Student finds niche playing Smith Carillon

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Penn State Behrend sophomore James Lisi began playing the campus’ Smith Carillon this fall. He plays regularly throughout the week on the campus’ practice carillon (pictured) and played a concert during finals week for the campus community. While he’s been a musician since he was a child, mastering the carillon has been a new kind of challenge. “Instead of having the keys right next to you, you have to branch out,” Lisi said. “This wears your hands out a lot faster because you have to move them all over, but there are pedals too, so some of the notes you can play with your feet, which makes it easier.”

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

Walk into Penn State Behrend’s Larry and Kathryn Smith Chapel on a weekday morning and chances are you’ll hear James Lisi before you see him.

He’ll be playing one of the building’s many pianos. Or pedaling away on the practice carillon.

“I start every day by playing music here,” said Lisi, a sophomore psychology major. “When I play the piano or the carillon, it gets me going and sets the tone for the day.”

Lisi, a Cleveland native, has always appreciated music. He started singing in third grade and began playing the piano two years later. He is also a member of the Choirs of Penn State Behrend.

While he has experience playing several other instruments, Lisi said he was taken aback to learn about the college’s carillon.

“I had never heard of one before. There are only 200 or so in the country,” he said. “It’s just a really, really rare instrument.”

The 48-bell carillon, along with the chapel’s bell tower, was installed at Penn State Behrend in 2002 as a gift of the late Floyd and Juanita Smith, parents of Larry Smith, president and owner of Automation Devices in Fairview, Pa., and a longtime supporter of the college.

The carillon is an unconventional instrument, to say the least, according to Lisi.

“Instead of having the keys right next to you, you have to branch out,” he said. “This wears your hands out a lot faster because you have to move them all over, but there are pedals too, so some of the notes you can play with your feet, which makes it easier.”

Lisi’s past musical experience is serving him well, as is regular practice and lessons with Daniel Frankforter, professor emeritus of history and the college’s carillonneur.

Lisi is now playing the carillon on a weekly, sometimes daily, basis. He spends hours in Smith Chapel, both studying and playing the pianos and carillon.

“I just love this whole building,” Lisi said. “I get to come here and play three different instruments. It’s a nice way for me to relieve stress. It’s definitely my favorite thing about Behrend.”

During finals week, Lisi played several holiday songs as part of a half-hour carillon concert for the campus community. Students, faculty and staff members were encouraged to gather at Ben Lane Plaza to enjoy hot chocolate as they listened to the bells chime from atop the carillon tower.

“I made some mistakes,” Lisi said with a smile, “but I knew I was not going to be perfect the first time I played publicly. Thankfully, I don’t think anyone noticed.”

He will get another chance to impress this spring at a second carillon concert to be held during finals week.

And if things go his way, Lisi will not be the only one performing. He is currently introducing the carillon to several of his friends.

“I’m really working to persuade some of my friends to play it as well,” he said. “It’s just a totally different kind of instrument. I love the high notes on it, and it’s great that we have one of these right here at Behrend.”

No age limit on Penn State pigskin pride

Dick Koeck ’47 and his wife, Susan ’49 fell in love at University Park—with each other and with Penn State football. Throughout the next few decades, the couple periodically traveled to Happy Valley to attend games, tailgating with friends and cheering on their alma mater’s team.

“It’s just more fun to watch with friends,” Dick Koeck said.

That’s why, when he and Susan moved to an Erie retirement community, Dick decided to bring the spirit of Beaver Stadium to Springhill Senior Living on game days, offering to organize PSU pigskin parties in the common room.

“I knew there were a few Penn Staters at Springhill and I just thought ‘Why not try and get them all together to watch games?’” he said.

Anywhere from twenty to thirty enthusiastic residents, including many alumni and former Penn State Behrend faculty members and administrators, gather for each game.

Among the attendees Penn State Behrend alums may recognize are: Dr. Ed Masteller, professor of biology emeritus; Virginia McGarvey, who along with her late husband, Ray, was a great supporter of Behrend; and Ethel Kochel, wife of Behrend’s first leader, Irv Kochel, and an honorary alumna of the college.

“Oh, yes, Ethel is always there with her cowbell,” Koeck said with a chuckle.

Another resident brings a stuffed Nittany Lion mascot that sings a Penn State tune, blue and white flags are hung. The Springhill tailgaters sing the school Alma Mater and Fight Song and they do Penn State cheers, complete with pom-poms. Penn State apparel is practically required.

