Spark Your Creativity: Explore Musical Instincts

Monique MeadViolin
Isabel CardenesHarp
Tino CardenesPiano

Since 2009, Allegheny RiverStone Center for the Arts has been presenting an Educational ArtReach Program in partnership with the Allegheny-Clarion Valley School District – bringing music, dance and visual art resources and opportunities to students from Grades K to 12.

Teaching Artist groups performing sequential music education residencies consisting of small workshops, assembly performances and after-school coaching for Elementary and Junior/Senior High students have included Cello Fury, Attack Theatre, C Street Brass, Akropolis Reeds, Beo String Quartet, Aria 412 and the Renaissance City Winds.

In addition, prior to COVID, ARCA presented annual exhibits in its Red Brick Gallery in Foxburg of art work made by A-C Valley Junior and Senior High School students.

The Music That Makes Me Dance 2014
Aria412 – Fractured Musical Fairy Tale 2019

Explore Your Creative Instincts with Trio con Brio

Undaunted by Pennsylvania COVID restrictions prohibiting in-school performances in 2021, Allegheny RiverStone Center for the Arts commissioned the acclaimed Teaching Artist, violinist MONIQUE MEAD, to create a 35-minute video resource presented at the close of the Spring semester in the classrooms for all students in grades K to 6 and for Chorus students in grades 7 to 12 in the Allegheny-Clarion Valley Schools.

The entertaining and stimulating video which features the “Trio con Brio” as Monique Mead and her children, harpist Isabel Cardenes (17) and Tino Cardenes (16), pianist and video executive producer, explore the larger process of creativity – in any endeavor – with music performance as the metaphor. View blog about the video ArtReach project.

In late May, 2021, the resource was presented by teachers Karen Hetrick and Jennifer Powell Lowrey to their students in elementary general music classes and to  Jr./Sr. High School Choir.  The link is now available for public viewing below:

Monique Mead and her children, harpist Isabel Cardenes and pianist Tino Cardenes – “Trio con Brio” – have created an engaging program that explores the creative instinct within each of us.

In the thirty-five minute video, this teen-family brings you into their home to share stories, performances, and practices that can help light a spark for your own creative pursuits.

They present the three-step process that underpins any creative work – Finding Inspiration, Doing the Work and Putting it Out There – all while performing solos and duos by composers Vittorio Monti, Jules Massenet, William Grant Still, J. S. Bach, Antonín Dvořák and Erroll Garner.  See “The Program” below for more about the video.

Acclaimed teaching artist & professional violinist, Monique Mead with son Tino at the piano

Monique Mead

A passionate ambassador of classical music, violinist Monique Mead enjoys a rich career as a performer, educator, and innovator. Inspired and mentored by Leonard Bernstein, Mead has devoted her performing career to nurturing new audiences and deepening the musical experience for seasoned concertgoers. Her programs with major orchestras and festivals in the United States and Europe have drawn international acclaim for their popular appeal and innovative approach.

Interweaving live music with education and audience engagement at the highest level, her programs have reached millions through television appearances, a six-year radio series with the Munich Radio Orchestra, and nearly 20 years of concerts with the Cologne Philharmonic, Munich Symphony, Düsseldorf Symphony, Berlin Radio Orchestra, RIAS Chamber Choir, Neue Philharmonie Westfalen, San Diego Symphony, and the Mainly Mozart Festival, among others.

Sharing her passion for audience engagement are conductors and soloists such as Manfred Honeck, Leonidas Kavakos, Jon Kimura Parker, Sarah Chang, Lars Vogt, Arabella Steinbacher, and Yan Pascal Tortelier, with whom she collaborates to create interactive events that build excitement around the concert experience. In this capacity, she has created long-term programs for many arts organizations in the United States and Europe. Her current focus is on the Pittsburgh Symphony, where she serves as Consultant for Integrative Strategies, spearheading initiatives that build loyal audiences and integrate music into community life.

Mead’s ability to see musical connections in everything from Verdi to Vader and Star Wars to soccer, and Verdi to Vader has resulted in over 200 thematic programs for audiences of all ages, many sponsored by Audi, Bayer, FC Bayern-München, Dresdner Bank, Ronald McDonald House, BASF, Opel, and the Anders Foundation, among others.

In addition to programming, performing, and presenting concerts with orchestras since 1997, Mead has trained hundreds of orchestral musicians to be effective teaching artists, helping them to make meaningful connections with young audiences. The opportunity to offer this training at the conservatory level came in 2012, when Mead was appointed Director of Music Entrepreneurship Studies at Carnegie Mellon University. With a focus on experiential learning, she collaborates with world-class musicians in helping students develop a broad range of skills and take an innovative approach to professional life.

