“Be joyful because you have hope!” Romans 12:12
In the most recent Lower School Morning Meeting, religion teachers Jenny Koenig and Laura Portwood reminded students and families of this powerful verse and its ability to change our perspective. As we see images of professional artists singing from balconies, doctors playing piano in empty hospital atriums or even children creating positive messages with sidewalk chalk, we see this verse in action. Through art and creativity people are finding ways to stay connected and uplift one another in meaningful ways.
“We need to create- humans need to be creative, it’s a part of who we are on a cellular basis,” says Episcopal Visual and Performing Arts Director Paige Gagliano. “We tell our stories through song, paint, music and other characters. Personally, I feel I am closest to God when I am creating.”
Episcopal’s teacher/artists have helped students continue creating, finding innovative ways to do so during a time of Distance Learning. “Since the start of Distance Learning, my top priority has been to create a way for the show to go on in some capacity,” says Band Director Doug Gay. “The students (6th-12th grade) and I have been working on creating a ‘Virtual Spring Concert Series’ to present to the Episcopal community.” Students submitted videos of themselves playing the same song remotely and Gay spent countless hours compiling them into one united performance. The completed video series highlights the talent and dedication of Episcopal musicians. “This process has been very special to me, watching them continue to learn and grow, and laughing at the many funny comments they make in their video submissions,” says Gay. “I am incredibly proud of them.”
Members of the Episcopal choir also had the opportunity to perform. Students sang their hearts out in a virtual performance that was presented during a watch party attended by enthusiastic family members and friends. “This was a rewarding yet challenging endeavor that leaves me feeling fulfilled at the close of a bizarre school year,” says Choir Director Mary Kannenberg. “I am so thrilled that we were able to give the students an experience that seemed impossible and I’m so grateful to all the people that helped us get there.”
Like teachers in a range of subjects, the art teachers are all grateful for the opportunity to continue working with students. While it may seem difficult to teach art during separation, the educators found a way. "At first, I was skeptical about the online acting class for middle schoolers,” says theater teacher Joe Reynolds. “But, of course, they surprised me with imaginative lip-syncs, creative original monologues, comic newscasts, and truthful journal entries of their 'Life on Mars -- alone for 180 days!’”
In Lower School, students are also continuing to create. “Pre-K through fourth grade students have been given opportunities to reinforce music skills through games and interactive music sites and have listened and responded to many great works,” says music teacher Tricia Deloney. In addition, Deloney worked with fifth graders to create the much-anticipated STOMP performance using Seesaw. The final project will be up for viewing after the last Morning Meeting on May 20th.
Missing school, teachers and friends can be stressful, and that is where the art of dance can be helpful. “The one thing that I have done that I feel is important was to remind students to move, stretch and breathe,” says dance teacher Christine Chrest. Chrest says students have appreciated the reminder to work out the stress in this creative way and many of them said it was just what they needed.
Gagliano says there have actually been benefits for some students as a result of this new style of learning. “I found meeting my middle school students in smaller synchronous classes where we would rehearse monologues and discuss character development was really great BECAUSE I saw them come out of their shells and they were willing to take much larger chances in front of a group of four during a synchronous class,” she says. “They became open and vulnerable in ways that are difficult for any teen.”
Visual art teacher Karen Koprowski-Stout points out the benefits of tapping into the inner artist. “The visual arts develop one’s ability to problem solve, fail and succeed, fine motor skills, brain development and new connections as well as accessing the elusive FLOW STATE,” she says. Those problem-solving skills have proven quite valuable in Media Arts classes, especially among the yearbook staff. Teacher and yearbook advisor Dianne Madden says, “working off-campus on the yearbook, away from our files and computers took a lot of problem-solving from everyone. Through trial and error and a one on one with Adobe Creative Cloud, student leaders collaborated to create a system.”
Through collaboration and dedication, joyful learning has certainly not “gone dark” as they say in the theater world. It continues among Episcopal students in all divisions and all subjects. The efforts of those in Episcopal’s art department are just one of the many examples of faculty, staff, students and parents doing their part to inspire positivity and hope until we all meet again in person.
“There Are Days”
by Paul Taranto and Jamie Wax
Filmed by Michael Roth
Performed by Emily Knight ‘18 on closing night, two years ago this week, of Episcopal’s production of "Evangeline, the Musical"
Art provides tremendous inspiration in good times and in bad times. Episcopal arts department chair Paige Gagliano provides connection and support during this time of distance learning by reminding us of the classic "Evangeline" song "There Are Days." Read more from Paige below.
