“You make the music to share the music.”
Band Director Paul Taranto and the gold jazz band shared their musical talents at the annual jazz-on-the-deck concert this week. The 10th, 11th and 12th graders played a range of songs featuring several soloists and a strong ensemble sound.
Taranto says performing music is all about fun and that was definitely the case on the deck. As the older students were hitting the high notes and keeping the beat, the patio was filled with students from Lower School. The youngsters enjoyed dancing, snapping and clapping along. Where else but at a school that educates students from preK-3 to 12th grade could this happen?
This week’s performance is just one example of how the band is sharing their music with others. Since August they have also delighted audiences at St Luke’s, Trinity, Dufroq Elementary and Episcopal’s Lower School during morning meeting. In addition to touring, the students even made a group recording at Cedar Park recording studio.
Several Episcopal performers are finding additional ways to share their love of music. Kenny Schaffer, who hopes to someday become a composer, wrote an original composition over the summer. Laura Kurtz arranged a pop tune for a jazz ensemble. Lauren Smith was accepted as a member of the Louisiana Youth Orchestra on oboe for the second year running.
The band department will wrap up its performance season next week with their annual Christmas concert featuring Christmas favorites played by the sixth grade beginners, the seventh grade advanced students and the Upper School Wind Ensemble. We invite you to attend their concert as well as a seasonal performance by the choir.
SAVE THE DATE
Lessons and Carols - December 5th at 7 pm in the Chapel
Jazz Band Christmas concert - December 7th at 7 pm in the VPAC
Bravo! Fairies. Pirates. Lost Boys. Brave Girls. Mermaids. The costumes were brightly colored, the set was spectacularly detailed and the audience was enthralled as Peter Pan, Jr. hit the stage this week. It’s been 15 years since the tale became the first play to be performed on the VPAC stage. This year the boy who wouldn't grow up and the cast of characters returned to the stage in honor of this anniversary. The show featured a cast of 152 kids between third and eighth grades. 1-5-2! The average age of the students was ten years old, with many on stage for the very first time. While many of the students were new to performing, you certainly could not tell.
From the moment Peter Pan and the massive cast filled the stage and the surrounding area, to the cast’s final number there was a sense of excitement and joy throughout the VPAC. The young performers belted out musical numbers with confidence. They danced and delivered lines with ease. The performance was filled with pride, youthfulness and yes, even pixie dust.
Peter Pan, Jr. showcased the Episcopal community’s support and enthusiasm for each other. Family, friends, visiting schools and teachers from across campus were present to cheer on the young thespians. Nightly performances were sold out, with even tickets for the final dress rehearsal going fast. Many on campus were involved in making the show a success from the light and sound crews to the art students who made headpieces.
Perhaps this show of support and the encouragement felt among family and friends provided these first time actors the boost they needed to tackle the stage for the first time. No doubt for many of them this certainly will not be the last time. As they continue to participate in theater productions they will find that they grow from each experience with exposure to new people and an empathy and understanding that comes from playing the part of someone else.
Peter Pan, Jr. was the first play performed on the VPAC stage fifteen years ago. It’s safe to say today’s cast made the original crew proud with their rendition.
There is much more to theater than learning lines, hitting your mark and knowing your cues. One of the most meaningful parts of theater is something of which the actors, support staff and audience members are not even aware. Something a spotlight cannot reveal. Empathy.
“Empathy is the root. When we stop working to understand each other, that’s when we cave in,” says Paige Gagliano, or “Mrs. G.” as the students refer to her. Paige, Episcopal’s Director of Performing Arts, says the ability to create connections and establish understanding among different people makes the arts so important for the human experience. She points to one of her favorites – “Ragtime” – as an example. She says the piece helps the audience understand the “un-understandable” or the “un-comprehensible”, as the audience is introduced to three groups struggling with their circumstances in early 20th century America. “We’re scared to look at this,” says Paige. She says we struggle to imagine that we could feel the same or act the same in a similar setting.
