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Young Musicians Benefit From Father Alphone's Foundation

May 8, 2013

May 25 Concert at Algonquin Arts Theatre Celebrates 25 Years of The Cecelia Foundation Awarding Musical Instruments

Father Alphonse Stephenson Piano

HI RES IMAGE: Caption: Father Alphonse Stephenson at the piano (Credit: Father Alphonse Stephenson)

MANASQUAN, N.J. (Friday, May 3) - Young New Jersey musicians will benefit from the special All-Star Benefit Concert, "Father Alphonse, Friends & A Giant Piano" - at the Algonquin Arts Theatre, Manasquan, at 8 p.m. on Saturday, May 25.

Funds raised via ticket sales will allow the Cecelia Foundation, the non-profit founded by Father Alphonse Stephenson 25 years ago, to continue to award professional instruments to deserving musicians.

Tickets for the special evening now are available by calling (732) 528-9211, online at and by visiting the Algonquin Arts Box Office at 173 Main Street, Manasquan. Tickets are $40 or $48 with discounts for seniors, students and groups of 10 or more. $2 per ticket processing fee applies.

Funded primarily through individual contributions, the Paul F. Zito M.D. Foundation and the sale of Christmas music recordings by the Orchestra of St. Peter by the Sea, the stellar professional ensemble also founded by Father Alphonse, the Cecelia Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to "fostering the future of good music." The criteria for awarding a student with a new instrument requires a recommendation from his or her private teacher and a respectable academic record, as well as financial need.

The new instruments are always awarded during a concert, where recipients are invited to the performance by their teacher, unaware they will be presented with the gift. Father Alphonse reports that, since 1987, the gifted strings, horns, drums and reeds have served as "instruments of change" for the students from public and private Garden State middle and high schools.

Music To The Ears of Young Musicians
"When Father Alphonse called my name, I was in shock," Chris DeCesare recalls about receiving his violin during the Orchestra's 2010 Christmas Concert at Monmouth University. "I couldn't believe I was getting an instrument for free, especially since I needed a better instrument so badly."

A former student of Sue Deksnis, DeCesare is now majoring in music education at Montclair State University. As a freshman, he was honored by becoming a student of Yi-Wen Jian, a violinist in the prestigious Shanghai Quartet. Currently a sophomore, Chris is considering the study of music performance at the graduate level.

Another award-winner, Sarah Marino, reported to the Foundation, "After I received the violin, my confidence in playing skyrocketed. I realized that you believed enough in me to reach my full potential, allowing me to project and make my pieces truly sing."

Marino now is majoring in music business and digital communications at Lebanon Valley College, where she performed her junior year recital this past semester.

"I've been fortunate enough to have two of my double bass students receive instruments from the Cecelia Foundation," states music educator and orchestra member Kevin Brown. "The first, Bryan Penczuk, was so overcome with emotion that those of us in the orchestra that night will remember him in tears after the show."

Penczuk and that bass went on to play in the all-region and all-state orchestras.

Brown's second award winner was Gregory Warren, now a music education major at Montclair State University, where Brown is on faculty.

"When he was in high school in Toms River, he played his Cecelia Foundation bass in the all-region and all-state orchestras, all-shore jazz band, and in various professional engagements," Brown said. "And that bass got him into college where he is studying to make a career out of music."

Trombonist David Stansbury may be one of the most accomplished success stories. A student of trombone since he was 11, his future was limited by his family's inability to afford him a professional caliber instrument, even though he had been accepted at the Juilliard Pre-College. He was most appreciative when the Cecelia Foundation gave him a Bach 42B, and after graduation from high school and pre-college, he went on to study at some of the world's best musical centers, including the New England Conservatory of Music, Berklee College of Music, Manhattan School of Music and Harlem School of The Arts. An extremely imaginative arranger, Stansbury is a recipient of The ASCAP Young Composers Award, is a BMI Young Composer To Watch and has proven himself, a vastly diverse composer and performer adept in all styles of music, including classic symphonies, R&B and hip hop.

When he was a high school senior, Juan Mendoza was awarded an Eames 15-ply Master Model Snare Drum made by Joe MacSweeney. Even before graduation from Jersey City State, Mendoza was hired as band director for Perth Amboy High School. He has won multiple national competitions for snare drumming and drum set performance. Most recently, he won first place in the Guitar Center Drum Off National competition, besting more than 1,000 contestants. He will complete his master's degree this spring.

Both Ryan Christie and Meghan McGovern received their new professional violas when they were students at Toms River High School North, where they both participated in All-South Jersey middle and high school orchestras. Their shared history continued as both Christie and McGovern went on to perform with Georgian Court University String Orchestra, Garden State the Youth Orchestra and in chamber music groups in Ocean County

The Cecelia Foundation & Deserving Students - Making Beautiful Music Together
"Sports scholarships are popular and readily accessible for the athlete, but what about the young musician?" said Father Alphonse from his home in Washington, D.C.

The Cecelia Foundation is designed to encourage the serious study and training of the future classical musician.

"The instruments available to aspiring musicians through school systems often discourage the student from practicing," said Father Alphonse, referring to the often "dismal condition" of school owned instruments. "As the student begins to gain a certain degree of proficiency, an instrument capable of responding to the evolving talent serves as an encouragement to the growing musician.

"Financial cutbacks are the order of the day. School arts programs are often among the first to be cut, and families are prioritizing their spending during these tough times. When you find a student who's anxious to learn, you just can't sit back and do nothing."

Father Alphonse's unique multi-faceted calling as a Roman Catholic priest has included being conductor of the Broadway production of "A Chorus Line" for thousands of performances and leading the Orchestra he founded to performance at Carnegie Hall. Father Alphonse also serves as an Air Force Chaplain of the Air National Guard and Brigadier General. He currently serves at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., as the Director of the National Guard Joint Chaplaincy.