Mandescu guides string musicians at East

May 3, 2023


Lucas Tange ('23)

Mandescu conducts the String Orchestra at the Fall preview.

The average length of a child’s index finger ranges from 50-88 mm. To most 6-year-old girls, this information is meaningless. But for Ms. Gabriela Mandescu, it had the potential to completely alter her fate.

Growing up in Romania, the only way Mandescu could access music education was through alternate schools. At age six she already knew she wanted to pursue this path. In order to gain admission, she was assessed on her hearing, sense of rhythm, and even the length of her hands.

“If I would want to play piano they would probably say ‘No, because your fingers are too short,’” she explained. Since she had chosen the violin and passed all of her assessments, Mandescu began her music journey.

A typical school day began at 8 AM. Until noon she would learn like any ordinary student, then begin her music classes for the remaining three hours. She continued this way from first grade all the way until 12th. Every six months her teachers tested her abilities. Failure was not an option; it meant she would have to find a new school.

“For me, it was kind of very set from six years old that I wanted to do music,” said Mandescu. “It was very easy, what I wanted to do.”

She continued this pursuit at the University of Music in Bucharest, Romania, where she earned a full scholarship. While she learned many instruments, ranging from the viola, to the piano, to the bass, and to the cello, the violin had always remained her forté.

“That was my first love,” said Mandescu. “To just play my violin. To perform.”

At twenty-five she made the decision to leave Romania. Before moving to the US, however, she performed in professional ensembles like the Giurgiu Symphony and the Radio National Chamber Orchestra.

Despite knowing little English, Mandescu began working toward her Masters at Temple University. At the same time she served as concertmaster and the assistant teacher for Temple Music Prep. By the end of her studies at Temple, she had also earned her teaching certification.

It wasn’t for another ten years that Mandescu came to the Cherry Hill School District. Before this time, she played professionally in ensembles like Symphony C, Reading Symphony, and Pottstown Symphony. She also worked freelance, booking performances with names like Frank Sinatra Jr. and Elton John. She even found herself accompanying Broadway shows, like “Into the Woods.”

With all of this success, Mandescu still felt a calling to teach. She started at the elementary level, splitting her time between her younger students in the morning and her highschool students in the afternoon. Nine years ago she began dividing her time between Beck Middle School and East, and it has remained that way ever since. In total, Mandescu has worked in the district for 17 years.

“I feel that we have an amazing music program here, in the Cherry Hill District,” she said. “Weekly lessons, in small groups. That’s the root of our music program. If those would ever be taken [away], I don’t see students being as advanced.”

Mandescu focuses on individualized training for her students, and especially for those new to music. By implementing a beginners class at Beck, she is able to foster a more productive learning environment.

“This, for us, is golden to have these lessons,” she said.

Mandescu’s work is not confined within the district. She also instructs Rowan University’s String Orchestra, and participates in performance groups like the Bay-Atlantic Symphony and The Philly Pops. With endless commitments and unimaginable stress, Mandescu says one thing has always kept her focused: her love of music.

“This is what I love the most. Knowing that the students keep that love of music for the rest of their lives. And they keep playing, even just for fun. It’s so important,” she said.

This love has stayed with Mandescu across the globe, to countless venues, and to many classrooms. It is a love that has remained present nearly all her life, and she never plans to let go.

“You have to constantly maintain where you are, and constantly search to play better,” she said. “And that will never stop.”

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