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.
"If you tap into what made you happy as a kid, it probably will make you happy now." Clare Crespo '86
As a young child, Episcopal graduate Clare Crespo loved playing with food, creating worlds and making shoebox dioramas. She also enjoyed cooking Louisiana cuisine with her dad and grandmother. As an adult, Crespo is still doing all of these things with enthusiasm and joy and she has even made a successful career out of her passion.
According to Clare’s website, she is a fantasist. She says that means that people hire her to put fantasy into their spaces, with her art adding an element of warmth, magic and heart. “I want my stuff to make people smile,” she says from her studio in California.
One look at Clare’s bright, creative work and you can’t help but smile. Clare’s creations include everything from crocheted oysters and poboys to dioramas that tell the story of fine jewelry and even a necklace-wearing, stuffed coyote. Clare’s first cookbook, The Secret Life of Food, launched her into the public eye. The book features creations such as an aquarium made of Jell-O and flip flops crafted from potatoes and string beans. The food is presented in artistic, imaginative settings and not a traditional kitchen. “I’m not a chef,” says Clare. “I just used food as my art supply. I’m an artist always.” The Secret Life of Food was a hit. National television talk show hosts took notice of Clare’s unique approach to food preparation and she began making appearances across the country. “These experiences opened up a lot of wild jobs for me,” she says, reflecting on opportunities to work with national brands, such as Duncan Hines and Breyers.
After this initial success, Clare was ready to tackle something a little smaller – the cupcake. Before cupcakes were cool, Clare was making these treats in a way that fooled the taste buds. She made cupcakes that looked like hamburgers, sushi and even cottages in a fairy garden. Her second cookbook, Hey, There Cupcake! was a successful second act to the first. Next up, a children’s television show.
Clare had dreamed of creating her own children’s program since finishing graduate school at the California Institute of the Arts. After several networks tried to change her original idea, she took the project on herself. The YummyFun Kooking Show ultimately came together in a grassroots effort in which her husband built the set, her friend served as the stylist and her neighbors all chipped in. “It was so fun, so sweet and so many kids loved it,” says Clare. “It was a pure project from my heart.” Episodes of the show are available here, on YouTube and at museum gift shops across the country. Even with such tremendous success, a family of her own and a supportive network in California, Clare’s compass still points home.
Clare grew up in Baton Rouge. She remembers baking Christmas cookies with family and she remains passionate about Louisiana food and culture. She still returns home as often as possible. This love for Louisiana and attachment to home can be seen and tasted in many of Clare’s pieces. “It’s hard to leave Louisiana,” she says. “It’s so specific, so comfortable and unlike anywhere else. Often my creations tap back to roots.” Her yearly calendar, Hurray Today, always features a nod to Mardi Gras and dates such as the New Orleans Jazz Fest are prominently featured. Her cookbooks also include family recipes, such as her grandmother’s Milky Way cake or red velvet cake.
“If you believe in it and you breathe into that dream, it can come true,” says Clare.
Clare enjoys connecting with others and encouraging them to follow their dreams, no matter how unconventional they may seem. She remembers telling her story to a Girl Scout troop years ago. “That can be a job?” she remembers the wide-eyed crowd asking. Whether it’s a troop or a museum workshop, Clare’s message is always the same. “Listen to your voice because that’s what’s going to guide you,” she says. Clare says while her own journey has been fun and immensely satisfying, there have also been challenges. “It’s hard because there’s no path, no mentors,” she says. “You’re just forging ahead blindly.” This commitment to a dream and the confidence required to make that dream a reality just come natural to Clare and she hopes the next generation of artists can do the same.
It’s good to know that artists like Clare Crespo are sharing their creativity and magic with others. Congratulations on your success, Clare. Episcopal is proud to have played a role.
Don’t feed the plants and DON’T miss Episcopal’s presentation of Little Shop of Horrors!
Soon the VPAC stage will be converted into a flower shop. This is not your typical flower shop. The shop hides a secret and the characters within are dealing with everything from fame and love to success and shame in a comical, musical theater setting. Theater Director Paige Gagliano says it took some time to decide on this year’s Upper School play and it was the students who ultimately cast the deciding vote. “We just need to laugh and dance,” one student said in an endorsement of this year’s quirky choice.
