Penn Band teams with Netter Center to bring instruments to Lea Elementary


Violins, keyboards already donated towards the new music program at Lea




Seven violins, two keyboards, a viola, clarinet and cello.

That suffices for a small chamber group, but Penn and Lea Elementary are hoping it will grow into a full orchestra.

Lea Elementary at 47th and Locust streets is accepting donations of instruments and musical accessories for a new after-school music program. Penn Band, in partnership with the Netter Center for Community Partnerships and the West Philadelphia Coalition for Neighborhood Schools, is leading the drive.

The items collected will go toward a music program, launching later this school year, that will serve about 30 Lea students in second through fourth grades. Platt Student Performing Arts House, Claudia Cohen Hall and Lea are currently serving as collection sites.

Penn Band assistant director Kushol Gupta, who is one of the primary spearheads for the drive, said it is off to a good start. The first violins and keyboards donation and loans came from the Penn Music Mentoring Program — a student-run music education group.

Some of the collected instruments are subject to be traded through Musicopia — a nonprofit that strives to improve music instruction in schools — for instruments appropriate for elementary school students.

The Lea Elementary program will offer one-hour sessions Monday through Thursday, as well as a two-hour session every Friday. These sessions will provide both private and group instrumental instruction, percussion and choir, headed mostly by Penn students.

Last spring, Assistant Dean for Advising Molly McGlone was teaching an Academically Based Community Service course called “Music in Urban Spaces,” in which she met Penn students interested in supporting music programs in West Philadelphia schools. McGlone, also a board member of WPCNS, worked over the summer with these students — including some former interns with Play On, Philly!, a city-wide youth orchestra program — to develop a similar program at Lea.

“We’re trying to build something from the ground up,” McGlone said.

Shortly after, she reached out to the Netter Center, which will employ nine work-study students to work in educational music programs across West Philadelphia. Seven of these will work exclusively at Lea.

The Penn Band has also been involved extensively in West Philadelphia. Gupta said the band has engaged in numerous outreach programs in local schools, including free performances and establishing several high school honor bands.

After partnering with Netter Center’s connections in the neighborhood, the band made a “special commitment” to work with West Philadelphia schools, said Cory Bowman, an associate director of the Netter Center.

The project’s goal, according to Gupta, is “to establish something on par with what is already present at [Penn Alexander School].”

Currently, PAS has a full-time music teacher and offers music lessons in a variety of instruments.

Bowman believes that Lea’s new music program would have been “unquestionably impossible without this partnership” in a West Philadelphia school. He hopes that partnerships like this one will “expand Penn’s arts and culture outreach presence in our neighborhood.”

Gupta sounded a similar note.

“It’s the community that really built this thing,” he said. “Bringing together all these instruments and resources, given the [school district’s] budget situation, and the retail cost of instruments, is quite amazing.”

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