Now a Penn rising second-year, Chaily Derecskey doesn’t remember exactly why she chose the tuba as her instrument when she was 11 years old, but she does remember how much she loved it.
“The tuba was literally bigger than I was. It was so hard to carry it back and forth from school, but I was so dedicated to it,” says Derecskey, who played in the orchestra and the band throughout middle school and high school in her hometown of Wilmington, Delaware. “It all definitely really paid off because for some reason I just clicked with it, and I just loved it so much.”
Derecskey’s orchestral experience is also paying off this summer, as an intern with Play On Philly, a nonprofit that provides orchestral instrument instruction for Philadelphia children in pre-K through 12th grade.
About 160 students, from beginners to advanced, are taking part in the program during two, three-week sessions this summer, meeting Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., says Jessica Zweig, director of educational programming. Four instrument families are represented—string, wind, brass, and percussion—as well as a choral program.
“Chaily was matched with us because of her deep interest in working with students and her love and passion for music,” Zweig says.
Allison Mion, program coordinator with Play On Philly, says Derecskey has been a “valuable and great asset” to the summer team. “Chaily is helpful, eager to learn, highly competent, self-motivated, and has a calm, positive attitude that goes a long way with our students here,” says Mion.
An undecided major in the College of Arts and Sciences, Derecskey found the internship by looking through the Summer Humanities Internship Program opportunities offered by Penn’s Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (CURF), which provides a $5,000 summer award. Play On Philly, she says, was her first choice.
“I’m so grateful that I got it. I love the mission of this organization. I know how valuable music, particularly playing in orchestras, has been in my life,” she says. “I thought it would be really fun to work with kids and teenagers because I was in their position for so long. And I know how much all that time meant to me.”
Play On Philly’s mission is to provide “musically excellent education to students who have historically been left out of these types of educational experiences,” Zweig says. “We do this because everyone deserves access to this type of high-quality education which promotes life-skill building, social-emotional learning, and boosts executive functioning.”
During the school year, Play On Philly provides eight weekly hours of intensive music instruction after school to students at four locations. The summer program is held at Temple University’s Boyer School of Music, which makes it possible for students to be together in one place, Zweig says.
Play On Philly, founded in 2011, has had a relationship with Penn during the school year through the student group, Penn Music Mentoring, Zweig says, as well as an intern supported by the College. Derecskey is the first Penn intern through CURF. “We are so excited about the possibilities for continued collaboration with Penn and I know this will be the start of more to come,” Zweig says.
During her internship, Derecskey has been helping with music instruction in the classroom, assigned to percussion studios, and brass and wind classes, and ensembles. “Sometimes I'll walk around the room and help the students with the music as needed, and kind of encourage them,” she says. “I think that's really valuable, because even though there is a main teacher in the room, I can give them one-on-one help.”
Realizing the results is especially exciting, she says. “I might hear that the snare drums are really struggling with their part, so I go back and work with them. And then the next time the whole band plays it, I hear that they got it right,” she says. “That's been very rewarding to hear it all come together with all the instruments.”
She also works with smaller groups, one-on-one with individual parts. “And that's also been very rewarding because we get to focus so precisely on like one part of the music and really fine-tune all the details,” she says.
Each of the two sessions is ending with a concert.
“My favorite part is really seeing the kids' dedication to it. I just love that. I can tell that they work really hard and they really truly want the music to sound good,” says Derecskey. “Seeing the passion they have is really inspiring. I just love to see them work until they get it and it really does sound amazing when they're all playing.”
Beyond the musical instruction, Derecskey helps with transitions between classes, supervising students during free periods and other extracurricular activities like recess, dance, play writing, arts and crafts, as well as managing the instruments. She also is a leader in handling the donated meals. “There is a very specific way to serve, store, and inventory the food,” Mion says. “Chaily was the main intern, of 10, appointed to this, and she has been awesome.”
The piano was the first instrument Derecskey learned to play, starting at 4 years old. She also taught herself the guitar and bass guitar as a teenager. But the tuba was her true love, playing in the symphonic band and the orchestra throughout her school years, being chosen for the all-county, and all-state band for Delaware while at Mount Pleasant High School.
There has been only one tuba playing student in Play On Philly this summer. “So, the two of us are together a lot. He’s really talented and I like working with him, especially because I've spent so much time on that instrument,” she says. “So, I feel like I really know it well and I can give him advice. I love the tuba.”
And why does she love the tuba?
“When I was younger, like I said, I really clicked with it. I really loved the way it sounded. I loved how it's the core of the band, or the bass of the band, because it makes the absolute lowest notes,” she says. “I also loved it because I feel like it gave me a lot more opportunities. There are not many tuba players, and there are also not many good tuba players, so I felt like that was a niche I found that I could fill once I actually got pretty good at it.”
Derecskey didn’t try out for the Penn orchestra last year, giving herself time to acclimate to college life, although she did play the bass in the pit for the Penn Singers fall production of Mama Mia. She also wrote for the satirical publication Under the Button and played ultimate frisbee on an intramural team.
Derecskey also hasn’t taken a music class at Penn yet—taking courses in political science, philosophy, and computer science—but is interested in exploring the options.
“I want to look into more music opportunities. That’s one of the reasons why I chose Penn. I like the idea that even if I'm not going to major in music, I can still pursue this passion and at the same time I can study in all these other great departments.”
She says she would like to play the tuba again and plans to audition for the orchestra her sophomore year, especially after her experience at Play On Philly.
“This summer has solidified that this is something I really love to do,” she says. “Literally after the first day of sitting in the orchestra with the kids, I was just like, wow, I miss this so much. It sparked, or revitalized, my love for music and playing in the orchestra.”
Images are courtesy of Chaily Deresckey.