A love of making music is ingrained in the culture of not only our nation, but the entire world. The evidence of that can be seen in our traditions, our media, and, perhaps in its purest form, in our schools. One need only spend a few minutes with an elementary band, orchestra, or choir to see the unadulterated joy created by music. Sadly, not every school can afford instruments, music, or even a small general music program. Not long ago, the township of Upper Darby, a suburb of Philadelphia, was in danger of becoming one of these schools.
The legacy of the arts in Upper Darby is dear to the heart of the community, thanks in a large part to the tireless work of dedicated individuals. One such individual was a high school music teacher named Brad Schoener, a favorite among students and beloved by the community. He was an open and caring man who saw the poor state of arts education funding in Upper Darby and wanted to do something about it. Schoener had three wishes for the children of Upper Darby school district. First, that the schools could provide them with instruments, so that money was never an obstacle. Second, he wished that any student who showed promise would have the attention he or she needed to grow musically. Lastly, Schoener wanted to create a summer camp for music students.
Sadly, Brad lost his battle with cancer in 2009, but his legacy was taken up by his wife, Jen Schoener, and many others in the community. Through the Brad Schoener Fund, thousands of dollars were raised to fulfill Brad’s three wishes. The result was instruments for anyone who wanted to play and scholarships for students who wanted further lessons. The most visible outcome, though, is the Schoener MusicMan Camp.
The Schoener MusicMan camp gives students who might not have had the opportunity to pick up an instrument and learn that chance. Scholarships are also available from the camp to assist with students who want to further their education. The advent of the Schoener MusicMan camp also led to the Upper Darby Music Marathon, now called the Community Music Festival. This festival brings in talented individuals from all over the township to participate in a day full of music and community bonding.
No one person is responsible for the success of the MusicMan Camp; many prominent members of the Upper Darby community were instrumental. Jen Schoener has been the strongest force in the creation and continuation of the festival, but she has had great support, especially early on, from Mayor Tom Micozzie. Micozzie is a fervent believer in the importance of the arts in Upper Darby who helped to raise the initial funds for the first festival and continues to support the festival to this day.
Steve Bowman, a prominent business owner in Upper Darby, was another important supporter of the festival. In addition to helping to organize the festival, he introduced Jen to Christian Tizon, founder of BEATPEACE. Tizon had been working toward a similar goal of supporting the arts in the Upper Darby area. In tune with the local talent, Tizon helped Jen find new acts to showcase at the festival. The influx of new talent to the festival helped it grow in distinction and it began to raise even more money to fulfill Brad Schoener’s three wishes.
Today, the festival is one of the biggest events in the area, with all parts of the community participating. It helps drive the Schoener Fund, with over $28,000 being raised in just one day this past year. Few things are more inspiring than seeing a community come together, unified by a love for music and the arts. What’s more, it is humbling to think that such great things can be accomplished because of one man’s dream. If we follow in his footsteps, perhaps someday every child who longs to explore the world of music will be given a chance.
Watch the full video at the top of this blog post or on J.W. Pepper’s YouTube channel.