Settlement Music School to host Saturday open house in Germantown

 Band students jam at Settlement Music School's Germantown branch. (Photo courtesy of Settlement Music School)

Band students jam at Settlement Music School's Germantown branch. (Photo courtesy of Settlement Music School)

One of America’s oldest community music schools will host an open house at its Germantown branch this weekend.

From 12 to 3 p.m. on Saturday, community members can visit the Settlement Music School, on Germantown Ave. near Tulpehocken St., to watch student and adult ensembles and meet vocal, dance, instrumental and percussion teachers.

Its history

In 1908, the school started in Southwark as a music-outreach effort for a settlement house that helped immigrants at the turn of the century.

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Initially employing two women who taught piano, Settlement now features more than 200 musician instructors at six branches in Philadelphia and Camden (NJ). It serves as the largest community arts organization in the country.

Its alumni list includes numerous international performers.

Among its former students are principal and associate principals in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra, pop acts like Chubby Checker, band directors like Kevin Eubanks and World Café regulars The Bacon Brothers.

Today’s Settlement

The Germantown campus opened in 1959. Eric Anderson, branch director, has worked there for 27 years.

“From the very beginning, our overriding philosophy has been to offer music to anyone, regardless of background,” he said.

Programming depends “on what the neighborhood wants,” and includes youth-band and orchestral programs as well as adult-rock bands, jazz ensembles, string quartets and group piano, Anderson said.

The common thread is a clientele diverse both racially and economically.

“Students who come from incredibly impoverished backgrounds sit next to students from affluent Chestnut Hill,” Anderson said.

A generous financial-aid program is available to children and teenagers, and Anderson called the Philadelphia School District’s budget cuts “a double-edged sword” as related to the impact on programming.

“Students are coming now because they aren’t getting the arts in school,” he said, noting that prior to the cuts, in-school instrument instructors encouraged students to enroll in enrichment programs.

Settlement Music does offer some off-site afternoon programming in public schools.

The upcoming event

Anderson said the open house is “unabashedly” a recruiting tool  “for people who may not be aware of what we do.”

Among the teachers on campus that day will be Michael Koehler, a guitarist that the school calls its “Renaissance Millennial Man.”

In addition to his professional solo performances, Koehler is a music therapist.

Among his roles at Settlement, he gives individual lessons, directs rock ensembles and teaches in “The Music Playshop” program for infants and toddlers. He said working with families is one of the most rewarding aspects of his job.

“I love the interaction between parent and child,” said Koehler, who offers lessons at four Settlement campuses. “Children are so free musically.”

He said the school is an ideal employer for musicians because it trusts the individual’s approach to guiding students.

“I’ve done a lot of music-store teaching and, for the most part, Settlement is by far the best environment for teachers and students,” he said. “Its emphasis is on teaching [music] history and helping students see similarities between different styles, which expands their listening horizons.”

At the open house, he said he hopes parents will see the opportunities the school offers young musicians to also learn leadership and time-management skills, and to meet different kinds of friends.

Most of all, though, he said he hopes that people will see “it’s just really fun.”

Settlement Music School is located at 6128 Germantown Ave.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the music therapist in this story as Michael Koenig. His name is Michael Koehler. NewsWorks regrets the error.

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