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Middle School Musicians' Practice-A-Thon Raises Money for Hearts For Homeless

by on January 03, 2018 5:00 AM

By Chris Rosenblum
State College Area School District

Practice makes perfect, but as Mount Nittany and Park Forest middle school musicians showed, it also can make a difference.

During December, the school orchestras carried out a fundraiser dubbed Practice-A-Thon. While practicing for their winter concerts, the students collected donations from flat fees or per-minute pledges, inspired by one of their chosen pieces. Composer Brian Balmages wrote “A Solitary Wish” after his interaction with a homeless man that changed his perspective on what the holidays mean.

“As I was planning what we could do to make an impact beyond performing just the music,” said music teacher Matt Shaffer, who directs both orchestras, “I figured this would not only help the community but also inspire them to work harder in preparation for the concert.”

Orchestra rehearsal in school did not count — only time at home, private lessons and additional orchestras or groups. Students also busked for donations before each concert, playing selections of their own choice with their cases open.

“I encouraged students to find music they enjoyed, including holiday music, popular songs they like and obviously our orchestra music,” Shaffer said.

Apparently, they found enough material to keep them interested. Shaffer had expected to generate $500 between the two schools. Instead, the students raised $1,648 from 13,533 minutes practiced.

“These kids worked hard and I’m very proud of them!” Shaffer said.

To choose a beneficiary, Shaffer identified four charities relevant to “A Solitary Wish.” After researching them, the students voted to support Hearts for Homeless.

“It’s really cool; you get to do something you enjoy but are able to help others while doing it,” said Park Forest eighth-grader Nika Kello, who plays the violin. “I feel really proud that we were able to do something like this as an orchestra, and we really came together.”

Eloise Dayrat, a Park Forest seventh-grader, said she was motivated to participate by memories of visiting Columbia, her mother’s native country, and France, her father’s, and feeling helpless when encountering street people.

“It felt great to do the Practice-A-Thon because I love music and it's a huge part of my life,” she said. “It's very exciting to use something that I love to help other people. I learned that you don't just have to make a donation to help people. You can help others while improving yourself and your skills at the same time. It was fun to participate, and doing this pushed me to practice my viola more than I would have otherwise. If I didn't feel like playing, I thought about how it was for someone else.”

Chris Rosenblum is communications director for State College Area School District.
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