LINCOLN PARK — Deep in the dark basement of Lincoln Park High School, tucked back in the engineer room, you'll find a music lover's dream: rows upon rows of CDs and bookshelves filled with LPs and music books.
The school at 2001 N. Orchard St. recently scored one of the country's largest private classical music libraries, which includes more than 18,000 CDs, 5,000 LPs and several hundred music books and directories — some dating back 75 years.
It was a generous donation from the NIB Foundation, which was created by the founders of the defunct classical music radio station WNIB-FM (97.1), William and Sonia Florian.
Once the library moves to a more permanent location within the school, the more than 1,100 students in the music department will get a chance to engage with the library.
"You can't get much better than having your actual hands on a recording to play along with," said Lise Gilly, the school's performing arts chair for the past 16 years.
"To hear famous musicians interpreting them is invaluable. You don't have to go searching YouTube. The quality, liner notes, pictures ... you don't get that on iTunes."
Students will also be recruited to help organize and digitally archive the library. It will be an especially valuable experience for kids interested in media and technology, Gilly said.
Kelly Faso, the former president of the school's band and orchestra parent group, and her husband, Steven, were the ones who spearheaded the donation. Their son, Drake, is a senior at the school. Drake is off to Berklee College of Music next year.
The Faso family found out about the library through contacts at the Merit School of Music, where Drake practices with a jazz band. The foundation agreed to donate the library to the Lincoln Park school because the Faso family agreed not to break it up.
"There's nothing like this anywhere. To see it possibly go to someone who was going to dismantle it, I thought that would be a shame," Steven Faso said.
For nearly 50 years, WNIB-FM (97.1) was the Chicago station for eclectic classical music from around the world. It was a small-scale operation: The Florians ran the station from their home, and a dog bark could sometimes be heard in the background, according to an old New York Times article.
When the Florians sold the station for $165 million in 2001, all of that music that had been played on the city's airwaves for years was suddenly "just sitting there," Steven Faso said.
In a time when budgets are getting slashed across Chicago Public Schools, Steven Faso said scoring a new music library is a huge win for the school.
"We literally pass around a plate at our concerts to raise money because we don't have enough to pay for things like buses for competitions," he said.
"I've never known it to not be hard in my eight years as a parent here," he added, referring to the lack of money in CPS.
Since 2010, Lincoln Park High School has ranked among the top four music departments in the state, according to the Illinois High School Association. The school offers 14 curricular band and orchestra classes, as well as pep band, orchestral chamber music and jazz combo.
"We hope this becomes a symbol to other people in the community that, Hey, you know what, we can do something, too. Maybe we can donate instruments and music books. We still need all of those things," Steven Faso said.
Gilly said she's "eternally grateful" to community groups like the Wrightwood Neighbors Association and the Old Town Triangle Association for donating to the school's music department.
Right now, the library is only open to students and faculty, but school officials are interested in opening it up to the public in the future.
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