About Us

Founded in 1999, A Gift For Music is A Gift For Teaching’s flagship arts education program designed to provide students with musical enrichment, practice, and performance. As a nationally recognized, award-winning program, A Gift For Music was founded on the idea that all students, regardless of their socioeconomic status, should have access to the life-changing benefits of a quality music education. Since its inception, A Gift For Music has worked with more than 9,000 students throughout Central Florida, teaching them how to play string instruments and transforming them into dedicated, lifelong musicians.

Who We Are

Our Mission is to empower Orlando’s under-resourced youth to envision a positive future for themselves and discover their own creativity through music and music education.

Our program actively ensures that each of our students develops persistence, discipline, teamwork, and creative problem-solving skills by utilizing each of the following musical avenues – all 100% tuition free:

  • After-school Violin Music Instruction at five Orange County public elementary schools
  • Five distinct skill levels of our Saturday Strings Orchestra
  • Tuition-Free Private Lessons
  • Summer Camp
  • Community Performances
  • Exposure to Higher Education

Since 2012, 100% of students who have gone through the A Gift For Music program from the 3rd grade through the 12th grade have graduated high school and gone on to attend college.

Staff

Vanessa Kestner, Director

Colombian-American violinist Vanessa Kestner leads an accomplished life and career as an arts administrator, educator, and performer. Director of the A Gift For Music program in Orlando, FL, Vanessa is dedicated to increasing the accessibility of music education to under-resourced students. During her time with A Gift For Music, an El Sistema inspired program, Vanessa has been fortunate enough to work with hundreds of students annually to bring about social change through the power of music.

A passionate educator, Vanessa taught as a violin instructor with the Sphinx Organization. In 2020, she was selected as one of nine arts leaders of color to join the SphinxLEAD cohort. Leaders in Excellence, Arts & Diversity (LEAD) is an empowerment program designed to evolve the landscape of arts leadership. Through LEAD, Vanessa has participated in leadership retreats at top institutions nationwide, including the Juilliard School, New World Symphony, Interlochen, Minnesota Orchestra, and the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. Dedicated to transforming the arts industry to become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive, Vanessa has completed Jennifer Brown’s DEI Practitioner’s Program and is an alumna of Cornell University’s Diversity and Inclusion Certificate Program.

Vanessa holds a Bachelor of Music Education and a Master of Arts in Arts Administration from Eastern Michigan University.

For financial or in-kind donations, corporate sponsorship and partnerships, booking small performance ensembles, and other related inquiries; please contact Vanessa.

Chad McClellan, Program Manager

Chad McClellan is a graduate of Rollins College where he studied vocal performance and conducting. He currently serves as Program Manager of A Gift For Music, Chancel Choir director at Merritt Island Presbyterian Church, and Choir Director for the Legacy Chorale. He is also in his second term as the Chair of the board of directors for the Orlando Choral Society.

In 2008, Chad formed Sounds Like Chicken A-Cappella, an all-male vocal group that performs throughout the Central Florida area. In 2011, he was the founding president of the Sigma Eta chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, the nation’s largest music fraternity. Chad is also a member of the American Choral Directors Association, Florida Vocal Association, Florida Music Educators Association, Barbershop Harmony Society, and is a proud Big Brother in Big Brother Big Sisters of America.

For enrollment in after-school and Saturday Strings Orchestra programs, and other related inquiries, please contact Chad.

A Gift For Music Advisory Council

Amy Cullen, Director of Education and Community, Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra 

Scott Evans, Senior Administrator – Visual & Performing Arts, Orange County Public Schools 

Lillian Garcia, Retired, Tupperware Brands Corporation 

Chris Greening, Director of Visual and Performing Arts, Lake Highland Preparatory School 

Jim Hair, Partner & Orlando Office President, Little Diversified Architectural Consulting

Dr. Keith Koons,
Associate Chair, Department of Music, University of Central Florida 

Jeff Moore, Dean, College of Arts and Humanities, University of Central Florida 

Daniel Muni, Owner, Muni Strings 

Dr. Mary Palmer, Music Education Professor Emerita, University of Central Florida 

Dr. Jeffery Redding, Director of Choral Activities, University of Central Florida 

Jane Thompson, President, A Gift For Teaching