Musicians Abound in the College of Education
by Joe Savrock (September 2009)
Arts in education has taken on a whole new meaning.
The College of Education is, by every right, the College of Talented Musicians. No fewer than 14 faculty and staff members of the College are gifted musical artists. Whether their craft is their voice, a string instrument, or a keyboard, these musicians take their talent seriously.
There may very well be many more musicians among us, but here is a rundown of some familiar instrumentalists and singers in the College.
Don Keat, professor emeritus, has had an illustrious career as a professional saxophonist. He is a 60-year member of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM), and his credentials include performances with big-name bands and renowned singers and entertainers, including Bob Hope.
He started playing saxophone in the fourth grade, and three years later he joined AFM. In high school, he earned district and state bands three consecutive years. In his senior year, he was one of six Pennsylvanians selected for the National Band.
Throughout high school and college, Keat spent summers playing at resorts with a ten-piece band. “Summers were a hotbed of jazz activity in the Pocono Mountains, and I participated in various groups with many name musicians from bands like Woody Herman and Stan Kenton,” he says. In 1959, Keat attended the Stan Kenton Clinics at Indiana University Bloomington. That year, he appeared with Kenton on the cover of Downbeat, a monthly magazine devoted to jazz, blues, and other genre.
Keat entered graduate school at Columbia University in 1960 and he joined the famed New York Local 802 AFM. “Also, I took a course in ‘Jazz Improvisation at the Piano’ at Juilliard with John Mehegan, who wrote many books on this topic,” he says. After earning his master’s degree. Keat went on a three-month USO tour of Europe, Asia, and Africa. He also had brief stints with the world-famous bands of Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller.
Keat says his musical activities “took an intermission” in 1963 when he got married and entered graduate school at Temple University. “During this part of the decade, I spent most of my time expanding my mind and family,” he says. “From 1970 on, however, there were more opportunities to play music actively again.”
In the years leading up to his retirement from Penn State in 2003, Keat says “There were performances with my first—and only—love in music: big bands.”
During the 1970s, Keat was invited by Skip Wareham, Sr., the director of a local big band, to play in Lewistown. The event drew jazz legends such as Clark Terry (trumpet), Urbie Green (trombone), and Charlie Ventura (tenor sax). During the decade, Keat played with Bob Dorough, who masterminded the Scholastic Rock series for ABC-TV.
The opportunities kept getting bigger. “In the 1980s I was privileged to play in a big band for a Bob Hope show as well as for a singer made famous by the Hit Parade, Margaret Whiting,” says Keat. Later, he played in big bands backing the Mills Brothers and Maureen McGovern.
Keat still plays today with several big bands, including The Dance Band, the Friends Band, and the Keystone Society of Swing. “So the beat goes on,” he says. “I play music daily in order to keep my chops in shape for performances.”
John Wise is an accomplished keyboardist who plays piano, electric piano, organ, and “occasional odd sounds.” He recently formed a new nine-piece band, Hounds of Soul. “We sport a four-person horn section, so we focus on horn-based music from any era, with an emphasis on ‘60s and ‘70s rhythm and blues, funk and soul,” says Wise, whose music bio is available on the Hounds of Soul Web site.
Hounds of Soul recently played at the Tussey Mountain WingFest and Bellefonte Arts Fest. “We’re hoping to work some weddings and other special occasions while continuing to perform at the larger festival events,” Wise says.
Wise has performed with several other local bands, including The Big Pink Dog, Back Ali, and Cliff Turner and the Afterburners. He notes that, “It’s very satisfying to hear really good musicians bringing your work to life.”
Charlie Hughes, David Lee, and David McNaughton combined their talents several years ago, forming the Grateful SPLED. “Basically, we’re a basement band,” says Hughes. “Our songs include stuff by Wilson Pickett, Neil Young, Marshall Tucker, Little Feat, the Beatles, U2—a real hodgepodge.”
Grateful SPLED plays mainly for fun, but the group has entertained at several parties, one bar, and recently at the Grange Fair. They can be seen in action on YouTube. “I'd like to pretend that our fans put this up, but of course, it was the band,” says McNaughton.
McNaughton is the man on bass and Lee handles guitar. “Playing with such a great group of people is a nice release outside of work,” states Lee. Hughes also plays guitar—“a wonderful Paul Reed Smith, which is way too good for me,” he admits. “Our drummer is Matt McNaughton, a sophomore in high school. When asked if he enjoyed playing with us, he said ‘Sure, it's fun to watch old guys play.’"
