A History of the Warren County Summer Music School, Inc.
Compiled by Maria Miller, former WCSMS student and intern

With this summer’s three-week session of classes in vocal and instrumental music and the arts, the Warren County Summer Music School, Inc. will celebrate 30 years.  In 1958, Harry Summers had started a summer band school for those students who would be in his high school band in the following year. The purpose of this summer band school was so that the members of the Warren High School band could learn the music for their shows in the coming year – at that time, the band performed a different show at each half-time game throughout the football season.

The popularity of Summers’s program broadened to include elementary, intermediate, and high school students eager to begin lessons on brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments. In 1961, Daniel Harpster joined Harry Summers to expand the program to include three weeks of instruction for a small fee of $1 per student. In an interview with Daniel Harpster in December 2018, he recalled that he and Summers attended a music workshop in Interlochen, Michigan one summer. At this workshop, the pair took courses in instrument repair and teaching string instruments, taught by world-renowned musicians. After that workshop, string instrument instruction and instrument repair courses began to be offered at the summer band program. 

In the 1970s, this program received additional financial and instrumental support from the members of the Warren Civic Orchestra and the Philomel Club. At the time, the summer band program was supported through the Warren Music Boosters and was open only to students in the City of Warren. Quickly, due to the popularity of the program and additional funding, students from all over Warren County attended the program.

In the 1980s, Kay Logan established a foundation from her husband’s will to foster the arts in and around Warren County. Access to this funding would mean that the summer band program could expand even more. 

In June 1989, a “Summer Band and Orchestra School” was held at Beaty-Warren Middle School, open to students within the Warren County School District entering grades 5-12, building on the summer band program that had previously existed. Daniel Harpster and Ann T. Mead, Miriam S. Levinson, and Kay H. Logan, through a bequest from the Harry A. Logan, Jr. Foundation initiated this broad-based summer arts program. In an interview with Daniel Harpster in December 2018, Mr. Harpster recalled that Mead and Levinson had come up with the idea to receive a grant and expand the existing summer band program. When the grant was received, the previously instrument-focused summer program expanded to include voice, dance, and drama classes. Thus, the Summer Music School program was formed.

Although the name “Warren County Summer Music School” was not adopted until 1991, the program that was instituted in 1989 was unlike any music program the county had provided before. The teachers consisted of music teachers from the Warren County School District, independent studio teachers, and visiting specialists in the Alexander method of music instruction. Students were offered various levels of classes in brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments as well as courses in music appreciation, rhythm and movement, and a chamber ensemble. All students received a cap with a music-themed logo on it. The Summer Band and Orchestra School in 1990 served 202 students, with funding coming from student tuition, the Harry A. Logan, Jr. Foundation, the Philomel Club, the Warren Civic Orchestra, Joseph DeFrees Fund, Warren School Music Boosters, Inc., and the Warren County School District.

After a successful first two years, the Warren County Summer Music School (WCSMS) continued to grow. In 1991, bussing became available to students in the county’s outlying area, with three busses travelling from Sheffield, Youngsville, and Sugar Grove and Russell to Beaty. Classes in keyboard, music theory, and vocal music became available. Several adults enrolled in the three-week program. Grants and funding more than doubled for the third year of Summer Music School. Daniel Harpster was the Music School’s coordinator. In June 1991, the recognizable Warren County Summer Music School logo, designed by then Advisory Board member Joanne Oviatt, was printed on t-shirts for all Music School students, faculty, and staff. This logo continues to be printed on t-shirts provided to students and faculty every year.

In 1992, Mrs. Ann T. Mead, who had been instrumental in establishing the Warren County Summer Music School, took over as coordinator. Daniel Harpster, who had retired as a music teacher with the Warren County School District, continued to teach at Summer Music School for another two years.  In 1992, over 220 students participated in 9 different course offerings in 1992. The program continued to be successful in serving music and arts instruction for students throughout Warren County.

By 1995, the program’s sixth year, the Warren County Summer Music School had grown to include classes such as folk dancing, theatre arts, show choir, jazz workshop, and creative music, as well as multiple levels of instrumental courses. A fourth bus became available for students travelling from Tidioute. That year, WCSMS students began community outreach performances, with vocal instructor Beverly Petersen taking the show choir class to perform at the Warren Senior Center. Guest artists visited the Summer Music School program, sharing their knowledge of performance as a professional artist. One of these 11 guest artists included Ralph Rasmussen, an electronic saxophonist who would later become a WCSMS faculty member fondly referred to as “Raz.”

In 1996, the Summer Music School added an internship program for high school and college students who have experience with the arts and/or are embarking in a course of study in the arts. This same year, WCSMS students attended an outside concert for the first time. That year, and for many years following, Warren County Summer Music School worked with the Chautauqua Institution and the Struther’s Library Theater to transport students to these locations to view dress rehearsals of performances. This allowed for students to become more aware of the arts in their own communities.

In 1997, the annual “Come Learn with Me Day” began. This continues to be a day in the first week of Music School that serves as a day of learning and fun with your child. Parents are welcome to join their children for a day at WCSMS and learn vocal technique, instrumental practices, or embark in the arts.

