Celebrating Alumni Stories: Janelle Cunalata ’02

By Andrea Wenger, director of advancement

We celebrate alumni stories to hear each others’ journeys since high school and to be inspired bylives of service, professional contributions, Christian commitment, and community engagement.

Janelle Cunalata is a member of the American Society for Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) and The National Association for Music Education (MENC). She teaches music at Hinkletown (Pa.) Mennonite School. Find her arrangements on YouTube.

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

I attended EMHS for my junior and senior years. Previously I attended Lancaster Mennonite School. We moved to the area so 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 in third grade before I switched to the most interesting and unique instrument I could find in the World Book Encyclopedia – the oboe!

In 10th grade, I participated in the Pennsylvania all state band and was 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… Music making became more frequent and diverse for me with… my attendance at EMHS. Singing in Chamber Choir, playing bassoon in 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 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, I [taught] middle school and elementary level instrumental music at two schools before I moved to Ecuador. These early teaching years [exposed me] to instrumental pieces that work/ don’t work at different age levels… I also completed a master’s of music through the American Band College in Southern Oregon.

In Ecuador, I taught music in Spanish and English and expanded my “musical palette”… It was also [where] I decided to try my hand at arranging music for string orchestra. After enjoying the craft of arranging for a few months, I decided to write my own original melodies and arrange them for string orchestra and I began sending my music off to publishing companies in the United States for publication consideration…

Q. Any words to EMHS today?

I hope the school continues to foster an environment where students with all kinds of 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.

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