“Except for white-out games, of course,” Koeck said.

And what would a football party be without food?

Springhill does it right, serving up traditional tailgate favorites, such as hamburgers and hot dogs, sausage sandwiches with peppers and onions, pizza, wings, etc.

One benefit of tailgating at Springhill? It’s not an alcohol-free zone.

“Oh, sure, we might have a few beers,” Koeck said. “Gotta have that at a tailgate party.”

Plans are already underway for Penn State’s next big game – the Rose Bowl on January 2, 2017.

“It has been amazing to watch the team rise to the challenge and win each week and make Penn State proud,” Kochel said. “It is always fun to have Penn Staters together to watch the game, and we are all so excited that we are going to the Rose Bowl again!”

Koeck can hardly wait to see his team in the “Granddaddy of Them All.” He already knows what he’s wearing.

“The last time Penn State played in the Rose Bowl was in January of 1995, and I’ll be wearing my sweatshirt from that game,” he said.

Penn State won that game, defeating the Oregon Ducks 38-20, so Koeck has good reason to don his lucky shirt when the Nittany Lions take on the University of Southern California Trojans at the 2017 Rose Bowl on Monday, January 2.

Koeck’s parting thoughts?

In typical Penn State football fan fashion: “WE ARE…!”

Rose Bowl Trivia: Why Monday?

The Tournament of Roses has had a “Never on Sunday” tradition since 1893, the first year since the beginning of the Tournament, that New Year’s Day fell on a Sunday. The Tournament wanted to avoid frightening horses that would be hitched outside churches and thus interfering with worship services so the events were moved to the next day, January 2. Though horses are no longer outside local churches, the tradition remains to this day. —tournamentofroses.com

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Still have some holiday shopping to do? Behrend faculty and staff members have you covered

By Steve Orbanek
Marketing Communications Specialist, Penn State Behrend

The mad dash is almost here. It’s time to get those final holiday gifts before it’s too late.

Still scrambling for ideas? Don’t worry, Penn State Behrend’s faculty and staff members have you covered. Here are some of their top suggestions for gifts that are both fun and educational.

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Ideas provided by Melanie Ford, director of Youth Education Outreach

Jewelbots. Look pretty while you learn about programming? That’s exactly what girls can accomplish with Jewelbots, the friendship bracelet that teaches kids to code. $69

Robot Turtles. Designed for children ages four and up, this interactive board game helps teach young people how to program. $15

Pokemon. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Pokemon are once again hotter than ever.  Whether it’s the cards or the video games, there are plenty of ways to “catch ‘em all” this holiday season. Prices vary

Ideas provided by Tracy Halmi, senior lecturer in chemistry

Molecules: The Elements and the Architecture of Everything. Quite literally, molecules make up everything. How exactly does one visualize that, though? Theodore Gray does that for you in this book, which features stunning photography of the chemical structures that make up every material in the world. $20

Instant Snow. Even as one of America’s snowiest cities, the white stuff has been mostly absent from the region so far. We cannot make snow fall from the sky, but this gift allows a person to actually make snow (and learn about chemistry while he or she is at it.) $18

Minecraft Cookie Cutters. Every child seems to love Minecraft. Every child definitely loves cookies. This is a no-brainer. $10

Ideas provided by Dr. Richard Zhao, assistant professor of computer science and software engineering

Merge VR Goggles. 2016 is the year that virtual reality headsets hit the mainstream. The Merge VR Googles turn a person’s smartphone into a virtual reality headset. You’re then able to enjoy fully-immersive virtual environments and games right from the comfort of your living room. $60

Google Cardboard. While Google Cardboard might not look as cool as the Merge Goggles, it offers a similar experience and at a great price. $15

Idea provided by Tom Noyes, professor of English and creative writing

“Best American” book series. For bibliophiles on your list, you might check out the annual “Best American” series. Each year, 2016 included, editors compile the best examples of writing from magazines around the country. The three standards, “Best American Short Stories,” “Best American Poetry,” and “Best American Essays” are great, as are some of the other volumes, including “Best American Mystery Stories,” “Best American Sports Writing,” “Best American Science and Nature Writing,” and “Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy.” $10-$15

Idea provided by Mary-Ellen Madigan, director of enrollment management

Tile Mate. Is there someone on your list who is notorious for losing his or her keys? They won’t be anymore. This Bluetooth tracking device is small, durable and water resistant, and it can easily be attached to keys, luggage, backpacks, or anything else you carry. $25