Middle and Upper School Arts News & Stories
Breaking from tradition, the Hill Campus performing arts department decided to perform two separate concerts this year, one featuring the Middle School ensembles and one showcasing the Upper School groups.
“In the past I used to have two concerts in one night due to numbers and not being able to fit all of the parents in the Jeslo Harris Theater for one concert. Since the student numbers are less than what I have experienced in the past, I was able to have only one Upper School choral concert,” explains Middle and Upper School choral teacher Patrick Romano.
“I decided to add the Middle School choral groups to this winter concert because the Middle School arts rotations have changed,” Romano continues. “I used to see two sections of sixth grade and seventh grade students throughout the entire year, culminating in an end-of-the-year concert. Now I see two sections of sixth grade and only one section of seventh grade for one semester. Next semester I will have entirely new sections of sixth and seventh graders. It made sense to have these students sing in this winter concert because they won't be returning next semester. I will do the same thing in the spring with the Middle School students I teach next semester, with them performing in the spring concert with the Upper School students.”
Although the concerts were billed as the “Middle School Winter Concert” and “A Winter Choral Festival,” Romano says he doesn’t plan the concerts around specific themes. “I choose the music based on the skills and talents of each ensemble. Obviously I will choose more challenging music for the Vocal Arts Ensemble, my most advanced ensemble, than for the ninth grade ensemble, Arioso.”
He adds, “I try to pick music that is both familiar and new to the student. I feel it is my job as an educator to not only give the students their moments to enjoy music they know, but also to expose them to wonderful compositions to which they would not normally listen. I want to open their eyes, ears, and hearts to music that, although it is unfamiliar and strange at first, is just as rewarding to perform as music they listen to every day. Much of the music I pick will challenge them both harmonically and rhythmically.”
Romano says that picking the right music for each ensemble is the hardest part of his job. “Every ensemble has a different and unique personality. Some music works better for one ensemble than another. You want the students to enjoy the class but you also want to challenge them and make them learn to love music that they might resist at first because it is not familiar to them.”
For the Middle School concert, Romano chose a wide variety of music, from “Galop,” a take on the typical vocal warmup, to the familiar “Toy Story” theme song, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” Other fun numbers included “We Go Together” from Grease; a medley of “Get Ready” and “Dancing in the Street;” and a more age-appropriate version of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” among others.
At the Upper School concert, Romano’s three ensembles—Arioso, Intermezzo, and the Vocal Arts Ensemble—were joined by the two student-run a capella groups, the Rivertones (an all-female group) and the Testostertones (an all-male group). Again, music ranged from recent pop songs (“Cups,” “Gone, Gone, Gone”) to the Beatles (“In My Life” and “Blackbird”), and from show tunes (“The Ballad of Sweeney Todd,” “Ol’ Man River,” “And All that Jazz”) to world songs such as African folksong “Bonse Aba” and two selections in French from the movie, “Les Choristes (The Chorus).”
Romano says the concerts serve many purposes. “Obviously, it is a time for the students to show their stuff and perform for the audience what they have been learning each semester,” he explains, adding, “I asked many of my students what would happen if I took away the concerts and we just learned music from an educational standpoint—I felt I was becoming one of those teachers who only teaches to the test, or in my case, to the concert—and they all unanimously said that would be the worst decision ever. They want to perform for their friends and families. They feel there would no motivation to improve their skills if there wasn't a concert.
“I think the concerts are also a time for the audience to sit back and enjoy young voices singing as best as they can and having such a good time doing it," Romano continues. "When you have so many students from all grades coming together for the purpose of making music, what better way to demonstrate both grit and community? They have tremendous courage and spirit. It is not easy to do what they do. The concerts are a most uplifting experience for me. I hope it is true for the audience as well.”
Judging by the enthusiastic applause at the end of each concert, it would seem that the Riverdale community agrees with Mr. Romano.