Alongside renowned such renowned performers as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the CityDance modern dance troupe and the National Philharmonic Orchestra, future generations of artists, musicians and audiences hone their skills in the newly opened Education Center at Strathmore Hall.
"It’s the surprise of Strathmore," said Eliot Pfanstiehl proudly when referring to the Education Center. "No one knows about it, but it is one of the most important and worthwhile areas of Strathmore."
Pfranstiehl, the president and chief executive officer of Strathmore Hall, has a vision of what is needed to create a vibrant and invigorating arts community in Montgomery County. Pfanstiehl and his colleagues determined that an Education Center was the other necessary component that would make Strathmore Hall a comprehensive entity for the arts. Although he said he was frequently challenged about this decision during the fund-raising phase of Strathmore Hall’s development, Pfanstiehl never wavered in his commitment to an Education Center.
"We would not do the project without the Education Center because it is where the audience in ten years will come from. They will learn to appreciate all facets of the arts, and without them Strathmore might not have a future," said Pfanstiehl. "We wanted an educational center that was literally cradle to the grave."
THROUGH THE MULTITUDE of programs that the Education Center offers, new generations of artists, music lovers and performers are being taught and inspired daily. Housed in the Music Center at Strathmore, the Education Center offers thousands of students the opportunity to take their musical talents to new levels and explore different artistic genres using their creativity and imagination. Strathmore and its artistic partners, The Levine School of Music and CityDance, run hundreds of lectures, workshops, individual classes, master classes, and camps in state of the art facilities to give each student the opportunity to find his or her own niche and thrive.
The Levine School of Music, one of the primary programs that is held at the Education Center at Strathmore, is committed to creating an environment in which students of all ages and backgrounds have the ability to explore what they call in their mission statement, "the universal language of music." Prior to the opening of the Education Center at Strathmore in February 2005, the Levine School of Music lacked the proper facilities and faculty necessary to sustain itself as one of the nation's leading nonprofit music schools. The Levine School’s 500 students practiced out of a church basement in Kensington before Strathmore provided them with a home. After coming to Strathmore, the school has expanded to include 700 of the best middle-school and high-school musicians in the area.
The Levine School offers numerous individual and group classes to suit students of all ages and musical interests. Their Early Childhood and Elementary Music department offers classes such as Music Time for Baby, Music Time for Toddlers, and Singing Games, all of which provide babies and toddlers the opportunity to explore the art of music with their parent or caregiver. Furthermore, the Early Childhood and Elementary Music department offers classes for young children such as Exploring Music, a class for 4- to 5-year-olds in which they will "develop musical vocabulary as well as skills in singing through active music making."
In addition to the vast array of classes offered for younger students, the Levine School of Music provides private instruction by talented teachers in almost all areas of music. Those who are not interested in private instruction can take advantage of Levine’s classes for children, teenagers, and adults in more than 20 instrumental areas including music theory, song, jazz improvisation, brass instruments, group piano and more. A variety of Levine School Music and Arts day camps are also held during the summer for students of age 3 -12 at the Education Center at Strathmore. All of these classes and camps pursue the goal of part of the school’s mission statement, "to interweave the world’s richest musical traditions as part of a uniquely American celebration."
CITYDANCE ENSEMBLE, not only Strathmore’s resident professional dance company, but also Strathmore’s dance education partner, also holds classes and camps at Strathmore Hall’s Education Center. This modern dance organization provides its students, ages 3 to 93, with a comprehensive program in dance and fitness. Students train in ballet, hip-hop, modern jazz, African dance and tap, and are frequently accompanied by live music. CityDance also offers yoga and pilates. In addition to these classes, workshops provide CityDance students with the opportunity to learn from pre-eminent artists from all over the country. Summer Camps, including the Summer Arts Camp, Camp Fit and Summer Dance Intensive Camps are held to provide students, ages 3 to 18, with the opportunity to expand their skills during the summer months.
In addition to CityDance and the Levine School of Music’s programs in the arts, Strathmore Hall has added a program called interPLAY to its education center, affirming Strathmore’s commitment to the accessibility of arts for all. Interplay, a 15-year-old, award-winning nonprofit organization, gives more than 50 adult musicians, with and without cognitive or physical disabilities, the opportunity to perform in a year-round concert schedule. The orchestra members play professional percussion and tonal instruments. Principal conductor and founding artistic director Paula R. Moore leads this band in weekly rehearsals to learn music from all genres. Pfanstiehl calls interPLAY’s practice sessions and performances "the highlight of many of the members’ weeks and of some of their lives."
Not only does Strathmore Hall’s Education Center hold classes for students of all ages, but it also houses the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras (MYCO), the oldest and most established youth orchestra program in the D.C. area. Before the opening of the Music Center at Strathmore, the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestra did not have a home and was forced to practice in different schools. This orchestra provides some of the best middle-school and high-school students in the country the opportunity to perform under Artistic Director and Philharmonic Conductor Olivia W. Gutoff. The MYCO includes three full orchestras, two string orchestras, a harp ensemble, and chamber ensembles to hundreds of musicians in grades 4-12. Auditions for MCYO are held each year in late August and early September.
Overall, the Education Center at Strathmore Hall benefits all who participate in its vast array of programs and sets a tone of imagination and creativity for all.
"The sense of creativity that one encounters at Strathmore Hall ultimately comes from the kids. They are our future," said Eliot Pfanstiehl.