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2014 Jefferson Awards: Elaine Fine

2014 Jefferson Award recipient Elaine Fine pictured April 16, 2014 at Jackson Avenue Coffee in Charleston. (Ken Trevarthan, Journal Gazette & Times-Courier).

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is one of six stories on this year's local Jefferson Awards winners. The banquet to honor the winners will be May 1. The awards recognize volunteer service or promotion of a cause or idea that betters a community without financial benefit to the recipient.

CHARLESTON -- When musician Elaine Fine and her husband were considering relocating from metropolitan Boston to small-town Charleston in the mid-1980s, they were pleasantly surprised to find a vibrant artistic community here.

"It was one of the things that attracted me to this town. It was a very musical, welcoming place," Fine said. "There were always people to play music with here"

She and her husband, Eastern Illinois University English professor Michael Leddy, have lived in Charleston ever since then. Fine, a string and wind musician, has built a career in musical performance and instruction locally. She also has volunteered her time and talent to help expand opportunities for other local artists.

Her community service has included performing at benefit concerts, serving as president of the Coles County Arts Council for two years and helping this group get nonprofit status, and founding the Summer Strings orchestra program.

"During the decades she has lived in this community, she has selflessly shared her talents and interests and has consistently worked to ensure that a rich musical life could be accessible to people of all ages," wrote Marjorie Hanft in her Jefferson Award nomination for Fine. "Elaine has volunteered nonstop to create programs in the arts to benefit the people of Charleston and the surrounding area."

While serving as classical music director for WEIU-FM from 1987 to 2000, Fine also worked as a musician and private music teacher. Fine said she decided in the mid-1990s to switch from playing the flute professionally to the viola and violin. Fine explained that there are more positions available for these string instruments in orchestras and that 19th-century classical music is rich in parts for strings.

Fine said changing instruments in adulthood at a professional level is challenging, so she sought the help of then-EIU cello professor Donald Tracy. She said Tracy loaned her his violin and sheet music, and invited her to perform with the Eastern Symphony Orchestra. She also was taught by local violinists Terry Coulton and Tom LeVeck.

"It was extremely challenging. I could not have done it if I had not lived in a place like this," Fine said. She also has performed with the Champaign-Urbana Symphony.

Fine said she learned a lot while performing with the LeVeck String Quartet from 1994 to 2004. Fine said she started arranging music for the quartet's performances to help pay them back for letting her play and to exercise her arranging skills.

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In addition, Fine started composing music. Fine said she has found that her experience on both wind and string instruments has helped her physically understand the instruments that she is writing for in her music.

Fine said she has made her music available in the public domain to help other musicians and uses her music for the Summer Strings program that she founded in 2004 in Charleston. Fine said string players do not have positions in school bands, so the program helps fill this void by providing them with an opportunity to perform together.

"Directed and led completely by volunteer teacher coordinators, this program has grown each summer to more than 50 participants from surrounding communities," Coulton wrote in her nomination. "It gives string players of all ages and abilities an opportunity to experience orchestra playing in a relaxed, enjoyable environment."

Some of her other community music projects have included performing free chamber music concerts with pianist John David Moore, performing free concerts of music from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance with the EIU Collegium Musicum Consort and serving as co-music director for the Mattoon Jewish Community Center.

Fine said much of her community service has just resulted from her playing and writing the music that she loves, and sharing this passion for the arts with her community.

"It is an incredible honor to be recognized for what I do, to know the community at large values the musical contributions I have made," Fine said of the Jefferson Award.

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Contact Stroud at rstroud@jg-tc.com or 217-238-6861.

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Rob Stroud is a reporter for the JG-TC, covering the city of Mattoon, Lake Land College, Cumberland County and areas including Oakland, Casey and Martinsville.

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