A Life in Music: Virginia Stene

By Ann Sadler
Thursday, June 28, 2018

Photo by Ann Sadler

Carbon County Home Educators Choir performs at Tippet Rise.

Photo by Laura Stene

One of Virginia Stene’s students performs at Tippet Rise.

Virginia Stene

How does one go from teaching private music lessons in your husband’s old woodwork shop to having your student’s perform their spring recitals at Tippet Rise Art Center? You need go no further than local music instructor Virginia Stene, as she has recently accomplished just that.

Stene began formally teaching music in 1975 in Fowlerville, Michigan. Her love of music was sparked long before that at the age of 16 thanks in part to her local band booster bingo. This local booster club used their fundraising monies to provide a semester of free private music lessons taught by Michigan State University music teachers. They also continued to subsidize additional music instruction for eager, talented students. Stene was one of those students continuing on to Michigan State herself pursuing and completing a master’s degree in music education and then becoming a music teacher herself.

Almost ten years later she was recruited by Joliet School to teach band to all ages and then in 1986 started her own private music studio. She moved her private studio to Michigan where she gave lessons from 1988 – 1992. In 1992 Stene and her husband moved back to Joliet and she again provided private lessons to mostly Carbon County Home School students in her Joliet Studio. Beth Hull was her first student and since then she has lessoned hundreds of students from Carbon and Stillwater County ranging in ages seven to 70.

During those 26 years of giving private lessons in Carbon County, Stene has organized many music recitals at various churches and community centers always finding sufficient pianos and acoustically acceptable space. In 2007, She even arranged her student’s recitals to be held at the Itso ranch after being turned down by the Joliet Community Center due to scheduling conflicts. The Itso family graciously purchased and donated an older, Hamilton upright piano for these recitals. The Itso ranch is now passed on to new owners and Stene has donated the Hamilton to none other than the Joliet Community Center where it still resides.

Stene has come a long way since those recitals at local churches and ranches. Her two most recent recitals this May were held at Tippet Rise Art Center near Absarokee. This is no small feat considering Tippet Rise Art Center hosts recognized, classical chamber music and recitals and exhibits largescale outdoor sculptures on a 10,000 working sheep and cattle ranch. All this on the edge of 5 million acres of national wilderness. It is no surprise when Tippet Rise venue designer and acoustician, Alban Bassuet, contacted her and asked if she would consider Tippet Rise as a location for her 2016 summer recitals, she thought she was dreaming.

Tippet rise isn’t fancy and you won’t arrive on an airstrip; located an hour and a half drive from Billings and two hour drive from Bozeman. Just arriving at Tippet rise might compel you to cry with joy and once the music starts, the experience is almost unexplainable. Tippet rise is beautifully remote, abounding in natural soundscape almost completely free of human sounds except when the composers begin. Stene’s music students perform in the spring before the summer classical music performances begin. They perform in the Oliver Barn music hall that is a work of art itself. At first glance the hall appears to be a barn but creators and designers left no note unheard - accounting for the frame, ceilings, size of the hall to the seating with acoustics that are perfect. Behind the performers is a huge, west facing picture window that showcases the grassy rolling hills, mountain peaks and never ending Montana big sky.

Stene feels the opportunity of her students to perform at Tippet Rise catapults them forward musically. “It’s amazing and they know it,” she states. “We practice bowing and their confidence and seriousness about performing increases. They are not messing around at Tippet Rise.”

Another impressive leap for Stene and her students is the difference between the donated upright pianos of her community venues to the Steinway grand pianos of Tippet Rise. Steinways are crafted by hand and it takes 11 months and hours of finetuned labor of skilled cabinetmakers, craftspeople and tuners to produce just one. Tippet Rise is home to not one, but a dozen of them. Another small town music teachers dream come true. “My students have the opportunity to practice and perform on a Steinway that was built in the 1850s and has been tuned by a professional acoustician flown in specifically for this piano. This piano even has a name – Serafina Steinway. You cannot beat that.”

The Carbon County Home Educators Spring Recital Program on May 7 at Tippet Rise was nothing short of magical for the teacher, students and audience. With Stene orchestrating over 40 music students performing to 80 plus audience members, the Oliver Barn of Tippet Rise was abounding with energy and anticipation as family and friends watched students perform speeches, choir, piano, violin, and full band ensembles.

Also performing were mystery guest Vytas Vytasbaksy, keyboardist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra along with Stene presenting a duet of “What Child is this?” Stene met Vytasbaksy through her Michigan State University roommate who was also a music major.

The Carbon County Home Educators Choir performed “The Auctioneer” assisted by local music artist Andy Wilson of the band Cimarron.

The students taking part were Campbell: Mercy, Faith, Hattie: Chaney: Julia, Elliot, Weston. Logan, Will, Nathaniel, Mason, Miles; Hernandez: Jenevieve, Juliette, Jackson, Jameson; Klaaseen: Brandon, Wesley, Tyrell, Delaney, Cody; Lundvall: Natalie, Benjamin, Jonathan; Morgan: Jon; Pelham: James; Roorda: Talia, Tassin Tedeschi, Riley Tedeschi; Steif: Keydon; Stene: Conagher, Lucy; Tillman: Ethan, Owen, Spencer, Gracelyn, Michael, Annabelle; Wilson: Caitlynn, Mikeal, Jakeob.

Guests included Elaina Wynthein, Gretchen Wynthein, Josie Elley, and Eva Elley and the speech teacher was Bob Reid.

Virginia’s Music Studio is located in Joliet and she continues to teach new and existing students from her husband’s old woodwork shop. Stene is a certified Suzuki music teacher. She can be reached at (406) 696-5245 or at Virginia’s Music Studio @facebook.com.

Upcoming Events

  • Thursday, July 19, 2018 - 7:00pm
    Meets every Thursday, 7 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the Red Lodge Area Community Foundation, 122 S. Hauser. It is open to all. 425- 1755.
  • Thursday, July 19, 2018 - 7:00pm
    Clarks Fork Group meets at St. Joseph’s Catholic Hall, north end of Montana Avenue, Thursday at 7 p.m.
  • Saturday, July 21, 2018 - 10:00am
    An Overeaters Anonymous group will meet every Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Grace Fellowship Church, Absarokee.
  • Monday, July 23, 2018 - 7:00pm
    Joliet Group meets at the Community Center Monday at 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, July 26, 2018 - 7:00pm
    Meets every Thursday, 7 p.m. – 8 p.m. at the Red Lodge Area Community Foundation, 122 S. Hauser. It is open to all. 425- 1755.
  • Thursday, July 26, 2018 - 7:00pm
    Clarks Fork Group meets at St. Joseph’s Catholic Hall, north end of Montana Avenue, Thursday at 7 p.m.

The Carbon County News

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