Remembering What Might Have Been

It’s Saturday at 2pm and I should be sitting in the War Memorial Auditorium in Greensboro, proudly supporting our four Northwood singers amid the 800+ high school singers from across North Carolina at this year’s NC High School All-State Choral Festival. We would have gathered on Thursday night, then spent A LONG day rehearsing (morning, afternoon, and into the evening) divided into three choirs—the NC Music Education Association (NCMEA) 9-10th Choir, the American Choral Directors’ Association (ACDA) Women’s Choir, and the NCMEA 11-12th Choir.

Two Northwood singers are returning for their 2nd and 3rd years, and they know what an exciting weekend it is. Meeting, singing, and sharing with peers (did I tell you it’s more than 800 high school singers?) “from Murphy to Manteo.” Learning new music, historical background, technique, getting to work with talented college instructors, and measuring their skill and preparation with the group at large. Maybe thinking about getting to sing in college. And performing with perhaps one of the largest groups and for their largest audience ever. For the other two, this would have been a brand new experience. Also, this is one of the first big activities for our new choral director, Matthew Hanson. It’s his first year at Northwood and his first year teaching. What a great chance to meet and talk and learn and observe with colleagues from across North Carolina. And he’s a UNC-G graduate, so it’s all happening right in his back yard.

This was to be my third trip as Girl Friday and official NHS Arts cheerleader.  Our previous choral director, Marilyn Shugart, began having her students participate in All-State, and it was a tremendous boost for our choral program. It’s fascinating to watch how talented musicians can come together, focus intensively for 24 hours, and create this remarkable event. You get to hear standard choral repertoire as well as new contemporary works, and even world premieres commissioned especially for the festival.

As a member of the Duke Chapel Choir, I get to experience something not unlike this. I am fortunate to sing regularly in a group of more than 100, and very occasionally in a choir of up to 300 for special events, performing some of the world’s most gorgeous music literature and working with the most gifted musicians in the entire region. We occasionally talk about the fact that singers may never know the impact that their music has on a congregation, an audience, or to people who listen on the radio, TV or thru the Web.

Alas, perhaps our only “weather event” of the winter has cancelled this year’s festival. It’s not hard to understand why such a massive undertaking cannot be re-scheduled—the coordinator, Beverly Alt, has tremendous responsibilities securing the hotel rooms, the rehearsal venue, the performance hall, the clinicians, the accompanists, the assistants, the administrative work, the multiple sectional rehearsal personnel and spaces. So I’m sure the disappointment is much greater for her and her colleagues. But today I think about the converse of not knowing the impact of your efforts —the  impact of the missed opportunity for talented young singers.

I went back to some video from last year and it will show you most clearly what may have been lost. This is the finale from the 2012 festival, featuring the 11-12th Choir. The conductor is a marvelous, dynamic instructor from the University of Miami, Dr. Karen Kennedy. [read an excellent profile here, and you’ll get a sense of why she was a perfect choice to conduct.] The accompanist is Gwen Hall, choral director of Southwestern Randolph High School, with degrees from UNC-Chapel Hill and her Masters from the University of IL at Urbana-Champaign.

Think about this. You’re a director in Florida, selecting music in the fall for a January performance in NC with 300 kids you’ve never met, and with whom you will only get to work for less than two days. You choose this song to end your program and it includes a solo.  You don’t know who will audition.  In Greensboro, more than 40 brave singers stepped forward at the end of the day on Friday to apply. Many were quite good and well prepared. Many would have done fine work.  And as you can see from Dr. Kennedy’s profile, this is a regular part of her professional work.  But sometimes, a young man like Demarcus walks through the door.  And there is magic …  The soloist, the conductor, the music, the pianist, the choir, the audience together JUST ONCE, for just 5 minutes that will never come again.   Watch …

