta native, was unsure of the direction her post-graduate life would take, but that all changed the day she met Chris Robinson, the director and founder of the Foundation for Music and Healing.

“Dr. Robinson did a presentation for the music majors about the Foundation for Music and Healing located in South Bend,” Vlasek said. “I was totally hooked and wanted to know how I could get involved.”

Following the presentation, Vlasek approached Robinson to ask how she could work or contribute to the foundation, which gives mentally or physically handicapped children and adults the opportunity to practice and learn both vocal and instrumental musical skills.

Vlasek was offered a part-time summer job with the foundation, which allowed her to work with her special needs students in a studio at the Jameson Inn on Route 33.

“I think Jill’s enthusiasm for life and … ambition and drive to meet people help her to do a great job,” Robinson said. “You need to have the energy to work in this [job] – this is a more intense kind of work.”

Vlasek said a typical lesson consists of working with not only the students, but sometimes their parents and siblings as well.

“Some students have a very strict routine, and some you can never plan what is going to happen because if they give you a great opportunity you have to go with them and take it,” she said. “You have to listen to them.”

The non-profit foundation holds lessons in instructional studios at Jameson Inn, the Logan Center, Goshen College and Memorial Hospital. Instructors receive a salary, requiring students to play for their lessons – which is precisely where Vlasek’s vision comes into play.

She said she hopes audience members in attendance at her April 19 senior recital at 7:30 p.m. in Little Theater will make a monetary donation to help fund scholarships for students who cannot afford lessons.

During the first half of her concert, Vlasek will play classical piano works, followed by a performance of her own piano and vocal compositions.

Vlasek said she anticipates many of her students and their families will be present at her concert and that audience members will “find it in their hearts to share the gift of music with others.”

Vlasek’s May graduation from Saint Mary’s will not mark the end of her commitment to the Foundation for Music and Healing. She will start working there this summer as a full-time instructor.

Although the Atlanta native always saw herself returning to the south after completing her degree, she said the thought of staying in South Bend is “growing on [her].”

“It is kind of nice [to stay in the area],” she said. “I feel like I have really built my life up here the last four years … it is nice not to have to pick up and relocate.”

The Foundation is currently only located in South Bend, however Vlasek said she believes it has potential to develop on a national level due to its unique nature.

Robinson, who said the foundation receives calls from as far away as Los Angeles and Texas, also shares this vision. He said there is a widespread need for the Foundation’s services.

Vlasek said the foundation differs from traditional music therapy in that students receive actual musical instruction – something they traditionally might not have to opportunity to have.

As Vlasek embarks upon a new era in her life, she said her decision to use her talents to help others has been nothing but a joyous experience.

“Seeing the successes of my students has been the best part of my work,” she said. “Students that have trouble talking are talking more. They are gaining huge amounts of self confidence, and they are learning how to really love music.”