Sara Zallman commands her violin with the dexterity and ease that only comes with years of practice.
Sitting inside a sunny rehearsal room of Settlement Music School’s the Willow Grove Branch of, Zallman, who turned 95-years-old this week, was practicing with fellow adult musicians, Rachel Brandt, viola; and Dr. Gordon Fink, cello.
“It keeps you going. It gives you reason to perfect yourself in every way,” Zallman said on the importance of playing an instrument. “It keeps you sharp.”
Zallman, who grew up in Philadelphia, first studied music at Settlement’s main branch in South Philadelphia, when she was 8-years-old.
This was 1925.
According to the music school’s website (www.smsmusic.org), prior to the start of a community arts program in 1908, the original Settlement facility was used as an actual settlement community for turn-of-the-century immigrants. Among the amenities of this facility was bathhouse, as indoor plumbing was not readily available in a majority of homes at the time.
“It was still there when I was studying,” Zallman said, recalling her childhood days at Settlement. “I used to watch the people come and go for a bath.”
Zallman said she kept with her musical lessons at Settlement until the age of 16. She said she learned valuable life lessons while attending Settlement, such as discipline and concentration.
Zallman also said she was proud to know so many of her fellow music students go on to careers with orchestras, such as those in Philadelphia and Boston.
Starting the Adult Chamber Players Program
Zallman, upon retirement age, returned to Settlement, this time to the school’s then operational Jenkintown Branch.
At this branch, during the 1980s, Zallman helped start the Settlement’s Adult Chamber Players Program.
According to Settlement literature, the Adult Chamber Players is a unique program in the country, as no other community music school has such a program as established or as big.
There are more than 100 participants at three of Settlement’s six branch, and range from college age to Zallman’s age.
“She’s the oldest member, but she’s still young at heart,” Fink said of Zallman.
Fink, who not only participates in the Adult Chamber Players Program, is also a member of the Settlement Willow Grove Branch board of directors. He said that the program has been successful in both attracting professional-grade musicians, as well as promoting a social network among its adult members.
“I think it’s wonderful for the school’s adult population,” Fink said. “The advice is: “You’re never too old.”
According to the Adult Chamber Players program coordinator Marka Stepper, who also plays the viola, the program caters to individuals of varied skill levels. She said that the program has few requirements, remarking that the interested individual’s instrument must make sense for chamber ensemble music. The program’s assessment of skills is also heavy on sight-reading.
Stepper said that adults that may not yet be ready to join the program are welcomed to take further lessons with Settlement’s adult programs.
“This is a great goal for them,” Stepper said of Settlement’s adult students.
The program also features prominent artists from the region and lectures on topics tat focus on music’s universal influence, according to Settlement literature.
Happy Birthday, Mrs. Zallman,
At 95-years-old, Zallman said she is still learning from her experience at Settlement, this time as a member of the Adult Chamber Players.
“One of the things to learn is tolerance,” Zallman said. “Tolerance for yourself, because you make mistakes, and hope that your ensemble is also tolerant of mistakes.”
In honor of Zallman’s contribution to Settlement, the school’s Willow Grove Branch invited over 100 of Zallman’s family, fellow musicians and fellow residents of the Quadrangle, a Sunrise senior living community, for a large birthday celebration.
The June 5 celebration included performances by Settlement students, refreshments and large, music-themed, cake.
Several prominent Settlement officials also provided remarks, recognizing Zallman’s contributions to the music school, including Fink, Marsha Hogan, the Jenkintown/Willow Grove Branch director (now retired); and Helen Eaton, executive director of Settlement Music School.
“I think Sara is a terrific example of someone who’s been involved since they were little,” Eaton said, prior to the celebration. “I think it’s a hallmark of the institution for students to attend early on and to come back after they’re retired.”
Eaton said that students like Zallman have earned Settlement a reputation for fostering longevity and commitment among its students.
“I think that’s what impact mom has had,” Carol Cherry, Zallman’s daughter, said. “This is a culmination of 88 years at Settlement.”
Cherry said that the Adult Chamber Players program is an outgrowth of her mother’s love and joy to perform.
“Not only to play music, but also being able to share that music with a group; knowing other people love what she loves.”
Cherry, who also took music lessons as a little girl at Settlement, described her mother’s birthday event as incredible.
“I’m really so pleased that the music school got this together for her,” Cherry said.
For more information about the Adult Chamber Program, contact Marka Stepper at 215-320-2698 or e-mail email@example.com.