This will be the fourth time that Little Shop of Horrors hits the Episcopal stage. Gagliano feels the importance of tradition as she flips through an original copy of former theater director Danny Tiberghein’s 1998 script notes and revisions. Members of former productions even have children in the 2019 rendition. While Little Shop of Horrors is a show filled with tradition (the Tiberghein version began its run on April 2nd just as today’s version does) it is also a show of firsts.
“It’s not going to be the Little Shop you’ve seen,” says Gagliano.
First of all, there is dancing. Gagliano says while the original story doesn’t have a prominent dance component, the 2019 Episcopal version does. “With a dance teacher as talented as Christine Chrest and the tremendous talent among the Episcopal dancers, we had to incorporate dance and movement into the story,” says Gagliano. The audience will also be more involved in the performance than in the past. “There’s nothing between the audience and the actors,” says Choir Director Mary Kannenberg, who is directing the music along with Band Director David Gambino. Whereas the orchestra would normally be a buffer between the actors and the audience, the band members are backstage for Little Shop of Horrors. In addition, the actors address the audience and interact with them throughout the show in a way that draws the viewer in and makes them feel like a true participant in the performance.
The Little Shop of Horrors cast is a mix of new Episcopal actors and longtime student thespians. Gagliano is excited that the production has attracted new students and says it’s very special to watch these students interact with members of the class of 2019. These seniors have worked with Gagliano since their first musical theater experience in eighth grade. Now as they approach their final curtain call, some are looking forward to continuing their musical theater studies at the university level. The Little Shop of Horrors experience allows them to mentor their fellow actors in a fun and memorable way before they launch into the next phase of life.
Episcopal theater productions typically feature an impressive set that immerses audiences in the magic of the story, thanks to the talents and skills of Lighting Director and Set Designer Louis Gagliano. Think back to the Jungle Book Junior tree house and that giant snake. Little Shop of Horrors promises more of the same with an impressive version of the plant, Audrey II. The greenery will even come alive with a student puppeteer and student vocals.
Little Shop of Horrors will be open for business on the VPAC stage April 2, 3, 5 and 6 at 7 pm, with a preview night on April 1st. Whether you come for nostalgia, for a new take on a classic or to bid farewell to a group of senior stars, the show will certainly not disappoint.
Tickets are on sale now. Click the link here to reserve your seats.
Now is your chance to get face to face with Middle School art. The Middle School art show Face Time is on display in the VPAC lobby through February 18th. The show features a wide variety of subjects and media, including self-portraits created as students explored more about their own interests and identity.
Middle School art teacher and Arts Department Chair Russell Roper says students learned a lot about themselves leading up to the current showcase. In one assignment, Roper requires students to fill a gallon-size bag with mementos that represent the most important aspects of their lives. Roper says these “portraits in a Ziploc” are then used to inspire students to create art based on their contents. The Face Time show features decorated boxes safeguarding these keepsakes. In another assignment, students are asked to reflect on the products and services they use in their daily lives. Afterwards, they create digital art pieces using the logos of these companies.
Visual art has long been embraced by the Episcopal community. The VPAC space, with its paint-splattered classrooms and lobby adaptable for student displays, is a testament to a commitment to art education. Students have the opportunity to take art classes in every division with topics ranging from drawing and painting to photography and digital art. As an artist, Roper is pleased that students have the opportunity to try it all. He hopes such early and consistent exposure to art will encourage a lifelong appreciation for art among his students.
We invite you to explore the Middle School art show. You will certainly see some familiar faces on display. In addition to the self-portraits, the exhibition also features relief sculptures inspired by nature, handmade clay masks and furniture models based on animal studies.
Can’t make it to the VPAC? The Episcopal Middle School art show will be on display at the Jones Creek library during the month of March in celebration of National Youth Art Month.
Below is a sample of the work now on display. Stop by the VPAC lobby to enjoy the full show.
Madeleine Cope, Senior Thesis Student and Dancer, compels us to get out from behind our desks and utilize movement in our learning experiences.
