SRU music majors use talents to connect others


Frances Orteza conducts a student esemble

Frances Orteza, a Slippery Rock University sophomore education major from Sharon, conducts a student ensemble during a rehearsal for the Pittsburgh Public Schools All-City Arts Festival.

June 5, 2018

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Music, its been said, is a great unifier, bringing people together as one.

Sam Kochis, a Slippery Rock University sophomore music education major from Cranberry Township, couldn't agree more. "No matter where you are in life, music heals and brings us together," she said.

Kochis and three fellow SRU music education majors spent their spring semester Saturdays using music to connect people by volunteering with the Pittsburgh Public Schools All-City Arts Festival.

Frances Orteza, a sophomore from Sharon; Kalista Heidkamp, a sophomore from Pittsburgh; and Jenn Foster, a senior from North Allegheny joined Kochis to provide instrument instruction and coaching to PPS students prior to their festival performance.

The quartet also conducted and led student brass ensembles.

"I learned how to work in a small ensemble setting with students who did not otherwise have access to a stable band program," Orteza said. "I loved volunteering because I got to give students the opportunity to recognize their own talents while collaborating with others to express themselves."

The annual festival is a chance for music students to learn and celebrate what they love to do: perform, while also enriching their music education beyond their schools' curriculum, said Cassandra Eisenreich, SRU instructor of music. "It's really important because students studying music education should be immersed in all kinds of settings," she said.

Kochis was particularly drawn to the opportunity because her post-graduation goal is to work with urban area music programs.

Kochis, a graduate of Seneca Valley High School, said she was lucky to attend a school district with a strong music program where she was able to find her passion in music. "A lot of students in urban settings don't have the same opportunities to take part in art and music programs like their suburban counterparts," she said. "Being involved with a program like this can really inspire them and connect them with their peers."

One student that made a real impact on Kochis was a flute player named Abby, who had just started teaching herself flute, but was only able to participate in her school band program for half the school year due to other class requirements.

"The festival was (Abby's] only experience with band for the rest of the year," Kochis said. "She's very driven, and I don't think she missed a single rehearsal. I wanted to make this the best possible experience for her."

Working with the festival provided both Kochis and Heidkamp the opportunity to expand their teaching experiences through leading rehearsals and conducting. Heidkamp took the opportunity to learn how to play and teach the saxophone, a change from her primary instrument of choice, the flute.

Rehearsals for the festival began early in the spring semester with Kochis and Company meeting groups of "musicians" each Saturday for lessons and rehearsals. Kochis would like to work with the festival in the future to assist in a district-wide social media campaign to draw more students into the musical "fold."

"Every single person can relate to music in some way, it's so universal and so important," Kochis said. "I think that music in schools is thriving more than ever, and it's so important that we grow and thrive with it."

At the festival, Kochis, Orteza, Heidkamp and Foster joined their students for instrumental performances at the August Wilson Center in Pittsburgh.

"It was a great experience for these high school students to perform in such a unique space," said Kochis. "The audience was responsive and excited ... we couldn't see them from the stage, but we could definitely hear them. It felt like we were at a rock concert.

"As I continue my journey through music education, I hope to provide more positive experiences through music like I did with this one. You never know who will need it."

For more information about the Pittsburgh Public Schools Arts Education programming, click here.

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