President's Concert a 'win-win' for students, alumni

University Park, Pa. -- As Penn State's drum major, sophomore Ian Kenney is used to performing before enthusiastic audiences in excess of 100,000 people. However, he'll be getting a very different performance experience on Friday, Feb. 25, when he dons more formal attire to sing tenor with the Penn State Concert Choir in the fifth annual Penn State President's Concert, being held this year at the Strathmore Music Center near Washington, D.C.

"It's about as opposite of an environment as you can get from Beaver Stadium," Kenney, a sophomore music education major studying voice, said of performing at a major concert hall. "It will be one-hundreth the number of people in the audience, and I get to share the stage with 50 or so members of the choir, instead of having just me in the spotlight." In that sense, the amount of pressure on him is greatly lessened. However, he said, "it's an incredible venue, so it's 100 percent of the same excitement to perform there. It's going to be a phenomenal concert."

Kenney said he's looking forward to the whole experience. "The rehearsals, the traveling, the concert – any experience such as this is not just about the performance, but all of the sights we get to see, and the time we get to spend with our peers," he said.

Lynn Drafall, associate professor of music and director of the Concert Choir, said every aspect of the trip adds to the students' experience and education. "A great part of this experience is getting to know the backstage ins and outs of these great halls from a performer's point of view. The students sit in dressing rooms that have been inhabited by the most famous musicians. They see the stage crew, the lighting guys, the backstage rehearsal spaces, things only a performer gets to experience. When we did the Kimmel Center concert, the students were taking pictures of the stage door guy, the signs on the dressing room doors, the view from the stage to the audience seating. To them, experiencing these halls as performers rather than just audience members is something special."

Sue Haug, director of the School of Music, highlighted the educational aspect of the preparation, as well. "While it is a thrill to walk on the stage at some of the most prestigious halls in our region, it is the intensity of preparing for these performances and the heightened sense of concentration and artistry during the concerts that makes these special performances such peak educational experiences. Students really rise to the occasion, giving the performances of their lives, and it makes us all proud," she said.

It's an experience not all music students get. "Having transferred from another university I can say that these trips do not happen at every school," Patrick McIsaac, a senior trombone performance major, said. "It's a great opportunity to play at some of the world's finest concert halls and play for family, friends, alumni and music fans of all ages. I am very excited because not everyone who goes to college to study music gets this same chance. Each trip is a special memory that I will take with me forever, and I am incredibly excited to get one last opportunity before graduating this May."

At Penn State, it's not only music majors who get this extraordinary opportunity. "While the school's top performing ensembles are composed primarily of music majors, auditions for placement in these groups are open to all students, regardless of major," said Daryl Durran, professor of music and logistical coordinator of the concert for the School of Music. "Some who audition well and earn spots in these ensembles are from other fields of study."

One such student is film major Patrick Coyle, a sophomore who plays drumset for Centre Dimensions and was excited to learn he would be part of this year's performance. "The trip means a lot," he said. "To play in such a beautiful hall that will capture our sound so well, and to perform for an audience full of Penn State alumni, should be a really memorable experience."

The annual event, which has been held in Heinz Hall in Pittsburgh, the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia and in Carnegie Hall in New York, is designed to showcase talented Penn State students and to give those students the opportunity to perform in world-class venues.

"It doesn't get any bigger than playing on the stage at Carnegie Hall," said McIsaac, who performed in the President's Concert there last year. "The history that stage has and the people who have sat in the same seats we got to sit in is unbelievable. The 2010 President's Concert may have been my only chance to play there, and that is something that I will take with me for the rest of my life."

Collaboration among the School of Music, the Alumni Association and the President's Office is a key to the success of the program.

"Renting major performance halls and transporting hundreds of students and their instruments is expensive. However, it is not just the financial support from the President's Office that has made these events possible, but also President Spanier's support through his attendance, which brings added prestige to these events," said Haug. "The partnership with the Alumni Association also has been hugely important to the success of this series, as they promote these concerts to thousands of alumni around the region. We are so grateful to Roger Williams and his staff for their support. Without them, we couldn't begin to reach the numbers of alumni that the President's Concerts reach. It's been a win-win."

Williams, executive director of the Alumni Association, also sees the partnership as a win-win. "It's a privilege and a joy to be part of this joint effort to put the very best of Penn State on the doorstep of our alumni. There's nothing our alumni appreciate more than seeing talented Penn State student musicians perform. We are fortunate to have one of the best Schools of Music in the east here at Penn State, and it's a thrill to be able to showcase this extraordinary talent for our alumni in major concert halls such as this."

One alumna who plans to attend the concert is excited to be able to see fellow Penn Staters perform at the Strathmore. "I was so impressed – and yes, a little jealous, too – when I first learned about the President's Concerts," said Marti Fucile, a 1988 music education alumna who has been teaching music in a Washington, D.C.-area elementary school for the past 22 years. "It makes me feel very proud of my Alma Mater, knowing that it has a president who not only supports but also fosters the arts. He must clearly be very proud of the music program at Penn State, and with good reason."

Before the 8 p.m. concert, the Penn State Alumni Association will hold a reception for alumni and friends from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the Strathmore's Grand Tier Lobby.

Admission to the concert and reception is $50 for Alumni Association members and $60 for non-members. Register at http://alumni.psu.edu/events/2011-events/2011-presidents-concert online. For questions, call 800-548-LION (5466), option 4.

Those who are unable to attend the Alumni Association's pre-concert reception but would like to attend the concert performance can purchase concert tickets at $15 for the general public or $10 for students by calling the Strathmore Ticket Office at 301-581-5100 or visiting http://www.strathmore.org/eventstickets/calendar/view.asp?id=6703 online.

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Last Updated May 21, 2012