College of Education students to perform in President’s Concert

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Nearly 60 Penn State students will take to the stage for the 11th annual Penn State President’s Concert, to be held March 16 at the National Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. Not all of those performing are School of Music students, however. Three members of Essence of Joy (EOJ) are enrolled in the College of Education: bass John Allegro, a 10th-semester student enrolled in the integrated undergraduate/graduate (IUG) program in education and public policy, and education theory and policy; tenor Sean Connelly, a senior education and public policy major; and soprano Sarah Pfaff, a senior studying world languages education – Spanish.

All three are performing in their first President’s Concert.

"I’ve known about the event for as long as I’ve been around the School of Music, so it’s exciting to have the opportunity to experience it as part of my final moments at Penn State and in Essence of Joy," said Allegro, who performed with the University Choir as a freshman. "The venue is absolutely gorgeous and what better place to be than in our nation’s capital," he said.

Connelly said he is looking forward to the group’s performance. "After having spent last summer in Washington, D.C., I can't wait to return and perform there with my best friends," he said. "The National Presbyterian Cathedral is a beautiful venue that I know the members of EOJ will love performing in. I expect the performance to be full of energy because EOJ will be really excited to have the opportunity to be there."

The ensemble has been preparing all semester for this concert, along with all of the other concerts on its very busy performance schedule.

"Essence is preparing the same as we would for any other performance," Pfaff said. "We always strive toward a very high standard of musicianship and this concert is no different. We make a conscious effort to memorize our music so we can really respond to what we see in the gestures from our conductor, Dr. Tony Leach, and we aim to be present throughout the performance and not take any moment for granted."

Added Allegro, "I am most curious, as I am with most of our engagements, to see the audience that day. The audience is who and what brings life to performances. A combination of the lineup of performers and the venue location will bring a wide array of individuals to National Presbyterian that day, so it will be a wonderful collection there for everyone’s musical offering."

Pursing a major in the College of Education is a challenging undertaking, because of the heavy course load and, for those in teaching majors, the commitments to field experiences such as student teaching. That’s a challenge Pfaff is facing this semester.

"I am currently student teaching at State College Area High School, which involves me being at the school from 8:10 a.m. to 3:16 p.m. at minimum every single day. Rehearsal for EOJ is 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., so I can almost never make it on time and attend a full rehearsal. I have to use my personal days to take off from school in order to attend the President's Concert," she said.

"Everything really just comes down to priorities and making sure you choose what is important to you, and while teaching is extremely important to me and will be my chosen career, this group has impacted my life so greatly and this performance is very special, so I was willing to sacrifice my personal days for it," Pfaff said.

Connelly said time management is an important component of being in Essence of Joy. "We often have performances in the middle of the day that require us to leave class early or miss class altogether, although these are University-approved absences," he said. "As long as members get their work ahead of time and take responsibility for what they are missing, then there should be no true challenge of balancing coursework while participating in EOJ. Dr. Leach also is extremely understanding if students can't make a performance for a legitimate reason."

Allegro always has had to be creative in balancing his academic commitments with the time required by Essence of Joy and his other activities. "After taking on graduate coursework, I had to become even more creative in balancing my calendar and accomplishing all of the tasks at hand. Everyone has their outlet, something they do to take their mind off of school, work or other demands. I have always viewed my time in Essence of Joy as my outlet," he said.

"Every semester, it has been the first course on my schedule and life gets planned around choir. Essence of Joy is truly my joy and my refuge in so many ways," Allegro continued. "I know that even though travel weekends and long concerts squeeze my time for assignments and class preparation, I would not be heading to graduation this May and August if it were not for those moments in choir."

Whether in a classroom teaching, or in an office creating education policy, College of Education students will impact lives when they graduate. Because they could end up working anywhere, it’s important for them to understand the larger world around them, and be exposed to diverse people, places and life experiences, to help them succeed in their careers. Allegro, Connelly and Pfaff all said being in Essence of Joy has helped them to grow in this way.

"Growing up in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, I wasn't exactly around a diverse group of people,’’ Connelly said. "EOJ is diverse in almost every aspect, from race to religion to sexual orientation to the major they are pursuing. On top of singing great music, the friends I've made through EOJ are some of the best people I've ever met. The diversity in the group has helped me grow as a student and helped me become a more informed person overall," he said.

"I have friends form various religions, backgrounds, and overall walks of life, and we all come together to make wonderful music together and all truly care about each other. We always refer to EOJ as our family, and I firmly believe this is how we treat each other," Pfaff said.

Allegro said EOJ has given him the time to continue his experiences with a musical ensemble, while also challenging him to grow and experience life in ways that he hadn’t before, both as a vocalist/performer and as an individual. "I have traveled to places, met people, and been a part of musical moments that I will cherish and remember forever,’’ he said. "My time in EOJ has without a doubt been the highlight of my Penn State involvement."

In addition to Essence of Joy, the President's Concert, which will begin at 7:30 p.m., will include performances by the chamber orchestra Strings and the Graduate Brass Quintet with organist and Alumni Fellow William Neil (Class of 1966). Admission to the concert is complimentary and no ticket is required. The President’s Concert is a collaboration among the President’s Office, the Penn State School of Music, and the Penn State Alumni Association.

Prior to the concert, the Alumni Association and Penn State President Eric Barron will host a reception from 6 to 7 p.m. in Stone Hall, located in the lower level of the National Presbyterian Church. Admission to the reception is $25 for Alumni Association members; $40 for non-members; $15 for college students; $10 for children between the ages of 6 and 17; and free for children age 5 and under. Those attending the reception will be escorted to reserved seating for the President's Concert. 

Register for the pre-concert reception by March 9. Business attire is recommended.

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Last Updated March 03, 2017