Music instructors are crucial to the development of new generations of musicians and music lovers, and in central Illinois, the Peoria Area Music Teachers’ Association (PAMTA) has assisted independent music teachers with their educational goals for more than three decades. One of the organization’s major activities, the Sonata/Sonatina Festival, only takes place every other year. Fortunately, it appears again beginning at 9 a.m., February 8, at Illinois Central College.

“The Sonata/Sonatina Festival is a competition/festival designed to encourage and promote an interest in classical sonata and sonatina form,” according to PAMPTA President Rebecca Gebbink. “It gives students a chance to learn and see what other students can accomplish with sufficient motivation and effort. Care is taken to give a positive experience that emphasizes the learning aspects of competitions and minimizes the negative effects of those competitions that focus participants only on winning.”

She said the Festival, which is open to all Peoria area piano students in kindergarten through grade 12, lays a foundation of experience for future competition, provides an opportunity for performance before a larger audience, and recognizes excellence in performance. It also allows students and teachers to meet others in the music world with similar interests in piano. “Both students and teachers can benefit from experiences in competitions. I firmly believe quality teaching is enhanced by performance opportunities and positive reinforcement of outside professional musicians.”

The Sonata/Sonatina Festival participants perform one movement of a standard sonata or sonatina by memory, and participants are entered and judged by repertoire level, each receiving a certificate and judges’ comments, Gebbink said. “The first and second place winners for each of the 10 levels receive a cash award of $25 and $15, respectively. A special Sonata/Sonatina Recital of our best performers then takes place at 5 p.m. at the Bertha Franks Performing Arts Center in Morton.”

Gebbink said this Festival is only the second such event PAMPTA has sponsored, and it’s the first Sonata/Sonatina Festival in which all piano students in the Peoria area were invited to participate.

Choosing the format—and the name—of the competition was done to be inclusive to all participants. “As a piano student, sonatinas and sonatas are standard repertoire. For piano teachers, it’s our desire to give our students the joy of playing sonatinas and sonatas and give them the opportunity to share this classical music form. The festival does this, but also allows them to hear what other students can do with proper motivation and encouragement,” she said.

Hosting the Festival at ICC was a logical choice, as well. “ICC has consistently been supportive of PAMPTA events and of the independent teacher. ICC’s Piano Pedagogy Certificate, designed specifically for the independent piano teacher, is one of a few in the nation and has been adopted by other colleges across the country. Also, PAMTA’s Achievement in Music (AIM) exams are held at ICC and Bradley University, some of PAMPTA’s recitals are held in ICC’s Lecture Recital Hall, and our Monster Concerts have been held in the Performing Arts Center since 1991,” Gebbink said.

PAMPTA, which was organized in 1965, is the local affiliate of the Illinois State Music Teachers Association and the Music Teachers National Association, Gebbink said. “PAMTA boasts 56 members, both degreed and non-degreed professionals who’ve chosen to be educators in the field of music. Some teach in a school environment, but most are independent, private educators who’ve established a music studio in their home,” she said.

Membership is available to all individuals professionally engaged in any field of music activity, she said, as well as offering student membership to full-time college students involved in music study. “PAMTA is open to music professionals in the fields of piano theory, choral conducting, organ, accompanying, violin, pedagogy, harp, voice, general music, pre-school music, and piano literature. PAMTA also offers state and national certification.”

Gebbink said the objective of the group is to encourage an exchange of ideas in the field; enrich the love and understanding of music; and elevate the standards of teaching music by recognizing the experience, training, and challenge necessary for professional growth.

PAMTA organizes many activities for its members and their students, including monthly meetings with programs of specific interest, master artist performances, master teaching classes, and educator workshops, she said. “We have state and national conventions, state and national certification, and teacher recitals. We provide various performance opportunities for students such as theme recitals: the Americana Recital, the 1st Timers Recital, Sacred Music Recital, The Jazz Showcase, and an Honors Recital.

“We administer theory and performance exams through the AIM syllabus, provided by the Illinois State Music Teachers Association. Our students are given the opportunity to provide Christmas music during the holiday season at Northwoods Mall and Barnes and Noble, and we administer a junior and senior high scholarship program. And every other year, we offer our students the opportunity to perform in a Monster Concert, a multi-piano ensemble concert,” she said.

All of these activities are provided in the name of music education, which Gebbink said is vital to the culture and civility of society. “By raising the level of music education, we positively affect the community’s economic, educational, and physical growth. Teaching a child music is arguably just as important as teaching him or her to read, write, or perform mathematics. It opens up a whole new form of self-expression and a whole new language for communication. For this reason, parents should do everything possible to expose their children to music from an early age. The more you understand music, the better you appreciate the multitude of musical styles you’re exposed to over the years.” 

Gebbink said learning a musical instrument develops a child’s coordination and increases a child’s ability to concentrate, along with many other benefits. “The mathematical precision and memory work involved in learning music teaches a child how to work through problems by focusing on them individually. It’s a proven fact music students tend to perform better in mathematics, English, and the social sciences than students with little or no musical experience. Also, a trained musical ear will enhance listening skills, which are important both at home and in the classroom.

Developing confidence in themselves is another byproduct of a musical education. “Learning to play an instrument provides an opportunity for accomplishment at any level, from “Chopsticks” to Chopin. Regardless of how far the child advances, the sense of accomplishment and personal achievement is there from the start. While very few people achieve concert-level mastery of any instrument, almost all levels of musical achievement bring satisfaction. Children can play for personal enjoyment for family and friends. And with greater knowledge of music comes greater appreciation for the musical achievements of others,” she said.

Gebbink, who’s been a music teacher for 17 years, said the most challenging aspect is keeping the excitement of learning fresh and new. “Learning a musical instrument is a lot of hard work, and we live in a fast-paced world with instant gratification. As a music student, there is instant gratification, but mastery takes time, and the larger, long-term goal must be kept alive. Given the current climate, long-term goals aren’t usually given value. But the challenge creates the passion that’s always fresh and new that piano teachers welcomes every day.”

The best part of teaching music, Gebbink said, is the joy of participating in the students discovery of making music. “The thrill of taking a young student who knows nothing about music and creating a relationship with that child, then giving him or her the tools necessary to learn and understand music is incredible—arriving at the ability to create his or her own music is thrilling. To watch young peoples’ excitement at their accomplishment and the joy and fun of making music is priceless.” AA!