2018-04-01 / Shorts

The Right Note

Music teacher Patti Begg recognized for striking a chord with elementary students
Chris Rosenblum | Photos by Nabil K. Mark

Patti Begg is an elementary school vocal music teacher, so one might assume she spends her days in a music room. She prefers another term.

“If I had to call this room anything,” she says, gesturing to her Park Forest classroom, “I would call it the listening room.”

Under her tutelage, Begg’s students at Park Forest and Gray’s Woods elementary schools sharpen their ears. They learn to listen carefully, to identify rhythmic patterns and sing them, to fully engage their brains with the joys of hearing and making music.

“I feel like I’m a voice-builder,” Begg says. “I can take kids and teach them what to do with their voice so they can have a singing voice. Not everybody is going to be a musician. But they are going to be, hopefully, music consumers.”

Her approach, fine-tuned over 35 years, struck a chord with Penn State music education faculty members. They chose her for the 2018 Penn State School of Music Outstanding Alumni Music Educator Award, the school’s highest music education honor, for making a difference to children and families through music education.

“We are so excited to present this award to Patti for her years of service to the State College community and to the professional development and growth of hundreds of Penn State School of Music students, whom she has graciously allowed into her classroom to observe, learn, be mentored and grow,” Associate Professor of Music Education Ann Clements says.

A district teacher since 1988, Begg admits she initially felt uncomfortable being singled out because she considers herself part of a team of “great teachers who work very hard” for students. But upon further reflection, she’s excited to accept the award at the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association state conference this month.

“I’ve had a chance to calm down about it and feel like I’m just going to accept this for myself and for all of us, because it’s really nice to be recognized, and that makes you work even harder,” she says.

That means she’ll redouble her efforts to foster self-confidence. Whether they’re sounding out rhythms spelled out on flashcards, belting out songs or exploring new instruments, Begg relishes seeing her students embrace music, unencumbered by self-doubt.

“They’re discovering and so it’s fun for them,” she says. “It really lifts children. It builds them in a way that gives me such pleasure.”

Even after a long career, she’s still in perfect harmony surrounded by young minds and sharing a love of music nurtured at Westminster Choir College and during her Penn State graduate studies. She also has wisdom to offer. As with sports and dance, music requires patience and perseverance, she tells classes; everyone starts out “stinky.”

In the end, however, musicality matters less to her than being musical.

“Very, very few students will be music performers,” Begg says. “That’s not the point. The point is, I want to create a culture where everybody can sing.” •SCM

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