We’d like to share the song “There Are Days” from Episcopal’s production of "Evangeline, the Musical." This clip is from Episcopal’s closing night of "Evangeline, the Musical," two years ago this week, on the Episcopal stage and features Emily Knight ‘18. The show was composed by our very own Paul Taranto and written by Jamie Wax. We premiered the original musical at Episcopal in 1998 and this show was a source of hope at a difficult time for members of our Episcopal community.
It is our hope that this song once again unites our Episcopal community through hope and promise.
“I was around when the team breathed life into Evangeline, and I was at the first public performance at Episcopal all those years ago, Evangeline in Concert in Greer. This song, to me, is a song of being connected. It is a song not just of love, but of hope and promise.” Bridget Henderson, Lower School Division Head
“The ending lyric is what speaks to me the most ‘help me find a way to live within those precious days.’ Evangeline needs Gabriel to live through her dark times – she needs the ones she loves. She reminds us that in our dark times we need each other, through virtual communication and support. We cannot and will not let this situation separate us. Together we will find a way to live through these days as a community." Charlie Roth, Junior, Episcopal School of Baton Rouge
Can't get enough of Evangeline? Revisit these blog posts to relive all the magic.
Do you have an inspiring Episcopal memory or moment? Share it in the comments below.
Paige Parsons Gagliano began her career at Episcopal teaching and directing from 1993- 2001 and later returned “home” to Episcopal in the fall of 2013. At Episcopal Paige directs all the theatrical productions, teaches theatre as well as theatre and religion and serves as Director of Performing Arts. Paige is a 2006 Forty Under Forty Honoree by the Baton Rouge Business Report. She holds a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Education from Louisiana State University. Paige has 29 years experience in teaching and directing professional, community and educational theatre. She has directed over 50 theatrical productions to critical and commercial acclaim for organizations including LSU, Louisiana Public Broadcasting, Baton Rouge Little Theatre, Baker Little Theatre and Playmakers of Baton Rouge. She is the past Executive Director at Theatre Baton Rouge, Development Director for The Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge and Executive Director of Community Fund for the Arts. Paige is actively involved in the community, having served as the Provisional Chair for the Junior League of Baton Rouge, a member of the LSU English Department's The Shakespeare Project, a board member for Playmakers of Baton Rouge and a featured speaker for the Capital Area United Way. She is married to Technical Director and Lighting Designer Louis Gagliano and they have three children.
“Mamma Mia!” There’s a lot in store in the Episcopal arts department this spring!
In February, 19 Episcopal students will travel to New York City for a whirlwind, three-day tour. Arts Department Director Paige Gagliano says this experience is a great opportunity for students who are interested in theater to learn more about the opportunities available to them. In just three days’ time, students will see three Broadway shows, participate in three Broadway theater workshops, visit two colleges and take in the sights and sounds of the city. They will do all this and still return home in time for Fat Tuesday festivities. In addition, 12 band students will travel to London for spring break where they will take in a concert and have the opportunity to perform. Even students in the visual arts program will have the opportunity for learning beyond the classroom once final details of their excursions are complete. Art-themed field trips are a great way for students to experience new places and explore their interests more in depth.
There is excitement around this spring’s musical theater production with a triple cast taking the stage in the musical “Mamma Mia!” Currently, 75 Middle and Upper School students are on the roster and Gagliano says by curtain time there could be as many as 80 students involved. “The talent has exploded,” says Gagliano of this up and coming group of student actors. She says “Mamma Mia!” provides a great opportunity for students to showcase a range of talents including acting, dancing and singing. Gagliano says “Mamma Mia!” was the perfect choice for this spring because of the student interest and enthusiasm. The cast is in their second week of music rehearsals as they prepare for a late March opening date.
Gagliano and the arts team are excited to have so many students involved in the arts. “It’s our job to give everyone an opportunity to find their passion,” she says. Gagliano says it’s rewarding to see students explore their artistic talents and find that it is something they enjoy. One such student is senior Rowan Reilly who has discovered an appreciation for performing after taking a theater production class and being cast in “Evangeline.” “I wouldn’t have guessed it going into high school, but turns out I like it,” he says. Reilly also appreciates the practical skills he has gained from his theater experience. As an example, he says he recently received positive feedback from his thesis counterparts for his confidence and annunciation. Hearing Reilly discuss his theater experience and the practical applications he’s discovered was music to Gagliano’s ears. It is this type of feedback that keeps her and her colleagues going. “A teacher allows the actor to discover,” she says. “A teacher encourages a focus on the process and not the end product. We want students to have a higher level of thinking and analysis and to ask why.”
