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Springdale school's music program pushes to add stringed instruments

| Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, 7:40 a.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
With director of bands Stephen Smietana conducting, the string section in the first row, from left, Madison Fitzgerald, Emily Plunkett, Helayna Baer, Jennifer Mayfield, and Alexis Hrivnak go through rehearsal at the Colfax Upper Elementary School in Springdale on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Fourth-grader Everett Campbell plays the cello during rehearsal at the Colfax Upper Elementary School in Springdale on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2013.

The Dynamo Education Foundation is pulling some strings to support the latest Colfax Upper Elementary School music program.

Last week, it began collecting donated violins, violas and cellos to bolster the school's inaugural strings curriculum with a districtwide instrument drive.

The foundation, an Allegheny Valley School District benefactor, named the project the Duane Wareham & Raymond Hutzler Memorial Instrument Drive in honor of two late musicians and district supporters. The drive will run through Sept. 18 with donations accepted at all three district buildings during school hours.

Susan Brozek-Scott, a foundation board member leading the drive, said it's designed to provide students from all socioeconomic backgrounds an equal opportunity to participate in the new strings program.

“Renting these instruments can be expensive for some families,” she said. “It can be pretty lofty, and we wanted to expose some of the kids to something they wouldn't be otherwise.”

The strings program was conceived several months ago by music teachers Doug Skoretz of the elementary school and Stephen Smietana of Springdale Jr.-Sr. High School.

The pair felt the need to add a string component to the fourth- through sixth-grade instrumental music program after receiving some parental feedback, Skoretz said.

With the endorsement of Superintendent Cheryl Griffith, the board approved the program in May under the $19.6 million 2013-14 budget.

Colfax Upper Elementary School Principal Jennifer Vecchio said her students stand to benefit “tremendously” from the program.

“The entire instrumental music program is an enriching experience for our students, and this latest addition just creates an added avenue for our students to learn the fine arts,” she said. “Studying music also helps teach students mathematics, increase their attention spans and improve self-confidence and group skills. We're very excited and the students are very excited.”

In a survey given to third- through fifth-grade Allegheny Valley students last school year, almost 40 reported they'd be interested in participating in the strings program.

Brozek-Scott couldn't estimate how many instruments the drive would amass, but said she's confident the community would gather around the effort to fully accommodate the students.

“We believe that when the community comes together in a grassroots effort like we're calling for, we can find real and inexpensive solutions to help the students out,” she said. “You don't always have to cut a check to give the kids an opportunity to learn, especially in this program.”

Participating students will receive weekly small group lessons from Smietana and Skoretz when the program kicks off in October. The before-school lessons Monday through Thursday will be supplemented by an entire ensemble rehearsal each Friday.

No prior experience is required and registration is open indefinitely, according to Skoretz.

“There are some students with strings backgrounds outside of school, which will boost the program,” he said. “But we welcome everyone. It's great because it gives students who might not want to sing or play a wind instrument an opportunity to get involved.

“We always need instruments, though.”

The Duane Wareham & Raymond Hutzler Memorial Instrument Drive was put together to expunge that need. Brozek-Scott said the drive epitomizes the character and passion of the men it honors.

An Allegheny Valley School District alumna and band participant, Brozek-Scott said she had the privilege of learning from and growing familiar with both Wareham and Hutzler. Both were immersed in the district's music education programs and led successful lives outside the classroom.

Wareham, a former Springdale Jr-Sr High School principal and music teacher, earned national acclaim decades ago as a founding member of The Mellowmen. The big band and jazz group received widespread recognition from the 1960s to the 1980s while they were frequently touring the country.

Hutzler, once a student of Wareham's, learned to appreciate music from the jazz musician and didn't skip a beat after graduating.

A school board member for about 25 years, Hutzler remains one of the most ardent supporters of music education in the district's history, said Brozek-Scott, a former band member.

The Springdale man would take a week's vacation from his PPG job each year to direct the high school's band camp.

“He was such an inspirational and motivating leader,” she said. “He taught so many of us in the band the importance of discipline, which I think stuck with the vast majority of us for the rest of our lives.”

After he passed away in January 2010, Hutzler's daughter, Susan Vanatta, inherited the Springdale community marching band that he led on holiday parades for more than 20 years.

The American Legion Post 764 that he captained surprised his surviving family that Memorial Day with a banner that read, “The Raymond J. Hultzer Memorial Band.”

“That was a very special moment for our family, and we're just as flattered to have this drive named in his honor,” Vanatta said. “He would have been the first one to help out with this, and we're really excited that he's being honored with something he would have been very passionate about.”

Braden Ashe is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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