Kai Schafft heads up The Chicken Tractor, a local country band. The group performs around 30 gigs each year and just released a new CD, Tin Can Holler. “We recorded the CD last December in a farmhouse in Aaronsburg,” remarks Schafft.
“This band came out of the years I had spent previously as a country music DJ in Ithaca, N.Y., working on a radio show devoted to old-time, string band, classic country, honky-tonk, and roots country music,” says Schafft, who also continues to play regularly in a seven-piece zydeco band from Ithaca known as The MacGillicuddies. “I’ve been an active gigging musician for about ten years now, playing banjo, guitar, and tenor guitar mainly, but also lap steel, banjo-ukulele, and other instruments.”
The Chicken Tractor is organizing an eight-band benefit on Nov. 15 to support the Penns Valley Hope Fund to aid families in crisis. Says Schafft, “The benefit includes songs from the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music, a foundational set of recordings released in the 1950 by Smithsonian Folkways—it’s basically a re-release of blues, folk, Cajun, and hillbilly music that came out on 78 rpm records in the ‘20s and ‘30s.”
Pat Shannon and some old-time friends have a group known as The Root Beer Beaver, which originated in 1966 in Fairport, N.Y. “We played together until the last of us graduated from high school in 1969, and then we re-formed with all the original members eight years ago,” says Shannon, who handles the electric guitar.
“Practices and events are difficult to schedule with the bass player in Austin, Texas, and me in Happy Valley,” says Shannon. “But we try to play two or three times a year in Fairport. We have a loyal following, and it's not unusual to have more than 200 dancers on the floor at once with children and teenagers making way for their twisting, strolling, monkeying, and jerking great-grandparents.”
Shannon adds that, “Our play list begins with Arthur Crudup's That's All Right Mama from 1946 and stops in 1969 with Kick Out the Jams by the MC5. I'd like to say that we're still loud, fast, and out of control as rock and roll should be played—but at our age, all I can promise is that we are loud.”
Ali Carr-Chellman is lead vocalist with Back Ali, a jazz and pop band whose members include retired College of Education advisor Andrew Jackson, as well as Ted Mannino and George Pavlik, both alums of the Instructional Systems program. Back Ali plays out several times a year for private parties and in small venues. The group has been together for about ten years now and, according to Carr-Chellman, has “really worked out a sound.”
Carr-Chellman says, "Music and singing gives my life more balance. Having to put a different set of skills into my head and my body for a while is so good for my soul."
Carr-Chellman has started to blend with the next generation of vocalists—she and her husband join their three children singing at Faith United Church of Christ for an occasional special music offering.
Roger Shouse and his daughter, Eva Mei Shouse, comprise a band called EMS, playing a combination of pop, rock, and alternative music. “We’re a studio band. We have a basement full of musical instruments and multitrack recording equipment," says Roger. “We play all the instruments—guitar, drums, keyboard, and bass.”
EMS has cut several CDs. “Our most recent CD, Pingtung Calling, uses music to tell the story of our year living in Taiwan,” says Roger, who was a visiting professor at National Pingtung University of Education during the 2002–03 academic year.
EMS has had worldwide airplay; it was highlighted on Radio Taiwan International in a broadcast that aired this past May. The broadcast, which was carried over shortwave radio and the Internet, featured EMS's Pingtung Calling CD.
Ed Herr, distinguished professor emeritus, is a familiar trumpet player for several bands throughout the region. He has performed with the State College Area Municipal Band, the Second Winds, and the Senior Citizen Dance Band.
“Each of the bands has its own culture and its own uniqueness,” says Herr. “Collectively, they are therapeutic in their content and in their expectation that the performer will be engrossed in the music being played, rather than thinking about extraneous worries and issues.”
In his early- to mid-20s, Jim Herbert played rhythm guitar and was lead singer for several bands, playing at fine establishments around Baltimore. “We did the usual stuff—Beatles, CSNY, Loggins and Messina, Pure Prairie League, Moody Blues, and some original material,” he recalls. “Although these gigs did not lead to any invitation to play at Carnegie Hall, we nevertheless had a rip-roaring good time."