Episcopal art teachers are also fostering the talent of visual artists. Junior Katie Knight will have her artwork entitled “Emily” on display in the LSU Statewide Juried High School exhibition. The show runs between February 7th and March 7th at the Foster Gallery on the LSU campus. This is the second year in a row that Knight has been featured in this exhibition. According to the LSU School of Art website, “the goal of the exhibition is to inspire young artists by providing a platform for their work to be displayed in a professional, artistic venue and thus giving them a taste of a professional artist experience.”
The arts are a key component of an Episcopal education. Whether a student aspires to be on Broadway or dreams of expressing their feelings through dance or drawing, there is an opportunity for everyone. Don’t miss your opportunity to support these talented students at an event this semester. In addition, look for Episcopal student artists at LAUNCH this spring. The artists will lead their classmates in creating a Chihuly sculpture for display in the VPAC. They will also have their own works on display.
Upcoming Spring Arts Events:
Spring musical: “Mamma Mia!”
Sunday, March 29 – Sunday, April 5th (Excludes Wednesday, April 1st and Saturday, April 4th)
Thursday, April 23rd at 7:50 am
Theatre Seminar performance
Wednesday, April 29th at 5:30 pm
Sunday, April 26th
Spring band concert
Thursday, April 30th at 7 pm
End of theYear Arts Banquet
Saturday, May 2nd at 5 pm
Don't Miss Episcopal's Jazz Nutcracker
The Episcopal dancers will present the "Jazz Nutcracker" on Tuesday, December 10th at 7 pm in the VPAC. The performance will feature 40 students in grades eighth through twelfth. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased online here.
Congratulations to the Following Episcopal Artists!
After two rounds of auditions with musicians from the region and the state, senior Laura Kurtz earned a spot in the All-State Band! Laura earned second chair symphonic band on French horn. The All-State Band recently performed at the Louisiana Music Educators Association Conference. In addition to playing French horn, Laura also plays trumpet and piano.
Senior Alex Wilson and freshman Claire Kiesel auditioned and were chosen to participate in the 2020 Louisiana Music Educators Association District IV Honor Choir! Wilson and Kiesel auditioned with hundreds of high school students across East Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, Iberville, Livingston, Pointe Coupee, West Baton Rouge, West Feliciana, Ascension and St. James Parishes. The singers were ranked individually and the top ten in each voice part qualified to participate in the Honor Choir. The choir will perform at First Baptist Church in downtown Baton Rouge in January.
Congratulations to junior Kathryn Knight and freshman Quirino Montaggioni! Both students recently had artwork recognized at the Kiwanis Pancake Festival.
With such a talented student body, it is no surprise that you can find many Episcopal students performing in productions throughout the community. Here are just a few of the upcoming opportunities to support our Knights beyond the Episcopal campus.
The Nutcracker: A Tale from the Bayou
Several Episcopal students are in the Baton Rouge Ballet Theatre’s production of "The Nutcracker: A Tale from the Bayou" with performances on Saturday, December 14th and Sunday, December 15th.
Arlie Bond - Page
Jeanne Bosworth - Lamb
Julia Craven - Lamb
Brooksie Flettrich - Lamb
Ivy Jiang - Snow
Katherine Johnson - Lamb
Alexandria Messer - Cherub
Caidyn Moses - Mouse
Niecy Spinosa - Lamb
Trinittee Thyssen - Cook
Oscar Worrell - Child
Airi Ishibashi and Luna Alvarez also performed as snowflakes in the recent Great Russian Nutcracker ballet at LSU.
Guys and Dolls
Mark your calendar now for Theatre Baton Rouge’s production of "Guys and Dolls" which runs January 30th through February 2nd. The show features Episcopal students Cate Brien, Marshall Elliot and Samantha Schilling.
Episcopal’s presentation of “The Little Mermaid Junior” was anything but junior. Lower and Middle School students wowed audiences with impressive vocals and fun choreography – there were even a few flips! The set, lighting and costumes transported audiences under the sea with vibrant color and movement. It was another successful production that truly showcased the talents of these young artists and the arts department staff who support them.
Mark your calendar for upcoming Episcopal arts events.
