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TODAY: Campus Jazz Ensemble, noon, Forum Theatre; free to the public

grease dinner theatre
Sophomore Matt Peterson, left, and Chancellor Snider trading licks in the campus' Cafe 780 for the Grease Dinner Theatre.
4/20/2011 —



The Student Jazz Ensemble at Penn State New Kensington makes its spring debut at noon Monday, April 25, in the campus' Forum Theatre.

Under the director of Doug Starr, adjunct instructor in music, Jessica Bonk (tenor saxophone), Christopher Deet (bass and conga drums), Brett Kymer (baritone saxophone), Brittany Macshane (alto saxophone), Andrew McKenna (piano), Craig McNair (drums), Matthew Peterson (alto saxophone), and Katelyn Reed (trumpet) will perform jazz standards for the campus community as well as for residents of the local communities. The event is free to the public.

The campus show is a practical application of Starr's "Jazz Ensemble" class that teaches the fundamentals of jazz playing, rhythm, articulation and harmony. A public performance is a major component of the course work. Since there isn't a major in music at the New Kensington campus, the group comprises students from a variety of academic disciplines.

"It is a privilege to work with young musicians who come to campus to pursue majors in fields outside music," said Starr, who joined the campus faculty in 2000. "The ensemble provides the opportunity to continue their musical studies and to build pride in their musical abilities."

The campus music program allows them to expand their knowledge, hone their skills and demonstrate their talents. A majority of the students are products of high school music programs and can play more than one instrument. Working as an ensemble gives the students an array of creative perspectives.

"Playing in an ensemble requires the musicians to listen to each other individually and as a whole," said Peterson, a sophomore mechanical engineering major. "Everyone in the band has a different personality that comes out of their instrument. Sometimes you can get other ideas from the players."

Peterson is equally proficient with the bass guitar, trumpet and bagpipes. He earned his campus chops April 8 by performing on the guitar at the Grease Dinner Theatre with fellow plank spanker Kevin Snider, who happens to be the chancellor of the campus.

"It was great to play with the chancellor and everyone enjoyed it," said Peterson, a resident of Murrysville, Pa. "We're actually considering playing some more after this semester."

Although partial to jazz, Peterson is comfortable in any musical genre. He was a member of the Balmoral Highlanders Bagpipe Band, and he still jams with friends from his high school, Franklin Regional, in two other bands. Performing is part of his extracurricular activities.

"I really love to perform, and I play for various theatrical musicals in the area." said Peterson, who was on bass guitar as a part of the five-piece band that played for the campus' production of Grease. "I also play bagpipes for weddings and funerals."

Blending an eclectic group of individuals into a cohesive coterie of musicians to produce a unified sound of an ensemble is the essence of Starr's jazz education courses. The North Hills resident uses classroom instruction to help students to recognize their individual ability and utilizes rehearsal activities to bring out their individual expressionism.

"I focus on teaching them to improvise, which is a major challenge to some and innate in others," said Starr, who teaches four courses at the campus. "Any musical ensemble must get out and perform to make the classroom theoretical knowledge a real musical activity."

Peterson is also interested in teaching. Last summer, he assisted Starr with a music course for middle school students. The class, "Rhythm, Math, Rhythm," was a component of the campus' STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) program, and it explored the relationship between math functions and rhythm concepts. STEAM is a nationwide effort to prepare middle-school students for a competitive world through a strategy of enhanced education and career development opportunities. By integrating components of the creative arts with the core disciplines of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), students can acquire the skills needed to be successful in a global economy. The campus program is funded by a grant from the Grable Foundation

"I have considered teaching music for career," said Peterson, who heads to University Park in the fall to complete his bachlor's degree studies.  "No matter what I do, I think I will always be involved musically on some level."

Starr's jazz ensemble isn't limited to playing on campus. In 2008 and 2009, the ensemble performed in front of President Spanier at the annual President's Club reception in Pittsburgh. Last year, the group provided the musical backdrop for the campus' kick-off of the public phase of its fundraising campaign. "For the Future: The Campaign for Penn State Students" is a University-wide effort to raise $2 billion by June 2014. New Kensington is responsible for $3 million of the total.

To R.S.V.P. for the performance, contact Starr at dps11@psu.edu via e-mail.

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