Emma Van Allen (’14 B.M.E) participated in the fall 2018 Partners in Music program – this time as a State College Area School District 5th grade elementary orchestra teacher. Her first involvement with the program was as a senior music education major. “It has been wonderful to see Partners in Music from both perspectives: as a student and as a teacher,” said Emma. As a teacher, she has seen how this opportunity benefits her 5th grade students as they are exposed to new repertoire, experience different conducting styles, build upon their own individual technique, and work as a team to perform as a balanced ensemble. “A sense of community and camaraderie emerges,” she said, “as fifth graders meet and perform with other students from different elementary schools throughout the district.”
Partners in Music was created 12 years ago by music education faculty members Linda Thornton and Robert Gardner to provide the opportunity for young instrumentalists and prospective music teachers to make music together. Over six Wednesdays in the fall semester, fifth-grade students from State College Area School District, Our Lady of Victory School, and Young Scholars of Central Pennsylvania Charter School rehearse on Penn State’s campus, conducted by senior music education majors. The rehearsals culminate in a concert near the end of fall semester. Begun as a pilot program in 2006, the partnership has grown to include both a band and a string orchestra, consisting of as many as 150 young instrumentalists each year. For music education students, the program offers beneficial hands-on experiences working with young musicians, and that is the best preparation for their culminating student teaching semester.
The 2018 concert also included a piece written by another alumna of the Partners program – Ashley Garner, now a sixth grade student in Mount Nittany Middle School. This 11-year old musician wrote "Stellar Waves" as a piano solo, and her proud father (Robert Gardner) offered to help her translate it into an orchestral piece. It became a favorite of the 5th graders, according to Mary Krohn-Smith, an elementary instrumental music teacher who is involved with the program.
The Partners in Music program has received two outreach awards: Penn State’s 2015 “Community Engagement and Scholarship Award” and the 2013 “Robby D. Gunstream Education in Music Award” from the College Music Society.
Emma has found the program to be an amazing collaborative experience between the State College teachers and the Penn State Music Education faculty. “It truly takes a village for this event to be executed successfully,” she wrote, “and I sincerely value all of the hard work that my music colleagues, the student teachers, and the participating students and parents put in to make Partners in Music a success.” The School of Music also appreciates this wonderful community partnership – a win-win for all.