Monologues inspired by the theme "The Mask We Wear" presented by the Upper School theater production class
Black Box theater at 7 pm
December 12th and 13th
“Into the Woods Junior” presented by the eighth grade musical theater class
Black Box theater during class period
Winter Band Concert presented by Middle and Upper School musicians, the concert band and jazz band
VPAC at 7 pm
Lessons and Carols presented by the Upper School Choir
The Lewis Memorial Chapel of the Good Shepherd at 7 pm
Jazz Nutcracker presented by 40 eighth through twelfth grade Episcopal dancers
VPAC at 7 pm
Sometimes all you need to provide healing is a pen, a pad and an old guitar. Episcopal band director Doug Gay and his team at BR Music Studios are offering their version of healing and support to Louisiana veterans through free Veterans Songwriting Collective workshops.
Doug and his team began this journey two years ago when they were approached by the Louisiana Office of Cultural Development to create a program specifically for veterans. BR Music Studios already had programs in place for preschool musicians and individuals with adaptive needs and Doug says they were eager to work with veterans as well. “We say yes and then we figure it out,” he says. The group did figure it out by adapting an existing program to fit the needs of veterans. One need that Doug and his team identified quickly among the veterans was the need to be heard. These men and women have stories that many don’t understand and it’s comforting for them to be in a place where their story is not only heard, but also appreciated.
During the pilot programs, which were offered in Baton Rouge, Lake Charles, Alexandria and Shreveport, participants spent considerable time simply talking about what they had experienced. In fact, Doug says the sessions all ran much longer than initially planned and going forward he plans to allow more time for discussion. After participants shared their stories, the music educators helped them put their thoughts into lyrics. You might think it would be hard to narrow down so many experiences into one song, but Doug says it always comes together. “It’s magic,” he says with the excitement of someone who has dedicated his life to helping others discover their musical talents.
"I want the audience to get the same goosebumps I get."
Doug says it is powerful to hear the stories of the Veterans Songwriting Collective participants. As you speak to him about the project, the sense of awe and respect he has for the veterans involved is immediately apparent. For Doug and his team, the Veterans Songwriting Collective project is truly a way to support and recognize veterans. He is honored to share this experience with them and humbled by the part BR Music Studios is playing. “We’re just teaching how to write a song,” he says. But clearly, there is much more.
For workshop participant Army Specialist Chad Chenevert, who is married to Episcopal Director of Technology, Michelle Chenevert, the experience was particularly meaningful. At the workshop, SPC Chenevert reflected on what inspired him to serve and the importance of his grandfather’s military hat for his entire family. “My grandfather was my hero, and since the first picture I saw of him in uniform…I only hoped I could grow to be like him,” says Chenevert. “He marched me around his house in Alexandria calling out cadence while I tried to keep that big hat on my young head straight and proud.” Once SPC Chenevert became a man big enough to wear that hat, he followed in his grandfather’s footsteps and joined the Louisiana Army National Guard at only 17 years old. “I turned 18 in the gas chamber at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO and have tried to serve my country in anyway I can, even after my honorable discharge,” he says.
As stories such as SPC Chenevert’s are told during the workshops, there is a sense of understanding among the attendees. Participants can relate to one another and the challenges they have all faced. Veterans Songwriting Collective sessions are filled with laughter, tears and the comfort that comes from being with those who understand. While the goal is for veterans to come together to write a song about shared experiences, the journey and bonding that occurs are the true takeaways.
Thanks to the expertise of Doug and his team, these shared stories are transformed into meaningful songs. Doug and his workshop co-creator, Sarah Burke, have partnered with Nashville Star finalist and Army Specialist David St. Romain, to voice the songs and a team of BR Music Studios musicians supply the rhythms. There truly is a magic in the experience as men and women who once felt their story was unheard, now have the opportunity to hear their story in song.
Specialist Chenevert says the Veterans Songwriting Collective experience was incredible and he is confident it can help other veterans who are struggling with their challenges. This sentiment around music therapy is gaining traction. Music therapy has existed since the early 1800s with the first university music therapy courses introduced in the 1940s. Now, the National Endowment for the Arts is working with the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs to help members of the military deal with issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder. According to Creative Forces, which is a National Endowment for the Arts initiative that works with military personnel, music therapy can help “optimize feelings of safety and reduce perceptions of threat during emotional risk-taking.” The organization also points out that music therapy “contributes to improvements in social integration, quality of life, and overall motivation in the recovery process.”
