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Neumann students saving the music in their own backyard

By: Tom Dillard
Online Editor

     At a time when numerous grade schools and high schools are eliminating their music programs, Neumann University music students didn’t want to see that happen in their own backyard. So, they took initiative to help students at the Drexel Neumann Academy in Chester, Pa by starting up their music program to, as VH1 says, “Save the Music.”

Jessica Clawson teaching a Drexel Neumann student the flute.

Jessica Clawson teaching a Drexel Neumann student the flute.

     The idea was conceptualized when Neumann senior education major Jessica Clawson was attending an indoor color guard competition at Brandywine High School. Brandywine High was raising money to help VH1’s Save the Music Foundation.

     “I thought about the schools around here and how they don’t have music,” explained Clawson. “I thought about the school districts where music programs have been canceled. Some of these kids don’t have many positive things in their life so I was hoping that this could be one of those positives.”

     “It started last fall,” said junior Kristen Bilotta. “Jess said that we should really do something. We said that we should do it locally and do Drexel Neumann since we already have contacts there. So, over the summer, her and Mac Given, Dean of the Arts and Sciences Division at Neumann went over there and had a meeting with Sister Cathy McGowan and got it approved. We went over and had a couple meetings with Sister. Then, we met the students and from there we developed a plan for how we were going to attack it.”

     The program received a few of the instruments they have from donations they had asked for when initiating the program. All the rest were purchased through money raised at bake sales and donations at Neumann University Jazz Ensemble concerts. The instruments they received were in poor condition and the ones they purchased were inexpensive.

     “We bought some of the cheaper instruments we could find and if they had to be fixed up then we would pay for them to be fixed up,” explained Clawson.

Kristen Bilotta helps a Drexel Neumann student read sheet music.

Kristen Bilotta helps a Drexel Neumann student read sheet music.

     When the program started, they had six students, three on flute and three on clarinet. The clarinet students had their own instruments but were unable to take them home. The flute students had to share instruments. This semester, the program has grown to 23 students. All those students have instruments and take lessons while practicing on them.

     “It’s grown so much that it is overwhelming,” said Bilotta. “We didn’t really expect it to take off like it did.”

     The reception at Neumann has been extremely positive.

     “It is the best thing that has come from the music program since I’ve been here,” said Dr. Richard Sayers, Associate Professor of Music and conductor for the Neumann Jazz Ensemble. “I really think that the people at Drexel Neumann are really appreciative of the fact that our students have brought this to them. It’s the kind of thing that they probably would not have received otherwise from any other source. Our guys are just doing it out of the goodness of their hearts.”

     Drexel Neumann Academy is the only Catholic elementary school in Chester. The school has pre-kindergarten through eighth grade and is supported by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia and Neumann University.

Photos Courtesy of Neumann University Public Relations