A newsletter for the music education community of Western PA
by Robert Johnstonbaugh
As the pandemic cloud is lifting and anticipation for returning to normal grows, Johnstonbaugh’s would like to recognize music educators throughout Western PA who have, through determination, creativity, and innovation, kept students engaged and music education alive in addition to the families who have persisted by keeping their students involved.
For example, Boyce Middle School (USC) band director Craig Madge spoke of two virtual students, a brother and sister, who are actually thriving and making great progress.
Mr. Madge explained, “while the majority of students do miss the 'traditional' band rehearsals, working towards concerts, etc. Kaitlyn & Colin, have both embraced the new approach! Each week they're tearing eagerly into new solos. Kaitlyn is now smoothly across the clarinet break. Whether it's Bb to C, or B natural to C, or arpeggios, 3rds, etc., she can connect the 2 registers quite fluidly! Colin has extended his trombone range to C and D above the staff. He's greatly extended his chromatic vocabulary, including 7th position low B natural! They both tackle material now that we wouldn't have dreamed of six months ago. Their musical growth has been dramatic!”
Kaitlyn and Colin were introduced to instrumental music at school in USC. After the pandemic closed schools, their parents decided to keep their kids virtual for obvious safety concerns but also for consistency. While they are doing well in all of their courses, the kids are especially enjoying music. Initially their parents established practice routines, but as time went on, the kids were enjoying it so much they were practicing on their own.
Mr. Madge offered a great deal of supplemental materials all year: etudes, scale sheets, and solo literature from various methods. He also edited music from movies and musicals to be accessible for this age group, and created piano accompaniments for many of them to make them a little more "ensemble-like". He recorded the accompaniments and emailed them to the students' school email accounts. They use these on their school-issued Chromebooks as a learning tool and ultimately, to perform with.
Ms. Burns says the materials provided by Mr. Madge are very engaging and the kids particularly enjoy emailing recordings of their performances to their grandparents and sometimes include duets, as they did at the holidays.
As a non-musician herself, she expressed amazement watching her kids pull together all the skills required to make music and recognizes the inherent value. She concluded by expressing a wholehearted belief that school music should be supported.
While the pandemic has been costly on so many levels, music educators, students, and families have risen to the challenge. Looking forward with confidence, the future for school music education is bright and it may be enhanced in some ways by the experience.
Eclectic Styles Competition from Eastman Strings
Submit a video and short essay exploring your own creative musical voice for a chance to win an Eastman Electro Acoustic violin, viola, or cello! Create your own composition, improvisation, or arrangement and record yourself playing it. Spice it up with loops and collaborate with friends to make something new with your instrument.
The Eclectic Styles Competition is open to middle and high school students 18 years old or younger who will compete through a single round of video and essay submissions. Entries can be submitted anytime between March 3 - May 15, 2021.
A panel of Eastman Artist Judges will close judging in late May and the winner will be announced on social media and email. One winner will be selected and will receive his or her choice of an Eastman Electro Acoustic violin, viola, or cello.
Reminder: Opportunity for Cello Players
A generous individual donated their gently used 4/4 Deutsch cello outfit and asked that it be put to good use. With that goal in mind, Johnstonbaugh’s has partnered with the Farina Foundation to grant this cello to a motivated and deserving cello student who is serious about the arts and in need of a good instrument. If you are such a cello player and would like to apply, please complete the application and provide a letter of recommendation by April 16th, 2021. The winner will be contacted by April 30th, 2021.
Fill out the application here. A letter of recommendation from a non-family member must also be submitted by the deadline.
Employee Spotlight: Alex Ayers
Alex is the Lesson Coordinator and Sales Specialist at our Golden Mile store, and has been working at Johnstonbaugh's for two years. He's also an accomplished pianist and very active musician!
How did you get interested in music?
I started playing piano when I was five years old. My school offered an enrichment piano course, starting in kindergarten, for anyone who had an interest! When I left that school, I wanted to continue lessons, so I took piano with a private instructor who lived across the street. It wasn’t until middle school that I really started to enjoy practicing. I auditioned for my school’s jazz band in seventh grade and took a definite interest in improvisation. That was when things really started to become enjoyable and I took a keen interest in not only playing, but listening to music as well!
What instruments do you play?
My main instrument is piano but I also play trumpet, ukulele, and sing. I majored in piano/jazz studies at Duquesne University and did my graduate work at Youngstown State University. I started the trumpet in 6th grade and took some courses in college. I played it in marching band and, briefly, took private lessons. The ukulele is more of an informal instrument for me. I love to mess around with chords and learn things by ear. My main secondary would be singing. I was always in choir growing up and did a few musicals. I direct the choir at First Christian Church in Greensburg, where I also serve as pianist/organist.
Tell us about a musical project you particularly enjoyed.
This past year has been very difficult to create any new musical projects. I was, however, able to do a little bit of virtual work this year! I had taken some courses on sound engineering in college, but had never actually used any of this knowledge until last year. A friend of mine, who is a composer, had an idea of recording a virtual big band. He wrote the music for a standard 17-piece jazz ensemble and we had to record each part separately. He started with creating the midi soundtrack of brass and woodwind parts. A “click-track” was then added to the midi recording. He then sent out that sound file to the rhythm section members. We recorded our parts while listening to the recording he had sent us. It took a few takes, but we were able to record the rhythm section parts and get those sent out to the brass and woodwinds. The lead players in each section (trumpet, trombone, and saxophone) recorded their parts and the rest of the section members followed suit. It took a little bit of editing in the end, but it turned out great! It was a unique experience and I learned a lot about recording and editing. (Check out the recording here!)
What do you like about working at a music store?
There really isn’t much I don’t enjoy about working at a music store! I like selling instruments to advancing students and helping them find which one is the best fit. Working with our private instructors is an awesome part of the job too! They are all very passionate about teaching and I love helping them with whatever they might need. Whenever a teacher wants to hold a recital, clinic or rehearsal, I am always excited to help with logistics. I love to see the students excel and have opportunities to perform when, otherwise, they wouldn’t.
What advice do you have for young people interested in music?
Don’t give up! I see so many students who are discouraged when things don’t come quickly. It is hard work to play an instrument but it is so rewarding! Just keep practicing. Even if you just practice for fifteen minutes a day. Take a quick break from your tablet or homework and sit down and play! That little bit of practicing will definitely help you become a better musician!
Johnstown Symphony Concert
If you are looking for a video to introduce students to the instruments of the orchestra, you may want to check out this one from the Johnstown Symphony. The recording was made on March 30th, 2021 at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex on the IUP campus. The concert was a side-by-side performance with members of the Johnstown Symphony Orchestra and the Johnstown Youth Symphony.
Music was performed from Harry Potter, Star Wars, Beethoven Symphony #5, and Frozen. Individual instrument demonstrations for all of the instruments were also performed. The recording is available on the Johnstown Symphony YouTube page through Friday, April 30th.
Tell us what you think.
Issued April 6, 2021