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 …


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.


  1. NC Dept. of Cultural Resources. (2009). North Carolina’s $41 billion creative industry employs nearly 300,000. Retrieved online at
  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
  3.  Chatham County Schools. (2011). About arts education Web page.
  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
  5. Northwood High School Arts Education Foundation.

Celebrating Duke Chapel’s 75th Anniversary

Program for Sunday’s concert:

Beautiful Savior F. Melius Christiansen
Sanctus Charles Gounod
Cantique de Jean Racine Gabriel Fauré
Beautiful River arr. John Rutter
How Firm a Foundation Traditional American arr. Emma Lou Diemer
Where E’er You Go Allan Friedman (sung by Schola)
Magnificat on the tune WOODLANDS David Arcus
(Carillon) Improvisation on AURELIA J. Samuel Hammond, (University Carillonneur)
Le Cantique de Simeon Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (Vespers Ensemble)
(Duet) Kyrie (from Messe Basse) Fauré
Tantum ergo Charles-Marie Widor
Sanctus (from Mass for Two Choirs and Two Organs) Widor
Requiem Maurice Duruflé

A few notes of interest—

Beautiful Savior was sung at the chapel every Sunday for many decades.  The Gounod was the first choral work performed in the Chapel. The Diemer was commissioned for the choir. The Magnificat was composed by our chapel choir organist, David Arcus and the Schola piece, Where E’er You Go is by our assistant conductor, Allan Friedman.

Also, to learn more about the 75th, attend

75th Anniversary Celebration – Laying Foundations, Living Faith Celebration
April 17, 2010, 3:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Duke Chapel
All are invited to join us as we celebrate the 75th Anniversary of Duke Chapel. Festivities will include a viewing of a short film about the life and history of Duke Chapel, an invocation by former Dean Will Willimon, remarks by Dean Sam Wells, and musical performances. Contact: 919-684-2921.


NHS Guys & Dolls poster

I love the things that just appear on my digital doorstep.  Since my husband introduced me to google alerts, every day I get information both useful and quirky. At the moment, in addition to alerts for “arts education” + “gina harrison” [always good to know what the several of us are up to], I’m getting all the news online about “Guys & Dolls.” The Frank Loesser 1950 classic will be  Northwood’s Spring Musical March 25-27.  So today I learned via the Huffington Post that Lady Gaga was a dynamic Miss Adelaide in her middle school G&D production.

Theatre In Our SchoolsOn the E-Newsletter front, Edutopia is featuring some of their recent articles on Parent Participation. This topic is timely for arts education types since March is right around the corner. March is Music in Our Schools Month, Theatre in Our Schools Month, and Youth Art Month.  Visit these websites. There are lots of ideas for celebrating. Help spread the word. Volunteer. Go see a student production, exhibit, or presentation. Music In Our Schools Logo

You might also like Americans for the Arts’ Arts Watch newsletter … Or the ArtsEd Digest from the Arts Education Partnership …

Looking Ahead: Virtual Feasts

I go to Weaver Street Market near my office for lunch often and my first stop is always at the dessert counter. I like to stand there and contemplate all the scrumptious and beautifully decorated pies, cakes, tarts, chocolate mousse cups, cup cakes, lemon bars, cheesecakes…well, you get the idea. Then a really nice employee always asks if they can help and I move on to the salad bar. But for those few seconds I savor the idea that I can have anything in the counter, and that sort of means I can have everything—until I make a decision.

That’s also true on the arts scene in January. I’m fortunate to live in an area with vast numbers of concerts, plays, touring shows, exhibits, recitals, lectures, movies, readings  and presentations.  I’ll only get to see a couple. I’m privileged to participate in a few. But I relish all these opportunities and I’ll share some and maybe you’ll find something to your taste as well.

Down in Sanford at the Temple Theatre, Mike Wiley’s adaptation of Tim Tyson’s Blood Done Sign My Name is playing January 29-February 7. I’ve been wanting to see one of Mike Wiley’s shows since I heard a piece about him on WUNC Radio last year.

Also on January 29, check out Looking for Ms. Locklear, a film by NC internet sensations, Rhett & Link (who will be on hand for this screening). Part of ChathamArts Sustainable Cinema Series, the show will be at the Barn at Fearrington Village .

