Chamber Orchestra hits high note with students

Music is known for bringing people and communities together. In the Erie community, the Erie Chamber Orchestra has been trying to bring people together since its inception.

For the orchestra and its general manager, Steve Weiser, donating a piano to one Erie city school was just another opportunity to do just that.

The chamber orchestra has been reaching out to the Erie City School district for quite some time by taking solo artists into classrooms to give students a chance to hear live music.

In September, pianist Eugenio Urrutia-Borlando wanted to visit the Pfeiffer-Burleigh Elementary School. Once there he found that school music room did not have a piano; instead the music teacher was using an old guitar to teach students.

“Nothing replaces a real piano,” Weiser said. “A piano is fundamental to music lessons.”

Weiser, coming from a musical childhood, knows the importance of hands-on, tactile learning experiences with musical instruments.

After the September visit, the idea was formulated to find and donate a piano to the elementary school.

The search began on Craigslist, where Weiser found a used piano on sale from the Trinity Lutheran Church.

“The cost associated with a piano – we knew the school couldn’t afford it,” Weiser said, “so we needed to get it done.”

Weiser knew that being associated with Gannon meant the orchestra had untapped resources that could be used to help.

He said there is an obvious level of economic poverty in the schools surrounding Erie, especially with the large number of immigrants.

According to Weiser, the students were ecstatic when their piano was delivered.

“Immediately the teacher had them pressing keys and hearing the notes,” he said. “She was able to play the songs they had been learning.”

Weiser said being able to hold and get a physical reaction to an instrument takes students to a new level. He said kids appreciate music once they realize it’s a physical thing, not just an abstract idea.

The orchestra puts on “petting zoos” for that reason. Schools can bring students to hear live music by the orchestra and then “pet the instruments.”

“For some students,” Weiser said, “this is the first time they’ve ever seen a musical instrument.”

The mission statement of the Erie Chamber Orchestra has always been to “ensure free music to people of all ages.” Reaching out to the students of the Pfeiffer-Burleigh school was just a continuation of that mission.

“Members of the Orchestra didn’t even know we were doing this,” Weiser said.

Once the news was out, Weiser said messages flooded into his email with praise and excitement over the idea. Neighbors, friends and coworkers have all approached Weiser wondering what’s next.

This may have been one of the outcomes the orchestra hoped for. Through this donation the Chamber Orchestra hopes to help “bridge the gap,” and provide music to students who would otherwise experience little, Weiser said.

They can also set an example to others who recognize the need for the arts in our education system, Weiser said. He knows, as well as the Orchestra members, just how much this donation has touched the students of the Pfeiffer-Burleigh elementary school, and hopes to continue helping students throughout  the Erie community.

“It’s just one of those ideas we get,” Weiser said. “We know it needs to get done, the question is how to do it. It was a great feeling getting this one done.”

The Erie Chamber Orchestra plans to continue getting ideas done through more “petting zoos” and possibly another piano donation in the near future. But no matter what they definitely plan to carry on with their mission and enlighten the Erie community through their music.

 

CRISTEN MANION

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