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Paige Krempasky of Belle Vernon blew into the mouthpiece of her euphonium while more than a dozen preschoolers took turns pressing its valves. As they gained confidence exploring the large brass instrument, the Westmoreland Community Action Head Start students created an increasingly complex string of notes.
“You kind of played a song,” Krempasky told her excited young audience at the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit's Clairview School in Hempfield.
Krempasky, a freshman, was joined Thursday by three fellow St. Vincent College education students as they engaged two classrooms of kids in the Neighborhood Music Visits program, conducted by the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media at the Unity college.
Modeled after segments on late Latrobe native Fred Rogers' popular children's television show, “Mister Rogers' Neighborhood,” the program pairs a student volunteer from any field of study who is skilled with a musical instrument and another who acts as a facilitator to help young children learn about the power of music to express emotions constructively and about the importance of dedication in any pursuit.
“I think music offers a way for children to understand about life and learning,” said Junlei Li, co-director of the Fred Rogers Center. “We want our musical students to always explain to the children what it was like to learn the instrument when they were young and how much practice it took.”
Krempasky hit a few sour notes when valves stuck during her mini-performance. But she told the children, “Mistakes are OK. You can fix it. That's why we practice.”
St. Vincent Faculty Fellow Kathleen Beining, who assists with the program, said it allows young students to explore musical instruments through a fun conversation rather than a formal lesson.
Alaina D'Aloiso from Upper St. Clair and fellow senior Timothy Robbins of Harrisburg coordinate the student-driven program. D'Aloiso, who has served as a facilitator on music visits, said the young audiences are “just so joyful. We can learn a lot from them.”
“Music is a great outlet for all emotions,” said Casey Fuga, a sophomore from North Huntingdon who played high notes on her flute to convey a happy feeling and low notes to evoke a more subdued mood. She performed a slow piece with gliding passages and challenged the Clairview students to guess what bird inspired the music. When she offered a hint — it has white feathers — one girl knew the correct answer: “A swan.”
The program began as a pilot effort in the 2015-16 academic year and received a $12,000 grant from The Sprout Fund to support two more years of travel costs, materials and faculty supervision. Li said the Fred Rogers Center will seek additional funding to sustain the program and has opened it to student volunteers from nearby Seton Hill University and the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg.
Jeff Himler is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6622 or email@example.com.
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