After seeing the value of the initial pilot sessions, the Louisiana Division of the Arts and the Lt. Governor's office have begun the process of approving two additional workshops in the spring of 2020. Doug and his team are especially interested in bringing the events to smaller, more rural areas so that more veterans can easily access them. In the meantime, songs such as those inspired by SPC Chenevert’s own experience will serve as a reminder of those who serve and the sacrifices they make. “My grandmother absolutely cherishes it, as it was her husband who wore the hat,” says Chenevert. “We are very appreciative for the talents of Doug Gay, David St. Romain, and all the others who volunteered their time to organize the event,” says Chenevert’s wife, Michelle. “Our family was moved to tears as we listened to the song created called ‘PawPaw’s Hat.’”
To SPC Chenevert, his grandfather and so many others, we say thank you for your commitment and service. Click here to listen to "Paw Paw's Hat."
Happy Veterans Day!
Episcopal eighth graders have the music in them! A recent visit to the VPAC highlighted just a few of the electives Episcopal students can explore. In addition to band, theater and dance, students can also explore choir.
"Go for Excellence" in Band Class
Members of the eighth grade band class practiced notes from the song “Go for Excellence” with new Band Director Doug Gay.
Exploring the Impact of Music in Musical Theater Class
In musical theater class students discussed the soundtrack of their lives with Arts Department Chair Paige Gagliano. Class favorites included a few oldies like Queen, the Beatles and the Steve Miller Band as well as more modern artists such as Drake, Lizzo and Post Malone.
Twisting and Twirling in Dance Class
Meanwhile, in the dance studio eighth grade dancers practiced steps to a Lauryn Hill classic. To break up the practice, Dance Teacher Christine Chrest even had students run races across the practice floor.
Even though the school year has only just begun, Middle School students are already off to a good rhythm. They are sure to continue making great music together throughout the year.
Mark Your Calendar:
Don’t miss your opportunity to catch Middle School performers in action.
Lower/Middle School Play: November 18th - 21st VPAC
Winter Band Concert: December 5th VPAC
Fall Dance Concert: December 10th VPAC
In less than two months, Episcopal Upper School students will put on a theater performance in the Black Box. Auditions are this week and once the cast is set rehearsals will get underway. However, the actual play has yet to be determined. Visual and Performing Arts Department Chair Paige Gagliano says such a twist is indicative of the exciting things you can expect from the Episcopal arts department this year.
This will be the first time in several years that an Upper School straight play will be offered as an extracurricular activity. (A straight play is a play with no singing and strictly speaking roles.) Middle and Upper School Drama Teacher Joe Reynolds will direct the production, which is scheduled for Tuesday, October 15th at 7 pm. Gagliano says after auditions, the theater team will determine the play based on the talent that presents itself. Such a fluid and flexible approach allows the teachers to tailor the play to the students. “Our musicals are so popular, but we have students who aren’t comfortable singing,” says Gagliano. Offering a straight play makes theater an option for these students. Additional options for students who are not available to rehearse after school is the Theatre Production class or the Acting Master Seminar. Both classes allow students to rehearse during class and produce a full length play.
In addition to the new theater production, there are also three new faculty members in the arts department this year. As described by Hugh McIntosh, Head of School, “As time allowed during the 2018-2019 school year, several of us worked together on plans that would provide stable leadership for the Arts Department, an exciting broader array of studio art offerings, and provide for additional opportunities for teacher-collaboration within the Arts Department. I know this will usher in a more unified and collaborative approach to the arts at Episcopal. Suffice it to say that students will have quite an array of choices in the arts areas at Episcopal. In discussions in late May with the 2019-2020 arts teachers their sense of excitement about 2019-2020 and the new initiatives was palpable.”
Doug Gay has joined the team as the Middle and Upper School Band Director. Veronica Hallock is teaching Middle and Upper School visual arts courses. In addition to teaching Middle and Upper School visual arts courses, Karen Koprowski-Stout is also serving as the Assistant Visual and Performing Arts Department Chair. Gagliano says all three have jumped right into the Episcopal arts experience and are blending well with returning teachers Christine Chrest, Caroline Hagan, Mary Kannenberg and Joe Reynolds. The new teachers are also offering new courses for students this year, including Middle School Forced Perspective and Optical Illusion Photography and Upper School Introduction to Filmmaking. You can read more about the new faculty below.