The magic of theater is that the actor is tasked with becoming another person. Paige says to do this they must first discover two things – What does this person want? What will they do to get it? As the actor embarks on this journey of understanding, they learn the why behind the actions and understand more about the person’s behavior and how something so unimaginable could occur.
Part of this journey to understand the other’s perspective is learning more about your own. In a recent Theater and Religion class, Paige asked students to think about the positive and negative people in their lives. Students reflected on the traits of these people and determined which traits they value most. From this reflection, students were then asked to write a personal creed.
Such a personal, vulnerable assignment could only be completed in a safe, trusting environment. Paige creates that for her students. She advises them that there is no judgement or need for fear. In her theater there is acceptance and understanding. Often she even tells students that nine out of ten times what they try might “really stink”. However, it’s on that tenth try that they will soar.
Such insight and personal understanding creates new opportunities and unexpected bonds. For example, as the actors learn more about why their characters say or do things, they understand and relate better with their cast mates. Students who may not have been friends otherwise, connect. Common ground is found among students who previously overlooked or misunderstood each other.
Paige says her goal in teaching theater is to develop empathetic people who can take a risk and fail. Developing empathy for others will serve students well in all aspects of their life, for all of their life. She says it helps students have better control of their own emotions and a better understanding of the emotions of others. Empathy helps students be better prepared to diffuse problems and more willing to take responsibility for their own actions.
Her teaching approach is working. There are 150 students currently involved in the Peter Pan Jr. production and more than 100 interested in this spring’s run of Evangeline!
The Middle School production of Peter Pan Jr. runs November 13th – 17th. It’s Mrs. G’s hope that when the lights go up, the actors will have been transformed by the journey and will find themselves more open and connected with the world around them. We invite you to be a part of that experience. Get your tickets now.
"I had been looking forward to doing the performance and teaching for a while, then I learned we were teaching to more than 300 kids. It was more than I had expected but the reward was greater. All in all this was an amazing experience and I’d love to do something like it again.” Mackenzie Bell, Episcopal 11th grader.
The Episcopal Dance Ensemble recently performed Louisiana Strong for the entire student body of Park Forest Elementary School. The dance ensemble consists of 14 dancers. That’s 14 teen dancers for 300 elementary kids! Those numbers might intimidate most, but the dancers delivered a powerful performance that captivated even the youngest in the crowd.
Park Forest, like Episcopal, was significantly impacted by the 2016 flood. One year later, this common experience has led to a meaningful connection between the two schools, forged by a love of dance. Louisiana Strong was choreographed by Episcopal Dance Instructor Christine Chrest to evoke the sense of chaos that was felt during the flood and the positive sense of community that followed. Chrest says it was exciting to see students from both schools connect through the piece.
“They were absolutely in awe of the beautiful choreography and costumes. The following week at school we were able to have discussions during dance class about how the dance made them feel, and how dance, like all art forms, can be used as a means of communicating ideas and emotions,” said Park Forest Dance Instructor Anna Schwab.
In addition to performing for the elementary students, the Episcopal dancers also taught the students dance terminology and the moves to match. “Every grade had one or two terms to look for and every grade got their term correct. I know dancers who are sixteen and can’t recognize half of the terms the little kids did. They surpassed my own expectations for them,” said Lauren Reed.
Don’t miss your opportunity to see the graceful movements of this group. We invite you to this year’s Fall Dance Concert, which is scheduled for November 30th at 7 pm in the VPAC.
Photography. Sculpture. Graphic design. Markers. Pencils. Acrylic. Pottery and more.
The annual All School Fall Art Show is now underway in the VPAC, featuring work from all divisions. The art forms displayed are as diverse and varied as the students who created them. There are projects made from recycled materials and even basic cardboard, just proving that art can come from anything.
While sharing art can be a very personal thing for some, AP art student Claire Hook says it’s very rewarding because an artist puts a lot of time into each project. “I like that my work makes others happy,” she says from the paint-splattered Upper School art room.
