by MICHAEL CARUSO
When the Germantown Branch of Settlement Music School opens its doors on Thursday, Sept. 8, for the start of its 2011-12 academic year, it will do so with a new branch director in place. The Germantown Branch, 6128 Germantown Ave., the oldest of Settlement’s five branches beyond the historic central branch at 416 Queen St. in South Philadelphia, will say “farewell” to longtime director Patricia Manley and “welcome aboard” to Eric Anderson.
The change at the top is part of a larger rotation of branch directors under Settlement Music School’s new executive director, Helen Eaton. She recently completed her first year as Robert Capanna’s successor at the helm of the 103-year-old community music school. Settlement is the largest such school in the nation.
Anderson and Manley, both residents of Glenside, are rotating as branch directors. Anderson is moving from the same position at the central Mary Louise Curtis Branch while Manley is set to become the branch director of the newly constructed Willow Grove Branch. The new facility, located at 318 Davisville Rd., opened in January of this year and replaces the older site in Jenkintown. Marsha Hogan is retiring as branch director at Willow Grove at the end of this month.
Anderson comes to Germantown after more than 24 years as director at the MLC Branch. He took over at the downtown branch at the middle of the same school year during which I first joined Settlement’s piano faculty. Looking back across those two-and-a-half decades, Anderson pointed to the tremendous growth in the size and scope of the ensemble programs at the branch.
“I think one of the reasons for the growth of the ensemble programs was the success of our advanced study program,” he said, referring to the school’s determined efforts to involve its most advanced students and adults in programs involving other musicians.
Anderson also emphasized one particular aspect of the music workshop classes — their bringing together youngsters from a broad spectrum of social, economic and cultural backgrounds. Virtually every racial and ethnic group and heritage is represented in the classes. They also span the gamut from those on financial assistance to those who come from the wealthiest sections of society.
“All six of Settlement’s branches work successfully as meeting places for students drawn from every background.” Alongside the Mary Louise Curtis, Germantown and Willow Grove Branches, the remaining three are located in Northeast Philadelphia, the Wynnefield section of the city, and Camden, New Jersey.
Anderson pointed out that the same diverse student body characterizes the Germantown Branch. “There are students who live in North Philadelphia studying alongside students who live in Chestnut Hill. We have students from Germantown High School and students from Germantown Friends or Germantown Academy, students from countless other public schools and students from Chestnut Hill Academy and the Springside School.”
Anderson acknowledged that one difficulty facing Settlement and all such community music schools is the cutback in music programs in most urban public school systems throughout the country. Such programs often functioned as catalysts for young people to take individual music lessons, especially in orchestral and band instruments.
Admitting that even so large an institution as Settlement Music School can’t totally replace those ensemble and class programs in the public schools, Anderson is convinced that it can reach out and offer a viable alternative.
“It’s what we have always done — what we do today — offer quality music instruction in a setting that provides for a social melting pot,” he said. “We’re a place to come to learn what it means to be part of a community. To be an active participant in something you can do for the rest of your life.
“For me, music is an essential part of my everyday life, like breathing and eating. I can’t imagine my life without it. And it’s part of my life to try to help people see that the pursuit of beauty is an essential part of being a human being.”