Since 2014, Penn State’s Music Service Club has been spreading the joy of music throughout the State College community.
The club welcomes students of all backgrounds and experience levels into a space dedicated to performing music for those who could benefit from the melodic sound.
“Music can speak to anyone, regardless of background, age, literacy — or anything,” Joy Zhao, co-president of the Music Service Club, said. “Somehow some [genre of music] has meaning to an individual — and it brings back a lot of memories and it really stimulates the mind.”
The mission of the club is based off of the importance of music therapy and community service.
Music therapy is a type of music intervention utilized by health professionals to address the physical, emotional, cognitive and social needs of an individual in a therapeutic setting.
The club aims to share these benefits with its primary venue — senior retirement communities.
“We try to bring the music to them and we try to play music that they’ll enjoy,” Rose Ni, recruitment chair for the Music Service Club, said. “We try to play music that is relaxing and that maybe will bring back some memories of music that they liked in the past and can now find some joy in.”
The club’s performances at senior homes give residents an opportunity to listen to music when they would otherwise have difficulty attending an event where music is readily available.
“We don’t know how often [residents] get visits from family members or friends or what type of engagement with the community they can get in their daily life,” Ni (sophomore-pre-medicine) said. “We really want them to smile when they hear music or remember something that they haven’t thought about in a long time.”
The club performs a variety of musical pieces with the hope of engaging all audience members, Ni said.
In the past, the club has played songs by the Beatles like “Yesterday” and “Hey Jude,” songs by Frank Sinatra and classical pieces. Ni said some members write music, as well, and sometimes the group will perform their songs.
Ni said the most popular songs students play are “Country Roads” and “Wagon Wheels.”
When the club first began in 2014, there were about 10 active members and they would only perform for LifeLink. Since then, it expanded its venues to include a variety of audience members and grown in size to about 30 active members.
For example, Ni said the club performs annually at the Hershey Medical Center and is embarking on a new opportunity to collaborate with the Music Service Club at Thomas Jefferson University, located in Philadelphia.
Other events include trips to Foxdale Village Retirement Community, the Ronald McDonald House and Schlow Library.
“A really exciting event that we just got news of is we won the ‘Empower the Arts’ grant that was funded by the Performing Arts Council,” Ni said. “We can definitely use that to by new instruments and transportation and other resources that we need.”
Jason Giovagnoli, a general body member, said these songs are two of his go-tos when performing at nursing homes.
Giovagnoli (junior-French, German and acoustics) joined during his sophomore year after hearing about the club from a friend. He thought that joining would be a good opportunity to continue playing the cello, meet new people and participate in community service.
“All the members are really nice so I love spending time with them,” Giovagnoli said. “Just the fact that I get to go and play music for people that don’t normally get to hear music like that is really nice to me.”
Jonathan Florian, the service vice president, said his favorite songs to play are songs from anime because the residents are unfamiliar with them — nonetheless, he said they always seem to enjoy the music. Florian (senior-biomedical engineering) described multiple performances where residents have come up to him to ask what song he played because they enjoyed the performance so much.
Music has been an important aspect of Florian’s life since he was six years old, and he said music ultimately saved him from depression.
Florian joined the Music Service Club during his freshman year. He said he knew he wanted to join a club that integrated music and community service — two activities he’s most passionate about — upon coming to college.
Members rehearse songs from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. every Thursday evening in the HUB- Robeson Center. Ni said all instruments and levels of music ability are welcome.
“The rehearsal space is also used as a hangout space,” Ni said.
She said this hangout space has the intention of helping new members integrate into the club and feel comfortable in the space.
As recruitment chair, Ni said she is responsible for welcoming new members, among other responsibilities such as running the club’s social media accounts and organizing club events.
Zhao (junior-pre-medicine) joined the club during her freshman year and has since become president. She said she was a member of a similar club in high school and wanted to continue in college.
“Music has provided me with a lot of friendships and opportunities and connections that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to [make] without it,” Zhao said.