Gagliano says true to the Episcopal mission of educating the whole child, members of the arts department strive to meet students where they are in their artistic endeavors. “We care for these students and we want them to be comfortable and confident where they are,” she says. The arts team strives to reach every student in the class and connect and share experiences. Gagliano says art teachers have a unique perspective when it comes to educating students because of the vulnerability, empathy and confidence that art requires. “We are teaching life lessons,” she says of the role of an art teacher.
Episcopal art students have traditionally had tremendous success. Recently, nine members of the Class of 2019 moved on to study dance, music, theater or visual art at the university level. Episcopal AP art students had their work on display at the Baton Rouge Gallery. Choir students were chosen to audition for District IV Honor Choir and Episcopal was represented in the 2018 Louisiana American Choral Director’s Association All-State Choir. Last year, the concert band also earned Sweepstakes at the Louisiana Music Educators Association District IV Large Ensemble Festival. In addition, numerous Lower and Middle School students competed and participated in recitals and theater productions with Episcopal and community organizations.
Gagliano says this type of success is exciting and will continue because of the talent among the students. What will also continue because of the talent and commitment of the faculty is the dedication to the process of learning, growing and developing. “Art may push students a little out of their comfort zone, but the students are smiling and happy and that’s exactly how we want them to feel,” she says.
Mark Your Calendar:
Don’t miss your opportunity to catch the Episcopal artists in action this fall. Here are highlights of the upcoming season.
Introducing the New Arts Faculty:
After earning his bachelor’s degree in Music Education at Northwestern State University, Doug has worked as a professional musician and a music educator for over 20 years. A professional drummer, Doug worked as a high school band director in Baton Rouge for a number of years before starting his own music academy, Baton Rouge Music Studios. Students at BRMS can learn to play various instruments, as well as music theory, composition, recording techniques, and live production - many of the skills necessary for a successful career in the music industry. As a teacher, Doug works to ensure that students, whether they see themselves pursuing a musical career or not, are excited about music and that his class is a bright spot in their day. Doug is eager to return to teaching in a private school and will be teaching band classes in both the Middle School and Upper School.
Since earning her Master of Fine Arts in Studio Arts at LSU, Veronica has embodied the artist-teacher philosophy. Over the past four years, she has taught at both the university level and as a talented art teacher at the high school level, all the while showing her own work at over 15 exhibitions in Louisiana and across the country. As an artist, Veronica draws inspiration from literature and challenges her students to develop different perspectives for themselves. She sees art as a positive form of emotional expression that benefits all students. Veronica will be teaching visual art courses in both the Middle School and Upper School next year.
Another graduate of LSU, Karen has her master’s degree in Anthropology, Documentary Filmmaking, and Fine Arts. Karen has had an impressive career working in art restoration, as a professional fine artist, and in the TV and Film industry over the past 20 years. She then discovered her calling as a teacher and has been teaching art both in public schools and with the Arts Council of Baton Rouge, while continuing to work as a professional artist. Karen uses her broad experiences in art in her teaching. She views the various art mediums as the tools to bring ideas to life and uses whatever medium will best express her ideas. She tries to instill this flexibility in her own students. In addition to teaching various visual art courses in the Middle School and Upper School, Karen will be developing two new courses for this coming year: Forced Perspective and Optical Illusion Photography for 8th grade, as well as an Introduction to Filmmaking course in the Upper School. These new course offerings are the first in the development of an expanded digital arts program at Episcopal. In addition, Karen is serving as the Assistant Visual and Performing Arts Department Chair.
What is your favorite Episcopal arts memory? Share it in the comments below.
“The biggest adventure you can take is to live the life of your dreams.” Oprah Winfrey
Nine Episcopal seniors will embark on an adventure this fall in pursuit of their dreams. After countless auditions, miles of traveling and sleepless nights preparing portfolios, these students are attending some of the nation’s top art schools, including Bates College, Berklee College of Music, Drexel University, Illinois Wesleyan University, Louisiana State University, Loyola University, Texas Christian University and Tulane University. College Counseling Director Justin Fenske says Episcopal students have gone on to study art in the past, but this year’s group of nine is the largest in recent memory. “This shows the growth of our programs,” says Fenske. “We’ve always had success but that success is now building upon itself.”
