This story was featured in the Summer 2023 issue of the LFA Review.
In early October 2022, a trailer pulled up behind the Cressey Center for the Arts, packed full of 135 different instruments, dozens of instructional booklets, crates of CDs and DVDs, and storage shelving units, all thanks to a generous donation from Luis “Bo” Iravedra ’79.
“My very first experience when I first came to visit Lake Forest Academy in 1973 was watching a student play the harp in the library. It really set the tone for the four years I was there, and so, I’ve always equated LFA with the fine arts,” Iravedra said. “I always wanted to give [the collection] to LFA. That was always the plan.”
After suffering health complications that altered his lifestyle and career, Iravedra began rehabilitation through music therapy. In that process, he discovered and met Pete Wernick, a prominent bluegrass musician, who introduced him to folk music and all things Americana. As a result of his health conditions, Iravedra was unable to play music, but this new musical love and appreciation started him on a path of collecting instruments.
Iravedra’s collection includes some traditional orchestral instruments, but it more heavily focuses on instruments commonly used in folk and Americana-style music, such as mandolins, banjos, ukuleles, harps, dulcimers, and guitars.
“I wanted to try and cover every aspect of an American traditional string band, recreating an old-time string band from Appalachia with bluegrass at its roots. I wanted to create something that would be relevant for a school of folk art and have that as a part of the repertoire of LFA,” Iravedra said.
Many of the instruments in the collection are one-of-a-kind and so unique that, for the most part, when they arrived and students got their first look, they weren’t even sure how to play most of them.
“[The students] were giddy, they were so excited. They started going through the instruments, opening cases and boxes, and it’s this great moment where nobody’s an expert. Your curiosity is often centered around what you know, and maybe a few things you don’t know. This donation, for us, was so much we don’t know, and there’s so much for us to learn,” said Fine and Performing Arts Department Chair Jason Koenig P’26.
LFA’s student-run rock band, Co-ax, immediately took to the instruments, even incorporating a few of them into their November All-School Meeting performance. According to Koenig, Co-ax won’t be the only group that will benefit from the generosity of Iravedra’s gift though. LFA’s fine and performing arts faculty members are already brainstorming how access to these instruments will impact areas such as course offerings and extracurricular programming.
“I think the instruments will lean towards Co-ax, but I think they can also lead us in a lot of different directions. We want to bring out more workshop-based things, maybe bring out somebody who can develop some sort of program or project outcome with those instruments,” Koenig said. “Artistically, that opens our abilities as teachers and what we can offer to our students and community.”
Koenig also expects that the opportunities that will arise will be important in community engagement and will help to make LFA stand out as an elite performance destination in the area.
“I think we’ve got some really great things happening here, and we’re building our social capital both on campus and in the wider community. This donation is one of those things that can help lead us to piquing the curiosity of the people in our community who might be interested in participation and support,” Koenig said.
As for Iravedra, he’s grateful the instruments that were so special to him have become something special to the next generation of musicians. He also hopes to inspire other LFA community members to seek out ways in which they too can make an impact.
“I’m so glad to see the collection taking on a life of its own and that the students are able to use the instruments,” Iravedra said. “I would also hope that this donation would inspire all of our alumni to give. It doesn’t matter what it is, but I would ask for people to look at this as an opportunity to give back in kind to LFA.”
Koenig echoed the sentiment, saying that he believes the impact of a donation like this will be felt in the community for years to come.
“The students who were like kids in a candy shop when they got these instruments will hopefully look back 20 years from now and go, ‘I want to do that for the kids that are there now,’” Koenig said. “To be able to give that blessing of curiosity, that’s a magical gift.”