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IUP's Community Music School offers lessons to the public

| Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, 8:35 p.m.
Jeff Himler | Tribune-Review
Instructor Andew Cotts looks on as student Andrew Kuzneski, 11, of Indiana runs through a piano exercise as part of a Community Music School course at Indiana University of Pennsylvania's Cogswell Hall.
Bruce Siskawicz | Tribune-Review
Bob Reininger taking saxophone lessons from Josh Wertz at Indiana Schwinn Dec. 4.
Jeff Himler | Tribune-Review
Community Music School student Amelia Kuzneski, 11, of Indiana hones her keyboard technique while her mother, Laurie Kuzneski, looks on in the piano lab at Indiana University of Pennsylvania's Cogswell Hall.
Jeff Himler | Tribune-Review
Claire Kuzneski, 14, of Indiana practices on the bass guitar while attending the Community Music School at Indiana University of Pennsylvania's Cogswell Hall.
Jane Potter Baumer
Barb Stookey-Keller
Bruce Siskawicz | Tribune-Review
Bob Reininger, right, performing with the Indiana Community Choir on Nov. 22 at It's A Wonderful Life Festival in Indiana.

Local opportunities to explore a musical interest have never been more convenient or diverse since the recent launch of Indiana University of Pennsylvania's Community Music School.

The school is the brainchild of Jane Potter Baumer, who is part-time director of the school. A variety of noncredit private lessons, ensembles and classes are available to students of all ages and abilities. No affiliation with IUP is required to enroll in this community outreach program of the university's music department.

Potter Baumer saw “a real need for centralized private musical instruction in the area.” It was important to provide employment for local musicians too, she said. And she wanted to “expose both adults and children to the benefits of music education—the simple joy of making music along with all of the associated cognitive benefits.”

She also hoped a community music school might help fill the gap left by the elimination of some music programs in area school districts due to budgetary constraints.

A resident of Indiana and a previous part-time IUP music faculty member specializing in voice, Potter Baumer also has taught voice and piano privately.

Six years ago, she approached Michael Hood, dean of IUP's College of Fine Arts, with idea of creating a fee-based community music school where an array of instruction could be accessed conveniently by the general public. Together, they worked to obtain the seed money needed to get the program off the ground.

Located at Cogswell Hall on the IUP campus, the school opened in August and recently finished its inaugural semester term. Second session offerings will begin Jan. 27, with course registration under way. The spring 2014 catalog and schedule will be available at the school's website:

Potter Baumer said spring offerings will be much the same as what was offered in the fall, with perhaps a few additions. She anticipates private lessons will be available in brass and woodwind instruments, guitar, percussion, piano, organ and voice.

Group classes likely will include beginning and intermediate adult piano; beginning and intermediate adult guitar; Laurel Highlanders Pipes and Drums (age 14 to adult); and Kindermusik for preschool children.

Opportunities for community members to participate in evening and after-school ensembles will include the IUP Community Choir, the Indiana Symphonic Winds (a community band); and the Crimson Children's Choir for those in grades 3-8.

Potter Baumer noted the school's teaching staff is a combination of IUP music professors and students; area music teachers with degrees in music; and local musicians with expertise in a variety of areas. All have undergone the same criminal background checks required of those working with children in public schools, and those clearances will be updated yearly, she said.

The music school opened with a fall enrollment of 150 students, surpassing Potter Baumer's goal of 100. “We've got lots of room to keep growing too,” she said.

Andrew Cotts completed his studies in music education at IUP in December 2012, and he's continued to live in Indiana since graduating. His first professional teaching opportunities were through the community school. He teaches an adult piano class and offers private piano lessons through the school. He also accompanies the school-sponsored choirs and tunes pianos as a side business.

“When I graduated, I thought about how much I would love to get paid to give piano lessons,” Cotts said. “Now, I feel profound gratitude when I think about how wonderful it is to be part of this program. It's also given me a sense of belonging to the Indiana community that I never had during my four years as an undergrad.”

Laurie Kuzneski of Indiana has two children, Amelia, 11 and Andrew, 10, who take private piano lessons from Cotts. Amelia and Andrew also take voice lessons at the school. An older daughter, Claire, 14, takes private bass guitar lessons there.

“The teachers are fantastic, and the kids are learning a lot,” Laurie Kuzneski said. “This is a wonderful addition to our community... There are so many skilled and talented people involved, and having access to that array of musical possibilities is incredible.