By its 10th year, in 1999, the Warren County Summer Music School had significantly grown. Nearly 50 course offerings were available for students. Hundreds of parents had participated with their children in “Come Learn with Me Day,” and members of the community were able to come visit the final day of Summer Music School at the annual Open House. A photographer, John Pearson, began to provide WCSMS with lasting memories of the program through his photographs. For the first time, an outside musical group provided a special assembly performance for the students at WCSMS – the African University Choir was enjoyed by the 193 students, 20 faculty members, and 10 interns in 1999.

The Warren County Summer Music School celebrated 20 years in 2009. A special 20th anniversary t-shirt was given to WCSMS students, faculty, and staff members. Students were offered 64 different courses, including harp choir, conducting 101, and colors of music, among more traditional instrumental, vocal, and arts classes. The students of Warren County Summer Music School also performed at the Buskers Festival in downtown Warren at the end of the 3-week program.

The annual “Pops by the Fountain” collaboration performance between the Warren Philharmonic Orchestra and students of the Warren County Summer Music School began in 2012. The 2014 Pops at the Fountain concert included performances by WCSMS students in the ballroom dancing and swing dancing classes for the first time. Every year since then, this performance has included traditional and well-known instrumental pieces, as well as vocal and dance performances by the students of the Summer Music School. Under the direction of WCSMS faculty member Brian Eckenrode, this performance in downtown Warren continues to be an annual favorite. 

In 2013, Warren County Summer Music School was featured in the Our Town-Warren television broadcast on WPSU.

In 2014, to celebrate 25 years of Warren County Summer Music School, WCSMS offered a Promising Young Composers Competition. Denise Pearson, a member of the WCSMS Board of Directors, chaired the competition. The program provided for composers, between ages of 15-30, to submit an original, unpublished music composition appropriate for students grades 7-12 and arranged for instrumental jazz ensemble, vocal ensemble, or symphonic youth orchestra. Prizes would include 1st place: $1,000, 2nd place: $500, 3rd place: $250 to winning composers. In its first year, the Promising Young Composers Competition received ten submissions from around the world, including submissions from the U.S., Canada, and Portugal from composers between the ages of 17 and 26. The winning composition – a vocal piece titled “Do You Hear How Many You Are?” – was performed by WCSMS students and faculty at the Pops at the Foundation in downtown Warren in 2014. The Promising Young Composers Competition continues to receive submissions annually. Information about the competition can be found on the Warren County Summer Music School’s website at www.wcsms.org.

The year 2015 brought a variety of new course offerings to the over 160 students that enrolled in WCSMS. Courses in photography, ukulele, and color theory were offered. An electronic music ensemble course taught students how to use Wii remotes, Guitar Hero controllers, Rock Band drum sets, iPods and smartphones to create music. That same year, Ashley McLaughlin, a former intern and new WCSMS faculty member, took photographs throughout the three-week program.

Through the years, the Warren County Summer Music School has provided courses in the arts for students of all ages. In addition to its typical 5th-12th grade students, adults have regularly enrolled in courses in the traditional three-week program. In 2003, a 77-year old violinist enrolled in the program. From 2006-2008 evening classes were offered for adults in the community. These courses included Healthy Musical Singing for Adults, Ballroom Dancing, An Evening of Adults Social Dance, and Yes! You Can Sing at Any Age. In 2016, an evening Pipe Organ class was offered to adults through a WCSMS partnership with First Lutheran Church in Warren.

Funding has been, and continues to be, one way that the Warren County Summer Music School can be supported in our community. Through scholarships from individual donors, the Salvation Army, and various other community support, nearly 100 students have utilized partial or full scholarships to attend WCSMS. Community partners, such as the Community Foundation of Warren County, as well as others, including the Anne Putnam Mallinson Trust, the DeFrees Foundation, the Warren Music Boosters, the Warren County School District, Kay Logan, the Philomel Club, and others, have been integral in maintaining and expanding the Warren County Summer Music School. In addition, funding through the annual Warren Gives campaign, supported by the Community Foundation of Warren County, has supported WCSMS.

In its 30 years of existence, the Warren County Summer Music School has served thousands of students from Warren County and beyond. Professional musicians and talented artists have visited and shared their talents with the students at WCSMS. The Summer Music School has worked with the Pennsylvania Partners in the Arts, Penn State Erie, The Logan Series, and the Warren County School District to provide music performances and workshops for the community. Featured artists have included the Tuvan throat singers, Huun Huur Tu, pianist Alpin Hong, the Imani Winds, So Percussion, Classical Jam, East of the River, Olga, Rodney Mack Philadelphia Big Brass band, and more. Thanks to the generous support of Kay Logan, and the leadership of the late Ann Mead, the Warren County Summer Music School has grown into the incredible program that it is today. 

The Warren County Summer Music School has truly instilled a love of music and the arts in our community. Providing children and adults with study, performance, and appreciation of the fine arts has been the mission of the Warren County Summer Music School, and the program continues to provide these opportunities for its students and the Warren County community.

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