Fifth-grade flutist Emily Stoller has her sights set on conducting music when she’s older.
She was inspired by 11 Penn State seniors that instructed her and 184 other fifth-graders from State College Area School District and Our Lady of Victory over the past six weeks.
“I think I could do it, too,” Stoller said.
Their efforts culminated in the 8th annual Partners in Music concert with an orchestra and two bands at State High North Building’s auditorium Wednesday in front of about 500 people.
The Partners in Music program was formed by State College elementary music teacher Roy Schaeffer and Penn State professors Linda Thornton and Robert Gardner in 2007. The program has used 77 Penn State seniors to instruct 1,240 fifth-grade students.
“It’s not just a win-win, it’s a win-win-win,” Schaeffer said. “The immediate benefit is to our fifth-graders where our students used to not have a band or orchestra experience in the fall, and now they have an authentic concert to work toward rather than studying and a test.”
The program also benefits Penn State students at no cost to the community.
“Second, the standard across the nation in conducting classes has always been for college students to swap instruments to play something different, but that’s highly inauthentic,” Schaeffer said. “This benefits them, because anybody with decent music experience can conduct a church choir or a community band if the musicians know what they’re doing, but conducting beginners is a whole different thing, and this gives them that experience. Third, the program has cost $0 to take place for the taxpayers.”
Hope Bonsell, a violinist, said her conductors taught her the most difficult songs she’s learned, but flutist Layla Thornton noted it’s probably hard for the conductors to learn, too.
“Well, it’s interesting knowing they’re learning from us, too,” Thornton said. “It’s probably hard for them, because they’ve played a lot longer and know a lot more than us, but now they have to learn how to teach it.”
Penn State seniors, who teach the young musicians as a prerequisite for student teaching next semester, learned that getting to know their students is as important as teaching the music.
“It’s really important to take time to get to know each student,” senior Allison Long said. “They really respect you a lot more if you remember their names, what they play, how they’re doing, and they’ll think it’s the coolest thing ever if you just know who they are.”
Stoller said they learned new fundamentals with each song they played.
“One of the songs we learned is program music, and for that one we had to learn different tempos and speeds which was a little difficult,” she said.
The song, called “The Tempest,” is program music that depicts a story.
“It’s based off Shakespeare’s play, a story of a storm coming in, and it starts off with wind and rain, and then when all of the instruments come in it’s like a big storm hits,” senior Casey Hounsell said. “As time goes, the music alternates between this big storm and rain and wind, and at the end everything is being played together. It’s not easy.”
The students nailed it.
“You could see them build confidence each week in what they were doing to learn it, and they did it awesome tonight,” Hounsell said. “I’m really proud of what they accomplished, and they should be really proud of their performance, too.”