Celebrating Alumni Stories: Janelle Cunalata ’02

July 18, 2022 / Andrea Wenger
Janelle Zook '02 Cunalata
Janelle Zook '02 Cunalata

In 2022, EMS will celebrate Janelle Zook Cunalata ’02, Carl Stauffer ’82, and Ethan Zook ’72 during Homecoming activities, Oct. 14 and 15. We celebrate alumni stories to hear each others’ journeys since high school and to be inspired by lives of service, professional contributions, Christian commitment, and community engagement. 

Janelle Zook Cunalata ‘02

Janelle Zook Cunalata is a member of the American Society for Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Pennsylvania Music Educator’s Association (PMEA) and The National Association for Music Education (MENC). She currently teaches music at Hinkletown (Pa.) Mennonite School. Here are her responses to a few questions about her time with EMHS and professional journey. You can hear many of her arrangements on YouTube.

Q: What years did you attend EMS? What “brought” you to the school? How was it?

I attended EMHS for my junior and senior years of high school from 2000 to 2002.  Previously I had attended Lancaster Mennonite School.  We moved to the EMHS area the summer before my 11th grade year so that my parents could attend Eastern Mennonite Seminary.  I’m so grateful God paved the way for me before I even knew I would be switching schools by giving me an excitement and curiosity in my heart for meeting new friends and new environments.  While at EMHS, God provided me with friendships beyond my expectations and a supportive learning community that I truly enjoyed.

Q. How did you get involved in the music field?

As a young elementary student, I was interested in becoming an occupational therapist, a first grade teacher, or a meteorologist!  It wasn’t until high school that I considered music education.   I took one year of piano lessons in third grade before I switched to the most interesting and unique instrument I could find in the world book encyclopedia at home – the oboe!  My oboe teachers, Carolyn Englert (Reamstown, Pa.), Rhonda Stees (Harrisonburg, Va.), and Timothy Hurtz (Penn State University) taught me so much more than only oboe technique, challenging me to play musically and develop a listening ear (the was especially important to my development, since as a young musician I just wanted to play loud and fast).  In high school, I began auditioning and receiving placements in district, regional, and state orchestras and bands.  In 10th grade, I clearly remember participating in the Pennsylvania all state band and being surprised at all the hands that went up around me when the guest conductor asked who would be majoring in music in college.  This was the first time I began to seriously consider continuing in the field of music in college.  Later, it was just a question of, which field – music performance, the new and developing field of music therapy, or music education?  Music composition was not even a consideration for me since the closest I got to composition in high school was improvising on worship teams.
Music making became more frequent and diverse for me with our family’s move to Harrisonburg, and my attendance at EMHS.  Singing in the EMHS chamber choir, playing bassoon in the orchestra and taking a music theory class and hand bell class with Mr. Hartzler helped me grow as a musician and teach me to be expressive musically using other musical means besides the oboe.  Mr. Hartzler was a mentor and role model to me as I confidently decided my senior year to step into the field of music education by continuing my education at Penn State University after graduation at EMHS.
Studying about, practicing, and performing music all day every day at Penn State was like a dream come true to me.  I loved performing with the orchestra, symphonic band, pit orchestras, and a wind quintet my classmates and I formed.  I jumped at every opportunity to play and was exposed to a wonderful variety of musical styles during my time at Penn State.  Music composition only popped up once in my studies at Penn State when a professor asked us to arrange a piece for concert band.  An arrangement of Kum-ba-yah for beginner band was my first composition and my second didn’t come until many years later.
 After graduation, I had the pleasure of teaching instrumental music at a middle school in the Southern Lehigh School District and elementary instrumental music in the Bethlehem Area School District before I moved to Ecuador.  These early teaching years provided me with more exposure to instrumental pieces that work/don’t work at different age levels.  During this time, I also completed a three year Masters of Music Program through the American Band College in Southern Oregon.
In Ecuador, I taught music in Spanish and English using music in various settings continuing to expand my “musical palette” being exposed to an even greater variety of music that was culturally relevant in Ecuador at the time.  I also opened up my own music studio where I taught violin, piano and guitar to students of all ages in small groups and presented recitals to the community of Riobamba, Ecuador, where we lived.  It was also during the 5 and a half years that I spent in Ecuador that I had more free-time on my hands and decided to try my hand at arranging music for string orchestra.  After enjoying the craft of arranging for a few months, I decided it may be much more interesting to write my own original melodies and arrange them for string orchestra and it was at that time that I began sending my music off to different publishing companies in the United States for publication consideration.  After a few companies accepted my work, I continued writing and practicing the skill of creating music from scratch.  Upon moving back stateside in the latter part of 2015, I accepted a music teaching job at Hinkletown Mennonite School and continued writing for my students and also pieces specifically for publication.  I enjoy looking for ways to encourage my own students to practice improvisation and composition so that it feels like something not so foreign to them, but actually a very possible creative outlet!  This past spring, I had the joy of video-conferencing with a middle school in Massachusetts about a commission I am working on for their string orchestra and delighted in answering their questions about composing and encouraging the group.
I am very grateful to God for all of the different people in my life that have encouraged me, challenged me, and taught me as a child, teenager, college student and even now as an adult.

Q. Any aspect of EMHS that served you well? Anything that was hard?

As I mentioned before, I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of the music program at EMHS and so appreciated the fact that they allowed me to get my feet wet in different areas of music even if I was new to that area of music or not as skilled.  Mr. Hartzler led by example as a teacher, musician, and follower of Jesus in our daily classes, church visits and exciting tour to Eastern Europe.  I so appreciated sharing Jesus and worshipping Jesus through music, and it served as a stepping stone to me for sharing and worshipping Jesus through playing instrumental music on my oboe.  I also think that our class size and its welcoming nature helped me feel welcome as a new student my junior year.  I also had the one and only chance in my life to have the joy of walking to school during my two years at EHMS, something I still remember fondly.  Participation in gym classes and athletics was another highlight of my two years at EMHS.   I also have fond memories of Spanish class, Spanish club and the Bible Classes at EMHS, particularly reading the “Upside Down Kingdom” book and learning about world religions.

Q. Involvements that have given you joy in addition to professional work?

My husband, Franklin, and our two daughters, Elizabeth and Emily, and I, love to host people at our home in Ephrata, Pennsylvania, spending time outside together while eating and conversing.  We also love to travel together and explore different cultures and new territory by car, boat, and on foot!  At home, I enjoy gardening, walking, and sitting by any body of water.

Q. Any words to the EMHS of today? Hopes for the school today and going forward?

I hope the school continues to foster a welcoming environment where students with all kinds of different backgrounds and interests can find a learning community that they can call “home.”  I hope the school continues to foster an environment where everyone, regardless of talent or experience, can experiment with different musical groups, ensembles and classes and find the beauty of prayer and worship through music and be bold and brave and take the time and effort to share their songs with others.  And finally, I hope that the EMHS community continues to be a place where prayer erupts like a fountain frequently throughout the school day in conversation and in class, remembering that Jesus is our ever-present peace, love and joy.

Check out some more photos from this story

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