If you’re in the mood (sorry), come back down to Pittsboro on February 9 when the Glenn Miller Orchestra comes to town for a very special concert. The NHS Jazz Ensemble will open the show being held at Northwood’s Benjamin J. Lee Auditorium. Tickets are only $10 for reserved seats and $5 general admission and are expected to sell out. [Any proceeds will assist the Jazz Band as they travel to Orlando later in the month for the Disney Jazz Celebration.]

I have a date to go see Harry Connick, Jr. at the DPAC on Feb. 16.  And that’s close enough to Valentine’s for me. [I told you I was fortunate.]

Theatre in the Park is mounting the show with my favorite title this year—Don’t Cry for Me Margaret Mitchell, Feb. 12-14 & 18-21. Written by a mother/son duo, this wacky adventure is apparently not too far off the mark from actual events as David O. Selznick, Ben Hecht and Victor Fleming spend a week sequestered in Selznick’s office doing a complete rewrite of the script for Gone With The Wind and subsisting on peanuts and bananas.

At UNC,  Playmakers Repertory Company will be holding auditions on Feb 13 & 14  for this summer’s Youth Conservatory production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The Tony-award winning musical will run July 22-25. Perhaps they’ll be serving up cucumber sandwiches in the lobby March 3-21 during the run of Oscar Wilde’s classic, The Importance of Being Ernest. Both should be a treat.

Meanwhile in Durham, Derrick Ivey and the Durham Savoyards are celebrating their 47th Season with this year’s production of The Mikado. Check out their website and read Derrick’s director’s blog.

Back in my neighborhood, the annual Northwood Spring Musical will be a production of Frank Loesser’s 1950 classic, Guys & Dolls. This will be the 60th anniversary of its Broadway premier and the 100th anniversary of Frank Loesser’s (and Abe Burrow’s) birth. This is a gala year at Northwood celebrating the $4.5 million renovation to the arts wing and the auditorium. Visit the NHSAEF website to learn more as we get closer to opening night. The show runs March 25-27. [My daughter says I already spend too much time working on music or promotional pieces for this show. But here’s a really neat article and interview with William Ivey Long about creating the costume’s for the 1992 Broadway revival and it has lots of pictures!]

Duke Chapel is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year and on April 18, the Duke Chapel Choir will present their Spring Concert featuring the Duruflé Requiem. On my top ten list of favorite choral works, so I’m excited to get to do this again.

Chatham County will have their first-ever All-County Chorus on Thursday, April 22 at Northwood’s Benjamin J. Lee Auditorium. Dr. Dan Huff, from UNC’s Music Department & School of Education will be the guest clinician.

Of course, the big news in town is Wicked, coming to the DPAC April 21-May 16.

So that gives you pretty big spread—Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Pittsboro. From $5–+$100. January to May. Enjoy!  What shows are you looking forward to?

Looking Back on the Way Ahead

As an addendum to the NorthwoodArts Annual Report, here’s a short retrospective slide show of highlights from 2008–2009. Marching band season, the fall drama Up the Down Staircase, dance & choral concerts, parades, art exhibitis, Into the Woods, Tri-M music honor society, graduation, drama camp.

Another year at Northwood has begun. Students, teachers, parents, and alumni helped move into our new Arts Wing this week. The first football game is Friday nite and there will be a preview of this year’s marching band competition program, Escape. School starts August 25.  NHS Open House is Tuesday, Sept 15 and our first NHS Arts Ed Foundation general meeting immediately following at 7:30.

NorthwoodArts Report Online

I’ve completed the NHS Arts Ed. Department’s annual report and posted it online at last!  The back page includes a tentative calendar of events for the coming year, so of course it will need updating, but otherwise I think it’s complete.

NorthwoodArts: Annual Report 2008–2009

NorthwoodArts: Annual Report 2008–2009

There’s information about Northwood instrumental music, choral music, dance (NHS has the oldest public school dance program in NC), theatre arts, and visual arts.  You can also see marching band awards, members of the new chapter of Tri-M Music Honor Society, links to dance performances online, faculty activities, as well as a listing of our generous patrons and sponsors.

I’m trying out an online service called Issuu to post the document. I really like the interface and would love to know what viewers think.