Zhao’s background with music, however, did not begin so positively. Originally, Zhao said her parents forced her to play cello. However, with practice and time she grew to take pride in her music and enjoy playing for others.
Similarly, Gloria Lo joined the Music Service Club during her freshman year. She said she saw the club booth at the Involvement Fair and said she knew she had to join.
“[The club is] such a great way to not only help myself but help others, too, and spread the joy of music,” Lo said. “It doesn’t matter how short or long or what piece I play, it’s just the importance of giving back. It’s amazing.”
The club stood out to Lo (sophomore-communication sciences and disorders and music performance) because she was interested in continuing to play music in college and thought this club would be a good way to integrate her love of music with her passion for helping others.
Lo said music has played an important role in her life since childhood. Seven years ago, she began playing the violin. However, singing, dancing and the joy she experiences from a good song have been with her for years.
She said she appreciates the laid back nature of the club, which allows her to play pieces she wants without judgement or criticism from other members.
Ni also performs with the group. She said she has been playing the cello since the third grade and wanted to become involved with a music club on campus when she began college.
“After joining this club, I found people who I could share creating music with,” Ni said. “I could also meet new people. Performing for the seniors also gives me the opportunity to practice on my own time.”
Ni, who participated in a similar club in high school, wanted to continue serving the community through music at Penn State.
“I used to always play the cello for my grandparents and saw how happy that made them,” Ni said. “I’ve always loved playing the cello for people that could get happiness out of music.”
She said she loves being able to play a random song with someone new — an opportunity the club encourages.
One of Lo’s favorite pieces to play is a medley of songs from “Star Wars.”
In the past, Lo said audience members have requested songs that she enjoys playing, such as music from Star Wars. She said being able to play songs she loves that audience members connect with always puts a smile on her face.
“I like [playing in] nursing homes a lot and elementary schools,” Lo said. “People get really excited and seeing them smile… it’s just amazing.”
Lo said her favorite moment in the club thus far was during a performance at Juniper Village at Brookline. She was playing the song “Till There Was You” from “The Music Man” and the audience members began to hum along.
“It was amazing to play while they were humming gently in the background,” Lo said. “In that moment, I was about to cry.”
From her experience performing at nursing homes, Zhao said she has witnessed the power of music sparking conversation in residents as they reminisce about the memories each song uncovers, sway to the music and tap their feet to the beat.
Florian said there have been multiple instances where residents will come up to him or another performer after the show to share the memories a song reminded them of.
Zhao recounted her favorite memory of the club —a performance at the Ronald McDonald house. She said a member played “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and of the members began to sing along, which lead the crowd to join in, as well.
“It was really nice because you didn’t have to force anyone to sing, everyone just did willingly and it just filled up the entire room,” Zhao said.
Another aspect Ni said she enjoys about this club versus other music clubs on campus is the opportunity to connect with audience members, specifically the senior citizens the club performs for.
She said club members make an effort after each performance to speak with all of the residents and listen to their feedback.
“It’s really important to interact with [audience members] because not only are we providing therapy through music, but also building interactions with the community,” Lo said.
Speaking with residents in between performances is also one of Giovagnoli’s favorite aspects of the club.
“I enjoy interacting with the residents [of nursing homes],” Giovagnoli said. “It’s just so nice and they’re very friendly and love to talk to us.”
Ni said residents recognize club members and remember their names at each performance, an additional feel-good aspect.
According to Ni, the established connection between club members and residents is a testament to the club’s dedication to each performance over the years.
Looking to the future, the club has numerous goals, including visiting senior homes farther away and promoting collaboration between students.
“Our ultimate hope is to engage the arts at PSU more and use it to cultivate service,” Ni said, “and also engage with other students who share the same passion for using music as service.”
Currently, the Music Service Club collaborates with Alpha Phi Omega Boy Scouts and LifeLink. However, Ni said the club is open to working with other organizations.
“I hope that people come with good intentions,” Zhao said, “and that they leave with a habit of wanting to serve others, in any way that they can, to the best of their ability.”