What does dance mean to us? Is it an art form, utilized for its expression and creativity? Is it an athletic form that can lead dancers down an elitist path as we see in reality competition shows? Or, is it an enjoyable activity pursued by people all around the country for sheer pleasure and enjoyment? Whether we know it or not, we witness dance more often than we think. From seeing it on TV, on the VPAC mainstage , or even at social events, we can all admit that dance is a platform for expression that has been an element of life for as long as we have known. Although we have seen dance via different mediums for ages, it seems as though we haven’t utilized dance for what all it can do for us. Recent research has shown that dance can have meaningful benefits outside of places like a stage or TV screen; in fact, it can be utilized in our daily lives during a school day for our academic success.
Cognitive psychology teaches us that to create long-term memories, we have to make our material and ideas personally meaningful to us. This is accomplished by associating knowledge with other concepts or activities we have experienced. Jane Bonbright, a researcher for the National Dance Education Organization, notes that retention can also be facilitated and catalyzed by incorporating more areas of the brain in the initial encoding process for establishing long-term memories. Because dance can combine all of these psychological concepts and provide as an active and engaging learning system for children, it has the ability to be a great device for not only teaching children of young ages but for establishing well-suited academic habits in its students. Although it may seem a bit hasty, or even a bit radical, we should start considering dance as a way to facilitate brain development and the creation of higher retention rates among young learners.
In Jamie Steele’s research study for the Journal of Dance Education, she focused on the academic success of a fifth-grade class learning about different means of energy through dance. Steele not only found that the students left the class with greater communication skills from the group assignment but the students were able to, “...explain (1) visually through diagrams, (2) kinesthetically through dances, (3) verbally through explanation, and (4) manually through a [hands on project]." In this sense, Steele discovered what researchers like Bonright have recently uncovered: that dance can combine many of the essential skills needed by modern young students to succeed, while also being able to allow children to learn via an active format that enables the brain to facilitate the creation of long-term memory.
Needless to say, dance has some untapped benefits for young learners that most of us did not even realize. Knowing this, we must question: why haven’t all schools utilized dance education or other active learning methods like it so that students may reap its benefits? While traditional learning methods are often effective, I argue that experimenting with the use of active learning systems, like dance, may allow students to reach an untapped potential that will enable them to have better academic success. As Dr. Adrienne Sansom writes, “[Dance] is a modality [that] helps us gain knowledge through the body and grasp the essence of learning from within, connecting to ourselves in the deepest, most direct ways.” If we take Dr. Sansom’s sentiment and learn to apply it to an upcoming generation of learners, not only will they be able to make deep connections to their content, but they may be able to see inward and discover the value of meaningful learning.
Madeleine Cope has been a student at Episcopal since Pre-K and is currently a high school senior. In addition to her involvement with the Honors Thesis program, Madeleine participates in Episcopal’s Dance Ensemble, acts as Co-Choreographer for Episcopal’s Lower and Middle School musical productions, participates in Episcopal theatre productions, and is a Math Tutor for Episcopal’s Math Center. Her thesis revolves around the concept of utilizing new education methods, especially those involving dance education and active learning environments.
Senior Thesis Student and Oboist, Lauren Smith, shares ideas from her thesis, arguing for more inclusive and diverse classical arts, which would allow all children to see themselves represented on the stage.
Music has the ability to touch the souls of individuals and move the masses. It has been at the center of social revolutions, and its captivating nature has withstood the test of time. We are fortunate here at Episcopal to have access to many art forms and opportunities. It was here where I first became a musician, picked up an instrument, and had the opportunity to join a musical ensemble.
A particular genre that has truly revolutionized almost all music that we hear today is classical music. Without it, the world would be quite a dull place. “Classical music” is a broad and insufficient term used to describe a plethora of music types, and sometimes we tend to forget that. Its elements exist in your favorite songs and movies, and surprisingly, it even played a tremendous role in the innovation of hip-hop and pop music.