Arts are central to an Episcopal education and are even included in the school’s mission – to nurture and develop the whole child – spiritually, intellectually, morally, physically and artistically. Russell Roper, longtime art teacher and department chair, says art is a great outlet for students dealing with the everyday pressures of life. It also provides hands-on activity and boosts overall creativity.
Mr. Roper says art also encourages collaboration. Each year the art teachers work hand-in-hand with the music and theater departments to make sure an exhibit is up in the lobby to coincide with each performance. Art students also assist with theater props, with projects in the works now for the upcoming Middle School production.
This first art show is just the beginning with several more planned throughout the year.
We invite you to visit the VPAC and take a look now through November.
[I]t is not those differences between us that are separating us. It is rather our refusal to recognize those differences, and to examine the distortions that result from our misnaming them...
The 2014 team performing “Fences.”
Gabrielle Bienasz ’16, Bria Johnson ’14, Chloe Matthews ’14, and Julia Powell ’16
As the poets take the stage, I can see their nervous energy. It is finals night for the ALL CITY Teen Poetry Slam Festival at the Manship Theatre, and they have spent all afternoon, and every free moment they could find in the last week, rehearsing the poem that they wrote together and are about to perform. The four poets station themselves across the stage with deliberate stiffness, standing rigidly and holding hands with the people next to them at an angle that creates what I know is the outline of a picket fence. Beginning together, “We fences, we see everything,” the poets in turn describe the views in their neighborhoods: what a fence might witness that the people might not see or want to see. The fences are chain link or wood, perfectly manicured or in disrepair, and they stretch all over town, both connecting and dividing the city. But in each case these fences “see” people performing and pretending: children pretending to be adults or to be dutiful carriers of parents’ ideologies, parents holding up facades of perfection that mask deep divisions, children playing pretend with the adult world, the adult world also pretending to be something else. As the poets weave their individual stories and observations together, they make layered and complex critiques of their worlds, but the strength of their performance evaporates my concerns that their ideas won’t be clear to the audience.
As the nods, snaps, and sighs of the audience turn to applause and we wait for the judges’ response, I watch with new amazement and pride, even though I’ve seen this many times, and even as I worry that they’ve broken the time limit or that they’ll be too hard on themselves over a missed line or misspoken word and won’t see that they nailed it. I repeat to myself the slam poetry mantra, “The points are not the point; the poetry is the point,” as if I could remind my team telepathically.
As a teacher and coach, I love the entire process of working with my poetry team on a group piece, from their first conversations to this final performance. With up to four poets collaborating to write, choreograph, and perform a poem together, these pieces offer a powerful challenge to a team. Each year, when my students begin the process of brainstorming, they quickly realize that they need to find a topic that matters to all of them, but that they each have something different to say about. As they decide on their topic and begin to map out on my whiteboard what each poet will contribute, they find that their different identities, perspectives, and experiences are a source of strength. Building on each other’s ideas, the poets work to find the common ground that will bring their piece together and the distinct individual voices that will make it their own, thinking carefully about how their stories will connect and how they will differ. For example, as this process unfolded for “Fences," co-author Chloe Matthews ’14 notes that despite her concerns about how poets’ differences might ultimately link together, "The singular fence was a metaphor we were able to use to firmly imply that, while our different perspectives mattered individually, none were any more or less significant in the grand scheme of it all.” Though I hope to support them with a well-timed question or a push to sharpen an image or explore an idea a bit further, but my role at this stage is mostly as a witness to their creation. And as a witness, appropriately, I find something poetic in the ways that they honor each others’ stories, the connections that they create across race, gender, religion, class, and sexuality that value their differences without minimizing or polarizing.
