The Music Man
Steve Elville helps tune up local music programs
Published in 2017 Maryland Super Lawyers Magazine on December 14, 2016
When Steve Elville wanted to run advertisements for his elder law and estate planning firm, Columbia’s Elville and Associates, he chose classical music station WBJC 91.5.
That led to an idea.
“I was thinking about my own interest in music, and our relationship with the station, and it occurred to me that [a charity devoted to] children and music would be great,” says Elville, who grew up playing piano.
So he established Elville Center for the Creative Arts, a nonprofit that donates new and refurbished instruments to children, provides underprivileged youth with music teachers and lessons, and helps fund field trips to cultural events. The organization has aided existing music programs and established new ones within public and private schools.
“WBJC—without them, we would not have been able to accomplish what we’ve done so far,” Elville says of the public station. “When we started the charity, they said, ‘Let us help you.’”
The organization began running advertisements on the station. One day, the station got a call from Daniel Coleman, an eighth-grader at nearby Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie, who wanted to improve the music program at his school.
“We went and met with his mother, the principal of the school and the music program teacher, and what we found was that this long-established middle school had a music room, but their instruments were basically decimated,” says Elville. “They had many students who wanted to get into music, but had no way of renting an instrument.”
But the school did have teachers willing to teach music. So, with the help of WBJC, the center began gathering donated new and used instruments—cellos, violins, flutes, clarinets—which Elville says can cost anywhere from $150 to $500 to refurbish. Last fall, the school started an orchestral program.
The charity gets a lot of calls from teachers, too. Elville remembers one such call from Jeannine Thomas, music director at New Era Academy in Baltimore. “We went to this school in the Cherry Hill district,” he says. “If you’re a sensitive person, you would just get tears in your eyes if you saw this stuff. They had a broken-down piano that didn’t work; they had an old, beat-up music system; they had no instruments except one bass guitar that was broken.”
Elville Center donated a refurbished piano, a new bass guitar and a new sound system. It has also worked closely with The Children’s Home in Catonsville, and popular local jazz musician Max VanDerBeek and his music program at Wiley H. Bates Middle School in Annapolis.
Elville’s pleasure is two-fold; he enjoys watching the pride people have in donating instruments, but he’s even more enthusiastic watching children play them.
He’s also tried to rededicate himself to his instruments. “I feel like I can’t be telling the children to do it if I’m not doing it myself,” he says. “I’m not very good, but I still play the piano and violin.”
Coleman, the student who helped bring a music program to Benjamin Tasker middle school, is now enrolled at Central High School in Capitol Heights. Shortly after starting there, he reached out to the Elville Center once again. They in turn provided the school with refurbished pianos and other instruments.
The nonprofit has also partnered with the Columbia Orchestra on an annual event that not only exposes children to the music but the instruments themselves—“it’s hands-on, so they get to touch them and be up close and personal,” Elville says.
With the need near their office in Howard County feeling close to fulfilled, Elville is now looking to become more involved within the city of Baltimore, “where the big needs are,” he says.
“We’re a small charity—we’re just getting started,” he adds. “We’re seeking out the leaders in the community and businesses to do more because we now understand just how much is needed.”
A Music Note
“Mr. Elville and the Center has brought a whole new level of music to my life. Now that we have the instruments to learn, my peers and I are able to not just enjoy other people’s music, but our own. Students have spoken to me about how over the last couple of years, they were not able to play the instruments themselves, but rather only practice on paper. At school, for example, they used to print out a picture of a piano keyboard and my friends would only be able to ‘play’ on the paper, they never were able to hear the notes. Now they get to enjoy the sound of the music they make.”
– Daniel Coleman