Deciding what you want to be when you grow up and choosing the right college can be daunting for people of all ages. For those passionate about the arts, the process is even more grueling. Once these students determined that they wanted to dedicate their life to a profession in the arts, the college application process began. All of the students applied to multiple schools, with some students submitting 20 or even 30 applications. Art school applications are quite rigorous with audition tapes and portfolios required for each. Then there’s the waiting. After completing their applications, students and families waited anxiously for news. Many received invitations for in-person auditions in multiple states, meaning families logged frequent flier miles along the way. As intimidating and overwhelming as this may sound, these future artists say they wouldn’t trade the experience for anything in the world.
Future LSU music education and music performance major, Lauren Smith, says the process was tiresome but she enjoyed every minute of it. Lauren has long dreamed of the day she would begin her music journey. Her thesis was on the racial disparity in classical music and how not seeing people who represented her among those in the music she loves impacted her. Now Lauren will have the opportunity to fulfill her dreams and impact the face of classical music. Such a passion inspired her to withstand the grueling application process. “Make sure you love what you’re pursuing,” she advises anyone considering their future.
Ethan Wax, who plans to double major in musical theater and marketing at Illinois Wesleyan University, agrees. “This was one of the most stressful, but rewarding experiences of my life,” he says. Wax says it was rewarding to meet people with the same passion for the arts and to see the different methods used by other performers. Fellow actor Maggie Ewing, who will attend TCU in pursuit of a BFA in theater with an emphasis in acting, says the application experience was an “insane, challenging, rewarding process of self-discovery.” However, she says the experience was worth it. “Have faith in yourself and put all of your efforts into it,” she advises her classmates.
Even as these students were preparing to pursue their dreams, the day-to-day requirements remained. With that in mind, Lauren Reed, who will attend Bates College as a dance major, advises anyone interested in pursuing an art degree to start the process early. “Keep up with school work - school work doesn’t stop because you have to go out of state to audition.” While the requirements of high school do not stop during the college application journey, Fenske says faculty are supportive and ultimately want students to be successful. In fact, Fenske says a major strength of Episcopal is the faculty’s ability to mentor students and help them develop beyond what is typically available in the classroom. “Our faculty members are committed to helping our students excel and they work diligently to make sure there is no limit on what students can achieve,” he says. Fenske points to the creation of the Dance Masters Seminar course and the Theatre Masters Seminar course as examples of how the faculty personalized course offerings to meet the needs of this talented group of students.
The majority of this group of nine seniors have known for some time that art was important to them. “I have to dance,” says future Tulane dance and communications student Mackenzie Bell. “You can do anything you set your mind too,” Bell advises others as she reflects on her decision to pursue her passion. “I knew I liked art, but I never thought about majoring in it,” says Tess Cunningham, who will pursue a BMA in music industry studies – performance track with a minor in business at Loyola University New Orleans College of Media and Arts. Tess says she researched her options and found a way to make a career of doing what she loves. Senior Lara Rende, who will attend Drexel University to obtain a degree in animation, had a slightly different path. Lara was new to the country and not at all sure what degree to pursue. However, she says she followed her gut and decided to study animation. “I created a portfolio in one week,” says Lara with an excited smile. After several sleepless nights and being accepted into Drexel, Lara says the entire experience was worth it.
These nine students have grown through the college application process. Aspiring musical theater performer, Ethan Massengale, who will attend TCU this fall, says the experience brings those in the process to a space of vulnerability. “It is the most exciting, yet nerve-wracking experience,” he says. He encourages others not to give up. “If you really want to do it, it will work out.”
This week’s announcements certainly did not happen overnight. These students and their families have committed years of their lives to seeing this dream come true. Jessica Fletcher, who will attend Berklee College of Music to major in professional music with concentrations in vocal performance, songwriting and music business, advises others to practice every day if they are serious about the field. As for audition day, she had this advice. “Go in there with confidence and look them in the eye. You have what it takes.”
The success of these students is a shining example of Episcopal’s whole child philosophy, which allows students to explore and excel in academics, arts, athletics and spirituality, all on one campus.“The combination of challenging academics and faculty dedicated to providing students art conservatory-level programs is really something special,” says Director of Performing Arts Paige Gagliano. “It has been rewarding to see Episcopal’s whole child mission in action as these students have developed new skills and discovered new talents.”
At Episcopal, 90% of students participate in the arts. The school offers a range of art opportunities including music, visual art, theater and dance. There is truly something for everyone.
Now that these students have completed the college admissions journey, the true adventure of pursuing their dreams begins. We wish you well in life’s adventures. Good luck to each of you.