The Beat Goes On

School News

New gift supports multicultural music education at Falk School

Man playing the Djembe drum

This past academic year, a generous gift allowed the Fanny Edel Falk Laboratory School at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education to purchase authentic African drum sets for use by elementary school students.

The instruments have made music teacher Maria Sassani’s classroom louder—and more joyful.

While learning about global music traditions, her young students can now thump on the drums and dance to the beat. Most students have so much fun that they don’t realize they are learning.

“The drums disguise what I would otherwise say are ‘boring music theory lessons,’” says Sassani, a long-time teacher at the school. “My students picked up a lot more this year by having something immersive to bang on and interact with versus only watching a video or reading about it.”

The hands-on musical experience is possible thanks to the generosity of donors Betsy Levine-Brown and Marc Brown.

The Browns are the proud parents of two adult children who are successful Falk alumni: Andrew, age 29, now a consultant with the Boston Consulting Group, and Rebecca, age 26, the deputy press secretary and digital manager for U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.

Family photo of Marc Brown, Betsy Levine-Brown, and children, Rebecca and Andrew Brown

The Browns continue to support the K-8 independent school, they say, because of the positive impact it had on their family.

“Falk provides a foundation for loving to learn and for feeling confident in one’s individuality,” says Levine-Brown. “Every person at Falk is honored, respected, and heard. The school is a perfect partner for parenting if those are things you value.”

Previous gifts by the Browns also supported arts education at Falk. Purchases include a kiln oven, an upright electric Yamaha piano, a mixing console for musical performances, and portable public address system for large school assemblies.

“Falk has always been a school that embraces the arts as a fundamental component to children’s educational journeys," says school director Jeff Suzik. “The Browns’ numerous gifts of performance-related equipment, including this extraordinarily cool African drum set, have helped us to keep creative, expressive performance at the forefront of all that we do here.”

Founded in 1931, Falk is a tuition-based laboratory school located on Pitt’s upper campus. Falk hosts many pre-service teachers from Pitt Education for student teaching assignments at the elementary and middle-school levels.

The new African drum set funded by the Browns—which includes a variety of drums including the Tubano, Ngoma, Djembe, and Talking Drums as well as maracas—was especially needed this year given new restrictions that Falk implemented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, says Sassani.

African drum set purchased by the Brown family gift

Face covering requirements did not permit her students to play instruments with mouthpieces, nor could students share instruments due to physical distancing requirements. Fortunately, the Browns’ gift provided enough drums so that the children could each have their own instrument.

The Browns credit Falk for instilling lasting educational values in their children.

“Falk gave our kids an opportunity to appreciate learning and to be themselves. I think those two things are a gift,” says Marc Brown.

Now, the Browns are passing on their latest gift to Falk students.

If their happiness is any indication, the young children at Falk are enjoying every minute of playing the new drums.

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