Other affiliations with CMU include a position as Violin Instructor at the Preparatory School and a lecture series for CMU’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Most recently, Mead founded the Center for Arts Innovation at CMU, which serves as a cross-campus laboratory for developing strategies and products that support orchestras and other arts organizations.

She currently performs on a 1717 Stradivarius, graciously made available by Carnegie Mellon University.

Isabel Cardenes

A Pittsburgh native, Isabel Cardenes, age 17, has been immersed in music for her entire life, taking in the sounds of the Pittsburgh Symphony and traveling with her parents to concerts and festivals throughout the U.S. and Europe.

Having made her piano debut performing a Mozart concerto in Germany at age nine, she discovered her love for the harp a year later and has been thriving in the studio of PSO Principal Harp, Gretchen Van Hoesen.

Isabel has been a member of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony since 2017. In May, 2019 Isabel won first prize in Pittsburgh’s Lois Streator/Smith Competition and in June traveled to North Carolina to compete in the finals of the American Harp Society national competition, winning third prize. She has received scholarships to attend Interlochen Arts Camp in 2018 and 2019, and is a recipient of the Arts Recognition Scholarship from Oakland Catholic High School.

With a strong interest in music for healing, Isabel performs frequently for patients at the Hillman Cancer Center. She and her mother, Monique Mead, have also developed “Music in the Moment,” an integrated program of music, movement, and mindfulness. She was recently chosen as a finalist to be featured on the NPR Show From the Top.


Tino Cardenes

Tino Cardenes is 16 years old and a classical and jazz pianist living in Pittsburgh. He’s been playing classical piano since he was five and has always loved performing for people.

His favorite moments have been performing as a soloist with orchestras in Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and Germany and performing for people that rarely experience live music.

In the year prior to COVID, he performed on a 50-concert tour acccompanying the Beethoven Violin Concerto with Monique Mead and playing jazz for people who are facing adversity.

When he’s not practicing, he is coding, video editing, or building his website:

As a teaser for the full SPARK YOUR CREATIVITY video, here is Tino playing a cyber-piano duet WITH HIMSELF – a four hand arrangement of the Dvorak “Dumky” Trio, op.90, II. Vivace non troppo!  In SPARK YOUR CREATIVITY, Tino describes his process of both performing and recording this video, as well as serving as the Executive Producer for the entire project.


Allegheny RiverStone Center for the Arts (ARCA) presents SPARK YOUR CREATIVITY with “Trio con Brio” – Professional violinist and teaching artist, Monique Mead and her children – harpist Isabel Cardenes and Tino Cardenes, pianist and executive producer of this video – in this engaging program that explores the creative instinct within each of us.

This teen-family brings you into their home to share stories, performances, and practices that can help light a spark for your own creative pursuits.

Join them and discover the three step process that underpins any creative work: Finding Inspiration, Doing the Work and Putting it Out There – all while performing solos and duos by composers Vittorio Monti, Jules Massenet, William Grant Still, J. S. Bach, Antonín Dvořák and Erroll Garner.

From family photos from their travels and performances together – 

To the crying violin of a Hungarian folk melody that inspired the Italian composer Vittorio Monti…

Plus the inspiration of John Williams’ Star Wars music and illustrations of the development of the double-action pedal harp…

Young video producer Tino Cardenes, has employed quick frame-changing animated images to make it delightfully engaging.

The musical equivalent of “Beware if there are no callouses!” is the reality that in any project, no matter the inspiration, you have to put in the time to practice, practice, practice – which is the musical punch line to that old joke of someone asking how you get to Carnegie Hall.

Tino shares his musical and technical process of learning both parts to a four-hand piano arrangement of Dvořák’s ’Dumky’ Trio – both parts of which he plays and video records and intertwines into a seamless performance. I dare you NOT to be inspired to take on a BIG project for yourself!

Then there’s baring your soul and sharing your project – with all its nerves, fear of failure and frustrations along the way – not to mention patience. Most charming are the outtakes as high school senior Isabel is making her video audition tape for college.

Her exasperated and self-deprecating groans as she tries and tries again – until she gets it perfect – all culminate in the elegance of her final Bach performance that won her the Presidential Award Merit Scholarship at Manhattan School of Music where she will matriculate in the Fall of 2021.

By its end, you will hope there is a sequel and want to share the YouTube link with every budding musician you know – of all ages.