Herbert eventually left the music circuit to pursue graduate studies in Wisconsin, where he connected with a few other students “and we would simply jam for fun,” he says. For the past four years, he has had “a steady gig” each Saturday with his group Mass Appeal at Good Shepherd Church in Gray's Woods. “You can catch our group at the 5:30 Mass,” he says. “I play acoustic guitar and serve as lead singer.”
Herbert says Mass Appeal could use a mandolin player and a backup keyboard player. “Anyone interested in joining as a musician or singer can contact me,” he says. “One benefit is that after each Mass our group celebrates with a great meal—food for the body and the soul!”
Kyle Peck is looking for a drummer.
He and some friends are looking to organize a new band; once they have found their drummer, all the pieces will be in place, says Peck. “If we end up playing for audiences, I think we’ll do ‘60s and ‘70s type songs. If we decide to play just for themselves, we’ll do blues and some other stuff that people aren’t familiar with.”
Peck is an experienced bass player, having previously played with Big Pink Dog. Lately he has been making a switch to the guitar.
Music is Jackie Edmondson’s passion. In fact, she entered her freshman year of college as a piano performance major before switching to education. She started to teach piano lessons when she was 13 years old and has developed into an accomplished pianist.
Edmondson performs in pit orchestras—primarily with the Penn State Thespians, for whom she played in their April 2009 production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. She also plays in the pit orchestras with the State College Community Theater, the State College School District, and the Nittany Theater Company.
“I became involved with pit orchestras because both of my sons are involved with theater,” she says. “Jacob is a sound and light designer, and Luke likes to be on stage or in the pit orchestra playing string bass. My husband gets involved behind the scenes, helping to build sets and making sure everyone has plenty to eat (he’s a chef).”
Edmondson recalls a favorite family moment during a middle school play: “Luke was the prince in Cinderella and Jake was the stage manager. I was playing piano in the pit, so I had a front row seat for everything. On the last evening during bows, I stopped playing and gave them both a standing ovation when they came on stage.” Edmondson is relieved to realize that since the audience also was on its feet, most people did not notice her sudden work stoppage. But, she says, “Luke and Jake saw me standing for them and they gave me an ‘Oh mom’ look.”
David Monk is an experienced organist, a skill that extends to his high school days on Long Island. “ I was a substitute organist during the summers for several churches,” he says. “In fact, I was able to pay for my first date with Pam because of a well-timed—for me—funeral service that I played for on the morning of our date.” Monk admits that over the years, as other interests have intervened, “I am now very much an enthusiastic amateur.”
When he and Pam were teaching school in New Jersey in 1973, the Monks built an impressive-looking harpsichord from a pile of parts and some cryptic instructions. The instrument now stands proudly in their home. “When we bought the kit, we were living on the third floor of a walk-up apartment,” Dean Monk recalls. “Our landlady, who lived on the lower floors, was convinced we were building a piano and fretted openly and repeatedly about how we would get it out of the building.”
Today, Monk is a vocalist with the State College Choral Society (SCCS), with which he has been singing for more than eight years.
Anne Whitney also is a member of SCCS, having joined earlier this year. “I had heard about the choir when I first arrived at Penn State in 2006, but it took me a few years to arrange my teaching and family schedules so that I could take part,” she says,
Whitney has sung in a variety of contexts—including a folk band, choirs at the University of California, Santa Barbara and at the University of New Mexico, and a range of church choirs and bands. “My roots in music began in school music classes and choirs,” says Whitney. “They introduced me to talents I didn't know I had and, more importantly, the joys of rehearsal and performance.
“These are opportunities I would not have had at home, and for this reason I am a passionate advocate for consistent, wide-ranging arts programs in schools for all children. Music enhances every aspect of school and life,” she says.
Susan Woodhouse likewise has sung with SCCS. “I'm currently on hiatus because now we have a 15-month-old toddler, Sofia, and I've had to cut down on extracurricular activities. But I look forward to returning when Sofia is a little older. The Choral Society has been a great outlet for me. I've made friends while being a part of a great musical experience,” she says.
“I started off playing piano when I was five years old, and then I added the flute at nine years,” continues Woodhouse. “But when I started singing in the school chorus and madrigal group in high school, I realized that I had found my real musical passion. I studied voice during college and then for a number of years after college. Over the years I've sung in choral groups, madrigal groups, and also worked on a solo repertoire—my favorites are Schubert and Brahms lieder.”
Woodhouse currently serves as a cantor at her church.