UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When Emma Van Allen, a Penn State alumna who earned a bachelor of music education degree in 2014, participated in the fall 2018 Partners in Music program, so did so this time as a State College Area School District fifth grade elementary orchestra teacher.
School of Music alumna returns to award-winning program in a new role
Partners in Music was created in 2006 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. Since its inception, the program has received Penn State’s 2015 Community Engagement and Scholarship Award and the 2013 Robby D. Gunstream Education in Music Award from the College Music Society.
Van Allen’s first involvement 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,” Van Allen said.
As a teacher, she has seen how this opportunity benefits her fifth-grade students as they are exposed to new repertoire, experience different conducting styles, build upon their individual technique, and work as a team to perform as a balanced ensemble.
“A sense of community and camaraderie emerges as fifth-graders meet and perform with other students from different elementary schools throughout the district,” Van Allen said.
Six Wednesdays during each 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 the semester.
Since the program began, the partnership has grown to include a band and a string orchestra consisting of as many as 150 young instrumentalists. For music education students, the program offers beneficial hands-on experiences working with young musicians, which prepares them for their student-teaching semester.
The 2018 concert included a piece written by another alumna of the Partners in Music program — Ashley Garner, now a sixth-grade student at Mount Nittany Middle School. The 11-year-old musician wrote "Stellar Waves" as a piano solo, which her proud father, Robert Gardner, helped her translate into an orchestral piece. It became a favorite of the fifth-graders, according to Mary Krohn-Smith, an elementary instrumental music teacher who is involved with the program.
“It truly takes a village for this event to be executed successfully,” Van Allen said. “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.”