Paula Skutnick is a licensed psychologist as well as a piano theory teacher, award-winning Ragtime pianist and composer of several musical theater works, including “Let Go!” Which has been performed at the Mermaid Inn.

by Len Lear

Local musician Paula Skutnick, like so many other musicians and performers, is trying to make lemonade out of lemons. Because of the pandemic, she had to cancel performances in March through July, but she is doing her best to make up for the loss with Zoom “virtual” concerts. For example, she originally had a gig arranged at Malelani Café in Mt. Airy for June 6, but instead on that night she performed a Zoom concert with several local musicians. She has also played and sung in Zoom song circles and for a birthday party.
“I have actually survived the pandemic very well, thank goodness!” Skutnick said last week. “I was extremely busy while teaching all online (psychology) classes at West Chester University (WCU). I’ve found that everything takes about four times as long doing it this way, but it was a good experience.

“And now I am catching up on regular life responsibilities, eating more healthily, playing piano more, walking (while observing social distancing), swing dancing at home with my partner, kayaking, attending Zoom yoga classes, getting in touch with friends and family and in general solidifying important relationships! Staying safe, staying healthy, staying engaged and staying connected!” In addition to her musical talents, Paula Skutnick is a licensed psychologist and an adjunct professor of psychology for over 20 years at WCU. An award-winning ragtime pianist, Paula, 60-ish, has composed several musical theatre works, including co-authoring the book and composing the music for “Let Go!,” a musical that has been performed and the Mermaid Inn in Chestnut Hill and other area venues.

The show includes various patients and therapists discussing and resolving their problems — obsessive compulsive disorder, depression and a couple attending marital counseling. There has been a cast of 18 plus six tap dancers and six martial artists, ranging in age from pre-teens to senior citizens.

Skutnick has taught piano, theory and composition to students of all ages since 1976. Her students have won composition awards, and some have gone on to study performance and pedagogy at the collegiate level. Paula has published articles on the intersection of psychology and music, specifically regarding “flow” and performance anxiety.

​Skutnick grew up in Northeast Philly and graduated from St. Hubert’s High School, West Chester University in 1980 with a degree in psychology and a minor in music (sort of) and Temple University in 1983 with a master’s degree in counseling psychology.

But Shutnick also started playing the piano in the first or second grade, and towards the end of high school, she wanted “to become a rock star,” but “it soon became apparent that this was not happening.”

How do music and psychology complement each other? “In many ways! I am interested in the psychology of music, in particular the concept of ‘Flow’ and performance anxiety and the cognitive neuroscience of playing, listening to and composing music.”

Skutnick has even treated musicians for performance anxiety. What is her advice to them? “That is a big, complicated question and would require working with someone one-on-one to determine what approaches to take. However, the short answer might be to ‘just do it.’ For most individuals, the more performance experiences one has, the easier it can become.”

Is there a chance that “Let Go!” will ever be performed again locally? “I would love that! Perhaps I will work on an updated version. In the meantime, I am now working on a couple of musical ideas with another writer that are only in the ‘thinking stage’ right now.”
There are not too many local musicians whom Paula has not played with. “I so enjoy playing with Bill Nixon, Ted Jordan, Carol Moog, Marsha Low, Kenny Ulansey, Mike Fox, Selina Higgens, Ian Wolf, Liz Mayeaux, Eric Sollenberger, Rich McKenzie and my favorite percussionist, Jimbo Daily. I look forward to playing with these musicians mostly because of the true deep feeling they put into everything they play!”

For more information, visit www.paulaskutnick.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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