“The convenience is terrific, too.”

Kuzneski estimated she saves at least five hours each week by scheduling the various lessons for her three children concurrently. She said her children can be done with their lessons, involving three different teachers, in one hour's time.

Due to the flux in music teacher availability over the years, Claire Kuzneski has had four or five different instructors since beginning her piano lessons. Her mother thinks the community music school will lend more continuity to her children's musical education than was previously possible. Claire is especially pleased to have a chance to learn bass guitar at the school. She also plays tenor saxophone in Indiana Area High School's jazz band and is excited about the prospect of playing her bass guitar with the group: “It's just a really cool instrument. I love the way it sounds.”

The eldest Kuzneski daughter now advances her skills in piano and clarinet on her own, but she said her involvement with the IUP school has helped improve her abilities in reading and playing music.

Amelia Kuzneski receives alto sax and viola instruction at Indiana Junior High School, where she also sings in the chorus. At Horace Mann Elementary School, Andrew Kuzneski is learning to play trumpet.

All three Kuzneski children began taking piano lessons at age 4., and their parents told them they could decide whether to continue when they turn 13.

Laurie Kuzneski said she anticipates all three will continue with some form of musical pursuit as they practically race to their lessons at the IUP Community Music School.

“They'll come home and tinker on the piano just for fun. We actually have to tell them to quit playing the piano and go do their homework,” she said, adding, “They're all quite good now. It's not ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb' over and over anymore.”

Bob Reininger, owner of the Indiana Schwinn bike shop and a Shelocta resident, is another student of the community music school. At 59, he is not a life-long student of music.

“I've always been interested in music and always enjoy a good musical but never really put the time into it before,” he said. “Basically, I have zero musical background — I was born and raised an athlete.”

But, when his son and daughter-in-law gave him a gag Christmas gift a few years ago, he decided it was time to take his interest in music more seriously.

The gift was his daughter-in-law's old high school saxophone, which he's now learning to play.

Reininger takes private saxophone lessons through the IUP school and plays the instrument as a member of the Indiana Symphonic Winds. He also sings in the IUP Community Choir.

Before the IUP Community Music School came along, Reininger said, it was often difficult for him to find others with whom he could play music.

He had been singing with a choral group that Potter Baumer led, and he asked her about starting a local community band. Due to her efforts, his wish to make regular music with others came true — with the formation of the Indiana Symphonic Winds.

“This is a very upbeat environment. Everyone in the performance programs is very helpful and willing to work with you,” he said. “No matter where you are in a skill level,... there's always someone who can help you improve.

“I have discovered that with practice, anything is possible. I'm at an age where I don't do anything anymore unless it's fun. This is fun!”

In addition to making music, Reininger also does minor repairs on musical instruments at his bike shop.

Offering something for all age groups, the IUP music school does not ignore the area's youngest residents. Barb Stookey-Keller of Punxsutawney has been commuting to Indiana weekly to teach children ages 2-5 through the school's Kindermusik program.

Stookey-Keller is a licensed instructor for Kindermusik, a program that uses music and movement to develop fundamental skills in preschoolers. Started in West Germany during the 1960s, the program has a goal of helping children experience the joy of music before beginning formal music instruction.

“Research has proven that children involved with music typically see gains in their math, reading, English literature, discipline and organizational abilities,” said Stookey-Keller. “Kindermusik is all about child development.”

She said the program addresses cognition, language and literacy and emotional, musical, physical and social areas of child development.

Dana McElroy of Indiana has a three-year old son, Aidan, who attended Kindermusik with Stookey-Keller. McElroy said she appreciates the benefits her son received from early exposure to musical activities.

“He looks forward to it every week,” she said. “We loved doing something as a family related to music, and we benefitted from being around other parents with children the same age.

“Aidan sings the songs he learned at Kindermusik randomly throughout the day. And every night, we play a song from his Kindermusik CD using a flashlight to simulate the stars.”

Stookey-Keller said each Kindermusik class includes songs, dances, finger plays, stories and even some instrument playing. Parents can continue the learning process at home, guided by a book, CD and instruments.

“The IUP Community Music School was a great idea, said Stookey-Keller. “I'm all for music — for people of all ages, especially the younger ones, getting the exposure.”

Registration for the spring term can be completed online at the IUP Community Music School's website.

For further information, e-mail questions to or call 724-357-3135.

Pamela Sagely is a freelance writer.

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