Because they are adolescents, all of the students I teach are in a critical stage of understanding how their identities are shaped by but exceed these identity markers. Because I teach English, the tools I have to support that endeavor are reading and writing, and they can be powerful tools. I work to pose questions and introduce my students to texts that help them to consider how their own stories intersect with and diverge from the stories of others, that ask them to explore how history and culture shape all of our stories, and that call for them to engage with information that often challenges their beliefs and understandings. We discuss Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s claim that “how [stories] are told, who tells them, when they are told, [and] how many stories are told, are really dependent on power,” and we consider stories’ power "to dispossess and to malign,” but also “to empower and to humanize” by reading and responding to literature that represents identity and difference in many different ways. The results of that work are highly individual: while some students take firm steps toward seeing identity in a critical historical and social context, others dismiss what they see as a political agenda, and many simply build their ability to consider others’ perspectives and extend the range of perspectives they have examined.
I know I share with all my colleagues a commitment to teaching for community, social justice, and respecting the dignity of every person. In my classroom and beyond it, that commitment means recognizing and honoring our differences and our many stories.
Tell karin what you think about her blog. Drop her a comment below.
Students in Media Art, Communication Design and Photojournalism 8 have collected this semester’s work in digital portfolios. The hands on, project based learning experiences offered in these art courses engage Middle and Upper School students in a way that encourages them to communicate their unique visions through their art, while gaining experience with creative tools and vocabulary.
The students meet in the media lab of Perkins 212 with teacher, Dianne Madden, and have access to Nikon and Canon DSLR cameras and the Adobe creative suite. Media Art focusses on design and photography as students become the authors and creators of the Accolade yearbook. Communication Design emphasizes graphic design, branding and marketing, and Photo Journalism 8 is an introductory course in photography for eighth graders. We welcome you to visit the site and view the images.
Portfolios can be viewed at www.ehsbrportfolio.com
2003… it was my first year on the job. I was fresh out of grad school with lots of knowledge and some practical experience, ready to teach and conduct the choirs and direct the chapel music at Episcopal. One small problem though... I wasn’t Episcopalian and knew next to nothing about Anglican liturgy. I had a deep background in English church music, but it was more theoretical, not so much practical. I had much to learn.
Luckily the chaplain at the time, Dr. John Houghton, was a wonderful resource. He graciously loaned me books and would take time out of his schedule to run through the basics. John would always explain the ‘why’ of the liturgy, sometimes relating a particular gesture or phrase all the way back to the practices of the early church or temple liturgy before the time of Christ. Everything in the services I witnessed had a connection to the past, had a reason for being. It was complex and beautiful.
As October of my first year rolled around, John spoke to me about his desire to see the choir sing a service of Nine Lessons and Carols, based on the traditional service sung in King’s College, Cambridge in England every year since 1918. I happily agreed. 2016 will mark the 13th year of Episcopal’s observance.
The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is unique in the Anglican (Episcopal) liturgy. It traces its roots back to 1878 in Truro Cathedral, Cornwall in England. The tradition of the local choir singing carols in the homes of parishoners was transferred to a community gathering in which all could participate. In 1918, shortly after the end of WWI, the newly minted, 34 year-old Dean of King’s College, Eric Milner-White, wished to see more imaginative worship in the Church of England. Milner-White adapted the service from Truro and it is, more or less, the service we still use today. The liturgy consists of nine lessons, spanning from the story of creation to the incarnation of God, according to John. Each lesson is accompanied by one or two carols on the subject of the reading. The service begins, as is tradition, with a lone treble voice singing the first verse of “Once in Royal David’s City.”
This year’s service will be particularly poignant as the Episcopal Community gathers in the newly renovated chapel for the first time. As our students, under the direction of Mr. Carter Smith (’04), process into the Lewis Memorial Chapel of the Good Shepherd, they will experience the depth and richness of Anglican liturgical tradition at its finest. I hope you will join us on Tuesday, December 6th at 7:00pm.
The following excerpt from the opening bidding prayer sums it all up nicely:
Beloved in Christ, be it this night our care and delight to prepare ourselves to hear again the message of the angels; in heart and mind to go even unto Bethlehem and see this thing which is come to pass, and the Babe lying in a manger.