Enjoy their performances of:

Vittorio Monti: Czardas for Violin and Piano

Jules Massenet: Meditation from the opera Thais

William Grant Still: “Gamin” (street urchin) from Suite for Violin and Piano

J.S. Bach/Grandjany: Harp transcription of “Largo” from Solo Violin Sonata in C Major

Antonin Dvorak: II. Allegro vivace from “Dumky Trio” arranged for Piano 4 Hands

Erroll Garner: “Misty”

Akropolis Reed after-school workshop, 2017

ARCA’s Educational ArtReach Program fulfills its mission as a non-profit organization, demonstrating its commitment to contribute to the future of the Allegheny-Clarion valley community through the arts education of its young people. ARCA is grateful for its partnership with the A-C Valley School Board, administrators, faculty and music specialists for facilitating this program – and to the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts for making this program possible

Designed specifically as an arts education resource for A-C Valley students, in past years the assembly concerts and workshops have not been open to the public. This year at the end of the educational presentations in participating schools the Spark Your Creativity video will be posted on YouTube.  Because there is no admission for its Educational ArtReach events, ARCA relies on contributions from the community to support its art education program in the A-C Valley Schools and grant support from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Anyone interested in making a contribution or becoming an ARCA member may do so on this site.

Beo String Quartet – Elementary Workshop A-C Valley 2018

In this year of COVID when “live” educational resource musical performances were not allowed, SPARK YOUR CREATIVITY was shown in late May to general music students in Grades K to 6 and to Jr. and Sr. High choristers in their classrooms by A-C Valley School music teachers, Karen Hetrick and Jennifer Powell-Lowrey. 

It was a year of persistence in the face of adversity!
Elementary band students played together remotely in Google meets (though muted), and choristers sang behind plastic shields in Jr./Sr. High chorus and in a public Spring concert.  And yet, they kept making music through it all.  ARCA’s video was a kind of semester-end celebration for students who had persevered despite the encumbrances of singing behind masks and using instrument bell-coverings while performing socially distanced to prevent the spread of aerosols.

ARCA Board member and Education ArtReach director, Katherine Soroka said, “Over the years, it’s been a joy to observe students responding to the sequential arts resources ARCA has brought into the A-C Valley Schools – especially for those who otherwise would never see a dance company or hear an opera singer or string quartet ‘live’. COVID-19 restrictions have been most challenging to music education. With this video, we salute our local teachers who kept their students making music together all year. We’re delighted that this brilliant and heart-warming educational video created by Monique Mead and her family was a joyous conclusion to their year of resilience and persistence.  It’s gratifying to know it will continue to inspire students of ALL ages in the larger digital world.”

A-C Valley general music and chorus teacher Jennifer Powell Lowrey said, “ARCA’s Spark Your Creativity program was a wonderful treat for the students of A-C Valley. They got to enjoy the fantastic family trio of musicians as well as explore how the creative process works. It inspired many students to tap into their own creativity! I had them watch all the way to the end where it mentioned A-C Valley Schools and pointed out that it was made especially for them. They were very impressed. Thank you to Allegheny RiverStone Center for the Arts for all it does for our students!”

Karen Hetrick, A-C Valley elementary band and general music teacher said, “The students at A-C Valley look forward to the special programs that Allegheny RiverStone Center for the Arts bring to our schools each year. They have been able to experience incredible live performances by musicians, dancers and actors over the last several years.

This year ARCA developed a wonderful virtual assembly so that our students were still able to have an enriching experience during this unique year with COVID and when it wasn’t possible to bring live performers into the school. Our students have enjoyed watching the video and especially have liked seeing young people perform and share their perspectives on what it takes to be successful when working towards a goal.  Thanks so much to ARCA for caring about the creative lives of our students!”

And comments regarding previous year’s residencies:

Jennifer Lowrey said of ARCA’s arts education program,“The students at A-C Valley have a love for the arts. The programming ARCA has brought into our district over the years has nurtured that love and opened a window into a world of professional artistic excellence that many students otherwise might not get a chance to experience. It also has given them a glimpse of the possibility of who they could become as an artist.”

Karen Hetrick, Elementary band director and general music teacher said of ARCA’s program, “The students and faculty at A-C Valley Elementary School are so thankful for the arts opportunities that ARCA has brought to our school. Students have been exposed to professional singers, dancers, instrumentalists and actors of the highest caliber. My students are always so excited and enthusiastic to play after watching and listening to these wonderful groups. The elementary band students especially love interacting with the performers in the small group settings both during the day and in the after-school sessions. Thank you so much for the continued artistic enrichment you provide to our students and community.”

C Street Brass After-School Student Ensemble Coaching, 2016