Charles Street School’s music program gets Palmyra, Riverton students started on the right note

Veteran teacher Joe DeFranco is as excited to learn new skills as he is to teach his budding musicians

Joe DeFranco has 26 instruments in his basement, 28 years logged as the music teacher at Charles Street School and dozens of students who come through his classroom doors for lessons and practices each week.

He also happens to be the sole specialist handling the choir and music programs, but where some might find all that overwhelming, DeFranco likes to look at his copious responsibilities and multiple roles as opportunities to learn. As of last April, the CSS music program absorbed Riverton Middle School students, and each one of them reminds him of how electrifying it was to learn an instrument as a child.

“I tell my students, ‘Whatever you’re excited to play, I’m excited to teach you,’” he said. “I’m going to give everything I have, no matter what you want to do.”

For as long as DeFranco can remember, indulging his innate attraction to sound was no easy feat. In the fourth grade, after watching his hit-making cousins’ DeFranco Family band play at his grandparents’ 50th anniversary, he begged his parents for a saxophone and was instead given an accordian. Later, in college, he secretly switched his major from his father’s preference, business administration, to music, a decision that eventually carried him to Palmyra, where he now nourishes his students’ abilities.

The music program as CSS, which encompasses a multitude of instruments and the choir, emphasizes the interdisciplinary nature of music and instills a foundation for learning through folk and jazz progressions. Playing a selection from “We Shall Overcome,” DeFranco explained how he teaches his students the power of music extends to every corner of society.

“When I show them beats and rests, I tell them, ‘Music is mathematical.’ In gym, you’re exercising to a beat. In science, where you learn about acoustics and vibrations, that’s music,” he said. “Remember a few weeks ago, on Martin Luther King Day, when I played that song? Dr. King and his marchers used it to unite an entire movement.”

DeFranco is still learning, too. From enrolling in violin lessons with his own son to taking up the french horn to teach just one student with an interest, his desire to spread what he calls the “magic” of music knows no bounds.

The CSS band and choir are hard at work preparing for their upcoming concert at 1 p.m. on May 23, and DeFranco is in the process of putting together a fifth-grade and sixth-grade girls singing group, which will perform a three-part harmony of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” The school play is yet to be announced.

For updates on CSS’s music-related events, visit www.palmyraschools.com/ps/CSS.