Let us read and mark in Holy Scripture the tale of the loving purposes of God from the first days of our disobedience unto the glorious Redemption brought us by this Holy Child; and let us make this Chapel glad with our carols of praise.
The Shoe-fly sculpture project was an inspired collaboration of poetry, science and the visual arts. 6th grade students were given the task of reading Kwame Alexander's BOOKED, the follow-up to the Newbery-winning novel THE CROSSOVER. Soccer, family, love, and friendship, take center stage as twelve-year-old Nick learns the power of words. He wrestles with problems at home, stands up to a bully, and tries to impress the girl of his dreams. Helping him along are his best friend and sometimes teammate Coby, and The Mac, a rapping librarian who gives Nick inspiring books to read.
In the novel-told-in-verse, Mac, the school librarian, loves dragonflies.
From the novel:
The Mac drinks tea
in a dragonfly mug.
On the library floor
is a dragonfly rug.
The door is covered
with dragonfly pics,
‘cause Skip to the Mac
is dragonfly sick.
"Mac is a big reason the main character of the novel ends up falling in love with reading, so he’s a character I admire," said sixth grade teacher Mrs. Guarisco. "We started our novel study with an examination of our reading histories, including people who have influenced us in our reading journeys. I sure hope I can play a role in kids’ journeys the way Mac does.
"I thought it would be fun to do some kind of dragonfly art, so I asked Mr. Ropper and Mrs. Minton about working on something together. Mr. Roper revamped his Shoeberts project and with a few tweaks the Shoe-flies project was born. I’m hoping to decorate my classroom with the finished work."
Mrs. Betsy Minton, our Science Instigator, made a presentation to Mr. Roper's 6th grade art students about the dragonfly to inspire ideas for their own creatures.
"I showed the students a short video clip of dragonflies that spoke specifically about engineering and how dragonflies are the perfect flying machine. We went over some basic dragonfly anatomy to help them understand what components they needed to complete their sculpture," said Minton.
6th grades students are using a piece of cast-off footwear as a form from which to build, thus the "Shoe-fly" label. Wire and paper mache' are being used with other found objects to create the creatures. Students finished the constructions with paint and a variety of decorative touches.
You might have missed it sitting in the VPAC for the first time, watching your child up on the stage acting or dancing. You were impressed to see them singing or playing an instrument. . . and that painting they did? Wow. From the general state of their room at home you were amazed they could organize much of anything, let alone create something that’s moving, deep even.
It is impressive what our students can do and what our teachers draw out of them every day at Episcopal. The final product is thrilling, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Underneath the surface, the connections and discipline at work are also playing out in their academic lives and on the athletic field. The Arts help focus emotion and bridge understanding between individuals and groups. It uses every part of the brain and allows the artist to communicate abstract ideas where words might fail.
How does this apply to a future career? Let me get a plug in here and say that a career in the arts IS a viable career. With a little creativity and a great deal of hard work, graduates from Episcopal are enjoying lucrative, meaningful careers in advertising, dance, theater, music, and art. It can be done. But for those who might not see art as their eventual career path, participation in the programs we offer can reap future benefits.
Let’s imagine that your daughter is intent on studying medicine. In the not-so-recent past, the path for a would-be physician was a pre-med undergraduate major, leading to a battery of tests and eventual admission to medical school. Things have changed. In a recent blog post, Kathleen Franco, M.D., associate dean of admissions and student affairs at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine of Case Western Reserve University, writes about the new diversity of Medical School admissions. MCAT scores are still very important, but on the subject of music majors successfully applying to med school, she writes:
“Typically, music majors are both great in math and superb in feeling emotions. They are practiced team players and possess great discipline. They demonstrate by their activities and in their essays how much music has enriched their lives.”
Dr. Franco is highlighting what artists, at any level, train rigorously to do:
So, as you take a seat to see one of our excellent productions or meander through an art show this year, I hope you’ll rest a little easier knowing that college and career preparation is taking place in the ballet studio and being worked out on canvas every day. It’s intentional and it’s one of the difference makers of an Episcopal education.