The “orchestra hit” is one of the most used samples in pop and hip-hop music. Its sound takes the form of a musical bang that draws the audience in and helps drive the song’s beat. The orchestra hit was originally sampled in the early 1980s by Peter Vogel, the same person that created one of the first sampling and sequencing synthesizers in the mid-1970s. This sample was from Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird, which was originally scored in 1910. The particular moment in Firebird that the orchestra hit was sampled from was at the beginning of a scene called “Danse Infernale du Roi Kastchei.”
Though classical music may be everywhere, when it is performed in its traditional essence, it is quite exclusive. The full glory and splendor of classical music is not available for everyone to enjoy freely. There are a plethora of reasons supporting why classical music is indefinitely reserved for people of a certain demographic, but the stigmas attached to the music type as well as socioeconomic, historical, and psychological factors all play a role in why this art form is still so rooted in a traditionalistic mindset, despite the progressiveness of other art forms.
People love to have role models, especially when they look like us. Where the problem lies in classical music is that there are not enough role models for black and brown artists. Yes, there are some, but the amount is miniscule. In solely American orchestras as of 2016, less than 1.8% of participants were black and less than 2.5% were Hispanic. That amount is even less for ethnic participants when assessed on a global scale, especially considering that classical music, as most recognize it, is originally from the Eastern Hemisphere of the world, particularly Europe, although it has rhythmic and percussive influences as well as modal influences from Africa and Asia.
When I was much younger, I loved to watch performances of the Berlin Philharmonic, one of the world’s leading orchestras. The performances I watched on YouTube most definitely contributed to my ever-growing love for classical music. As much as I looked up to each and every performer, particularly the oboists and the conductors, I always found it difficult to truly see myself playing among them, let alone conducting the musicians, as an adult. I felt so distanced from the classical musicians that passionately played their instruments on my computer screen.
Yes, it was and is a dream of mine, but I never saw anyone else that looked like me to demonstrate that it was a legitimate possibility.
Classical music is expensive. Buying instruments (many of which cost thousands of dollars), the materials needed to play (e.g., reeds, ligatures, tools), and paying for lessons are some examples of the tedious expenses required to be considered as a classical instrumentalist. For musicians coming from underserved communities, which are oftentimes densely populated by people of color, receiving a musical education of the same caliber of their mostly white counterparts is especially difficult due to the prominent socioeconomic disadvantages.
As human beings, we all have preferences, whether implicit or explicit. When it comes to viewing performers on a stage, due to general social psychology that has been influenced and molded by history and racist justifications, if a ballet or symphony is being performed, the performers are expected to be white. So much so that the very principles of ballet performance are centered around identicality and the reference is a white-skinned, fairy-like performer. Even in symphonic performances, visual aesthetic preferences may lead people to expect a stage composed of similar looking people due to the art forms’ emphasis on symmetry and synchronization.
Diversifying the arts, specifically classical music is essential to its growth and ultimately its survival. The traditional aura surrounding classical music as it relates to what type of people are the dominant performers and observers is counterintuitive to the definition of art. Art is a “diverse” range of creative activities, but in classical art that is still performed today, the diversity element is inadequate. Diversifying classical music does not necessarily mean contemporizing the music itself, but rather taking measures to make it more inclusive for all individuals, especially because it is such a powerful medium of expression that can be life-changing for anybody no matter their skin color.
Lauren Smith has been an Episcopal student since Kindergarten, and she is currently a high school senior. She is a member of the Honors Thesis Program, and her thesis addresses the lack of representation in classical art forms, specifically in classical music and ballet, and how in order for the arts to progress, diversity is a necessity. Lauren is an avid participant in the arts. She is in Episcopal’s Wind Ensemble, Concert Band, Jazz Band, the Louisiana Youth Orchestra, and a variety of other ensembles. Lauren is also an Episcopal athlete who has participated in numerous sports over the years, and she plays multiple other instruments aside from the oboe, including the piano, saxophone, and clarinet.
Episcopal student artists are sharing the joy of the season with song, dance and music. Here's a look at recent festivities on campus and throughout the Baton Rouge community.
Photos provided by Episcopal senior Mason LaFerney.
Beyond Woodland Ridge
Congratulations to Episcopal students who are sharing their art with the Greater Baton Rouge community.