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Arts Abounding

Busy week here in central NC for the arts and arts ed …

  1. ARTSNC logo 2010ArtsNC Board meets this Thursday in Greensboro. Planning for Regional Arts Summits prior to Arts Day 2013: April 9-10. Coming to Hickory, Goldsboro, Concord, and the Triangle in February and March. [Oh, and by the way, have you ordered your Arts License Plate yet?]
  2. Scholastic Art Awards at Barton College were just announced, and Northwood students received Gold Keys, Silver Keys, and Honorable Mentions.  The Awards Ceremony is scheduled for Feb 3 and the exhibition runs thru Feb 22 at Barton College Art Gallery.
  3. Traveling back to Greensboro with NHS singers for the NCMEA High School All-State Choir.  This annual event highlights more than 800 of our state’s finest singers and gives them the opportunity to work with outstanding collegiate choral directors to prepare for the Jan. 26 concert at the War Memorial Auditorium. Read more about the three choirs, the clinicians, and this year’s program here.
  4. Meanwhile, NHS will have an instrumentalist taking part in the Central District Bandmasters Association All-District Band Clinic in Raleigh.
  5. And finally, attending a big event commissioned by Carolina Performing Arts to celebrate  the centennial of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring—The premiere weekend of A Rite, a collaborative work by Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company & SITI Company.

Supporting Arts & Arts Education in Chatham County: Remarks to Chatham County Commissioners

Chatham Delegates to the 2012 NC High School All-State Choral Festival from Jordan Matthews and Northwood High Schools

Investment and Achievement

Benefits of Arts in NC

In addition to improving the quality of life and promoting communities to new residents and business, the creative community offers tangible, economic benefits. As of 2009 in NC, this industry created and sustained almost 300,000 jobs, generated $10 billion in employee compensation, and produced more than $40 billion in goods and services.1 In metropolitan areas its easy to see how the Durham Performing Arts Center or the NC Museum of Art, for example, attract tourist dollars and contribute to the larger economy. In more rural communities, we need to look closer at the benefits investment in the arts brings. In Chatham County, our vibrant arts education program emphasizes these benefits. This is especially important as recent findings from longitudinal studies of over 20 years confirm that sustained involvement in strong arts programs are associated with increased college enrollment and attainment, and greater civic engagement, with higher levels of volunteering, voting, and participation in local and school politics. And these findings are most significant for at-risk and disadvantaged students.2

Arts Education at Northwood

Arts Education opportunities at Northwood include Visual Arts, Theatre Arts, Instrumental Music, Choral Music, and Dance

Arts Education in Chatham

Arts Education has had sustained support from the County Commissioners, the Board of Education, and the administration of Chatham County Schools for many years.  Investments made more than 30 years ago, continue to provide unique opportunities for students and recognition for achievements. Distinguished faculty, dedicated students, and involved community members, organizations, and businesses work to make arts education one of the hallmarks of the school system, a fact often mentioned by local real estate agents and websites.

I’d like to note highlights at Northwood High School, since that has been the focus of my volunteer work.  But certainly arts residencies at Margaret Pollard, the documentary film program at Sage, professional development workshops in the arts at Woods School, and the establishment of the new arts education foundation at Jordan Matthews also attest to strong community support and involvment across the entire county.

A decade ago in 2002, the NHS Arts Education Department was the only high school in North Carolina to receive the prestigious Creative Ticket School of Excellence Award, presented by the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, for its comprehensive and outstanding Arts Education programs.3 Today, those junior faculty members lead the current department and they and their students have continued to excel. They have earned board certification, advanced graduate degrees, statewide and national recognition, and numerous grant awards to supplement and expand learning opportunities for their students.

Northwood is one of only 12% of the public schools in the nation to offer high school dance studies.4 It has the distinction of being the oldest public high school dance program in North Carolina. In addition NHS has one of the few National Honor Societies in Dance Arts in a typical NC high school. With its establishment, Northwood now has honor societies in all arts disciplines (National Art Honor Society, Tri-M International Music Honor Society, and International Thespian Society.) We are excited that senior Julia Sloane has been selected as 2012 Regional Finalist for the NDEO Artistic Merit, Leadership, and Academic Achievement Award.

