Festival shines spotlight on youngsters

Thousands of visitors traveled to Penn State Altoona during the weekend for the 46th annual Blair County Arts Festival, their common theme centering on how talented the area’s young people are in art and sculpture, music, dance and stage.

But on the south side of the campus’ signature E. Raymond Smith Building was a small white tent erected by the Altoona Symphony Orchestra with a sign that said “The Imagination Music Station.”

It is in places like this tent where all that talent begins to come alive and blossom.

Little Madalyn Miller of Altoona, only 6-years-old, couldn’t have been happier. She held drum sticks in her hands and wore a smile as big as the sky as she used the sticks to hit two regular in-home cooking pans lying on the ground.

The noise was loud, and her mother Heather said she did not really want to take the pans home, but there was a type of beat, and as explained by Pam Snyder Etters, the Symphony’s executive director, it allows the children to express their innate desire to make music.

Many children a little older or a little younger than Madalyn crowded under the tent to hold real musical instruments, like a trumpet and violin, and to make music themselves with the drum sticks or with a tubulum, which is little more than several connected pieces of plastic PVC pipe that the kids hit with a type of flat foam- or rubber-type hammer.

Etters also showed the children how to make their own musical instrument.

She picked up two popsicle sticks, wrapped paper around the ends and then used a rubber band to put the sticks together – hence a homemade harmonica.

The Blair County Arts Festival is the beginning of a big summer for the Symphony, said Etters. It will hold three concerts and on Aug. 11 will work with the Altoona Curve to have a Day in the Arts at Peoples Natural Gas Field, where the children will participate in workshops and arts and craft stations.

Karen Volpe, who had been in charge of the Arts Festival for the past 17 years, said it all began as an art exhibit.

Then the idea came up, “Let’s get food,” she said.

Then came the arts and crafts vendors, and the bands and ensembles.

She estimated the weekend drew between 8,000 and 10,000 people .

“It’s a double mission,” said Volpe, “to bring the art and art lovers together.”

The event is a major fundraiser for the Mishler Theater in downtown Altoona, she said.

And then she added, “The talent is amazing.”

Festival weekend is also a place people come to see friends they might not have seen all year or for many years.

And, Volpe said, it is a place for families, where kids are excited to show off their talents to their parents, grandparents and friends.

It just doesn’t get old for her.

One of the major attractions on Sunday was the display of hundreds of student art works in the Adler Gym.

Jeannie Geist, a festival worker, said she got goose bumps looking at a charcoal and pastel drawing of a soldier, half his face when he was young and half when he was old. It was in the eyes of the soldier, a distant look as if remembering, no matter which side of the drawing was in view that seem to catch the viewer’s attention.

Then there was a piece called “Junk Sculpture” that attracted Chrissy Young. She was awed by the way the student artist took discarded keys from a computer and long screws to make a ship.

Young’s ninth grade daughter, Angela, then took her mother to see the drawing that she had created. She explained she likes the beach and the drawing warmly depicted what one might view while sitting in the sand, a Pepsi bottle and a starfish together against an calm ocean blue background.

Sue Brower was among almost 100 people watching the Hollidaysburg Area High School String Ensemble play Sunday afternoon in an outdoor pavilion not far from the Adler Gymnasium.

She waved to one of the musicians, Juliana Paicentini, who she said she knows from church.

“Very talented,” she said.