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The musical island where instruments are free to all

A Vashon Island lender puts music-making into the hands of virtually anyone. #king5evening
Credit: KING-TV
Three-year-old Madeline tries out a violin as her mom, Stephanie Johannessen, looks on.

VASHON ISLAND, Wash. — There's music in the air on Vashon Island thanks to the efforts of Allison Shirk and Pete Welch.

The couple runs Vashon Events Music Instrument Library, a service they've operated out of their garage for the past few years.

"As soon as we put out the word that this is what we were doing, tons of people had instruments to donate," Shirk said. "And it just grew and grew and grew."

The library allows any of the island's 10,000 residents to grab a guitar, gong, glockenspiel, or dozens of other instruments, and take it with them free of charge.

Borrower Stephanie Johannessen's three-year-old daughter, Madeline, showed an interest in music at her preschool.

"She was, like, glued in on the ukulele," Johannessen said.

Johannessen is helping her follow the muse wherever it leads. Today she's picking up a tiny violin.

"To see her world expand is just amazing," Johannessen said.

"We have a drum kit right now," Vashon resident Christina George said. "We borrowed an electric cello."

Upkeep, repair, and preservation of the more than 500 instruments and accessories are covered by donations and grants.

"This program means a lot to so many families," Russell Ray said.

He's visiting the outdoor pick-up/drop-off shed to borrow an instrument for his family.

"Gives people a chance to engage with not only an instrument, but in the community also," Ray said.

Anyone can reserve an instrument and take it home for up to three months, as long as that home is on Vashon Island.

Shirk and Welch would like to see more community-based libraries like this one.

"In every single community there should be one," Shirk said.

Local musicians like Christian Sun say there's something special about Vashon Island.

"The muse is everywhere out here," he said. "It's a way of life, a way of building community, sharing time together, a way of celebrating."

There's something special about the power of music and this little room filled with songs still waiting to be sung.

"It's changed our lives," Johannessen agreed.

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