Pennsylvania Academy of Music Realizes Founders’ Impossible Dream
Without the bells and whistles enjoyed by many high-powered, urban-centered music schools, the Pennsylvania Academy of Music in Lancaster, PA has been in its 15 years, that began “with talk in a living room, steadfastly making its voice heard in an ever-expanding chorus of top-level performer—teachers and supporters from the Lancaster business community, and proving to its founders that “the impossible dream can be done.” When it opened its doors in 1991, the academy had 50 local-area students and offered courses in instrumental performance and music theory. Now its main program boasts 350-400 young people, a number that swells to 500-600 with special festivals and summer chamber music programs. Co-founders, Michael Jamanis the president, and his wife, Frances Veri, dean—both Juilliard graduates and professional musicians—returning not too long ago from Beijing, Shanghai and Tibet, report a growing presence of the academy there. “We’re building up a reputation internationally, largely conveyed by word of mouth.”
Certainly, the recent garnering of $21 million for physical expansion is validation of the academy’s mission: $8—from the state, $1 from the county and the rest—with more coming in, and not just for bricks and mortar—from the private sector. The new building, still under construction, will be a knockout, the last performance venue designed by the late Philip Johnson, who took special care to ensure that the Prince Street glass edifice would fit in with the brick that marks Lancaster as the oldest inland city on the Eastern seaboard. It was Johnson’s strong belief, which both founders strongly endorse, that an entrance should say it all; convey the feeling, tone and layout of the interior. Of course, though “extremely excited” by what is sure to be a centerpiece in the city’s revitalization efforts, which also include new art galleries and upscale restaurants, the co-founders point to the fact that vision drove investment, not the other way around.
What sets the academy apart? For one, location. For another, autonomy. It is precisely because the school is not in Philadelphia that it is growing in students and prestige, say the founders. Based in south-central Pennsylvania, it is designed to attract youngsters who may not otherwise have access to such an institution. Michael Jamanis notes that he comes from New Hampshire and when he wanted to attend a concert, he had to travel to Boston. Because the academy is not a unit of a college or university, the board can “run pretty fast” to institute programs. A full member for the last ten years of the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts, the academy draws students—some as young as four—from public and private schools, who put in approximately two to two and a half hours of study a day—and an increasing number of home schooled children who put in up to seven. The academy also seeks to interest inner-city youth in music by way of scholarships and extra classes, particularly in choral, which of course, requires no instrument other than the voice. But all students not only study instruments and theory, they learn how to audition, conduct themselves on stage, work and play instruments well with others—which is why the school concentrates on chamber music. Attending to these important music-related social skills should not wait for college, both dean and president say. The ratio of boys to girls at the academy is approximately half and half, though boys tend to start a little later, Frances Veri points out. And almost all the certificate-program graduates go on to college, some to music conservatories. Not all, however, go into music but they certainly do enter a world where they will constitute a more appreciative audience for music and of its power to enhance cultural exchange. Two academy graduates have even come back as faculty members.
The school could not have more enthusiastic and optimistic musicians at the helm. Reversing an often-heard phrase that musicians ought to know how and care about teaching, Frances Veri and Michael Jamanis point out that the opposite is also true—that it is extremely important for even the most dedicated teacher to know how to demonstrate what they enjoy.
Mark your calendars: May 8, 2007, Kaplan Penthouse, 6:00 p.m. when the dynamic duo will present the program, “Music, Architecture and Commerce” on the goals and future of their academy. And check the website—www.paaacademymusic.com—for news on the grand opening of the new facility May 2008.#