Student achievement can be seen by participation and honor recognition in the annual Scholastic Art Awards, area Marching Band competitions, NC All-District Band, NC All-State Choral Festival, Central District Band Festival, Governor’s School, and All-County Chorus. Our students attract thousands of dollars in scholarship funds to continue their studies. Last year three of the major arts departmental awards at East Carolina (Outstanding Senior in the Musical Theatre Program, Outstanding Senior in Dance Performance, and Outstanding Senior in Dance Education) all were awarded to Northwood High School alumni. Our students are pursuing undergraduate degrees in music performance, music education, theatre, visual arts, advertising, dance, fashion design, and filmaking, just to name a few. Others have graduated with honors, performed at Carnegie Hall, entered graduate programs, and begun to work professionally, not only in the arts, but as scientists, engineers, doctors, teachers, journalists, and international relief workers.

Faculty grants and community investment have provided residencies, workshops, and master classes so students have the opportunity to meet and learn from world-class performers and educators. Drama students participated in the NEA-funded Shakespeare in American Communities Program with UNC Playmakers and their teaching artist David McClutchy. Distinguished educator Dr. John Brown, head of Duke’s Jazz program, provided master classes, as did the Lula Washington Dance Company from Los Angeles. The Glenn Miller Orchestra has visited, as have performers from the Lion King national tour, the renowned musician, composer and educator Stanley Baird, and six-time Grammy nominee, jazz vocalist Nnenna Freelon. Choral instructor Marilyn Shugart was the recipient of the very first Raising Voices Grant from the Triangle Community Foundation last year to produce our All-County Choral Festival and expand that opportunity to middle school students. And Eugene Cottrell, previous national winner of the Mr. Holland’s Opus Award, was one of only two NC music educators recognized for his work by the North Carolina Symphony, receiving the 2011 Jackson Parkhurst Award.

Arts education is a vital part of our cultural life. Visual art students participate each year in the Studio Tour Opening. Band and choral students perform at civic events. The recent NHS spring musical attracted some of our largest audiences—almost 1400 for three performances of Seussical. Dance concerts regularly attract audiences of 1000. Last year’s Motors for Music Car Show had 500 visitors and this year, the organizers (the NHS Band Boosters) are expecting between 600 and 1000 visitors to Pittsboro on April 28. This organization invests $60,000 in the school music program each year.

With this year’s awards, NHSAEF will have presented $25,000 in scholarships to students for achievements in the arts since it’s founding in 2007.5 And a community business donation made possible the organization’s largest teacher grant to date, replacing 30-year-old lighting instruments in the Benjamin J. Lee Auditorium.

Your public support for the arts and arts education is a powerful incentive for the investments of parents, community members, civic organizations, and local business. We strive to be good stewards of that support, to provide the highest caliber of educational opportunities for our students, and in turn provide results you can point to with pride in your efforts to promote Chatham County.

EndNotes

  1. NC Dept. of Cultural Resources. (2009). North Carolina’s $41 billion creative industry employs nearly 300,000. Retrieved online at http://www.ncarts.org/elements/docs/NCCreativeIndustryContribution_Overview.pdf
  2.  Catterall, J. S., Dumais, S. A., & Hampden-Thompson, G. (2012) The arts and achievement in at- risk youth: Findings from four longitudinal studies. Washington, DC: The National Endowment for the Arts. Retrieved online at http://www.nea.gov/research/Arts-At-Risk-Youth.pdf
  3.  Chatham County Schools. (2011). About arts education Web page. http://bit.ly/IH1SGF
  4. Parsad, B., & Spiegelman, M. (2012). Arts education in public elementary and secondary schools: 1999–2000 and 2009–10 (NCES 2012-014). Washington, DC: US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2012/2012014.pdf
  5. Northwood High School Arts Education Foundation. www.NHSAEF.org