Music is the lifeblood of her existence. If Esther Larsen were ever in a position where she couldn't play piano, violin or viola, she says she would play something else.
"I'd pick a different instrument that I could play on and do a lot of singing."
Larsen, 61, of Salt Lake City, started playing the piano at age 6 and has spent her entire life sharing her love of music through teaching. Her first music students were her younger siblings. Today her students number more than 10,000.
"Beside my family, music is my life," Larsen said.
Larsen is a district music specialist for Granite School District. She teaches music at eight elementary schools. Some of them are Title 1 schools, where parents may have a hard time renting instruments.
Larsen believes music is good for students, giving them a creative outlet.
"Music transforms them. They have something to focus on that's worthwhile that can bring them recognition," Larsen said.
Larsen also believes no student should be denied the opportunity to experience an instrument. When students explain to Larsen that their parents can't afford to rent an instrument, it bothers her.
"You can just see the look of sadness and disappointment on their faces," Larsen said.
Larsen wanted to find a way to get these students an instrument. Finally she decided to buy the instruments herself.
Larsen started buying and lending out violins about four years ago. Now she has about 150 violins, which were stacked in her basement for the summer.
Larsen paid for each violin herself. She gets them from a wholesaler for between $50 and $75.
"I haven't turned anybody away that really, really wants to take," Larsen said.
When Larsen started thinking about buying the violins she was also thinking about redoing her kitchen. She wanted new expensive countertops and new cabinets.
But she decided that every time she looked at those new expensive counters she would think of somebody who could have had an instrument. Instead she bought laminate countertops, kept the old cabinets and did the floor herself — and bought violins.
Sometimes a violin or two doesn't make it back to Larsen. Once a car was stolen with a violin inside, and one mother even pawned the loaned violin, but for the most part, the violins always come back so other students can use them.
"Most of them are very honest," Larsen said.
Larsen is known for her generosity. Her former students speak about her patience and caring. She taught Angela Christensen Snedaker for five years.
"I love Esther Larsen," Snedaker said. "She's the most charitable person I've ever met in my life."
Snedaker began playing violin when she was 10. When she was 12 she couldn't afford lessons. So Larsen taught her privately for five years — all for free. Larsen also paid for voice lessons.
"She just gave me so many tools. I've always wanted to be like her," Snedaker said.
Larsen said she has only given free lessons to 10 or 20 students over the course of her career.
"I'm just doing it because the kids need it, because they wouldn't have a chance to play," Larsen said.
As Larsen has spent her life giving and playing, she has had the support of her family.
"My husband is wonderful," Larsen said.
Larsen has three daughters, all of whom have perfect pitch — even her adopted daughter. When Larsen spent so much time teaching and giving, they never got jealous.
"Not one of them ever had a jealous bone in their bodies," Snedaker said.
The family doesn't expect to ever see Larsen stop teaching.
"She's pretty dedicated to teaching music," said Larsen's son-in-law, Brody Hart. "I think she does it because she loves it. She's 61 right now, and I can see her just keep doing it."