Take a mental walk through a school music building. Listen to the stroke of a guitar, the rich harmonies from singing voices, and the dancing feet of preschoolers. Perhaps you can hear them all in succession as you walk down the hallway? A robust performing arts department welcomes a mixture of activities, a symphony of varying sounds, and a buzz of productive energy. Each and every student’s individual artistic journey can and should be supported by a performing arts program. As a music teacher in a department of which I am very proud, I hear students discussing their experiences in the performing arts, as well as prospective families trying to figure out the best place for their child. It is time to clarify some misconceptions and equip families with the right questions to ask.
Performing Arts Misconceptions
What I Hear: "To be a successful musician, students have to pick one concentration and solely focus their efforts on that."
What to Ask: “Can I be involved in multiple ensembles and music classes at once?”
The strongest musicians often are those who participate in both band and choir. Flutists in the concert band should also be able to sing in a vocal ensemble. Leads in the musical should have the opportunity to take a history of popular music elective if they so choose. In a holistic performing arts program, students have a variety of opportunities to grow in their areas of interest. There is no need to pick-and-choose and make tough decisions at this age. If a student wants to be immersed in the department’s offerings, they should have the option to do so.
What I Hear: “All ensembles are auditioned at this school. Their bands and choirs are extremely exclusive.”
What to Ask: “Is there a spot for me if I want to participate?”
There is a sad convention that the performing arts are reserved for the talented few. Music should not be exclusive. Exclusivity can rob students of meaningful experiences. When looking for the right school, a student should see if there is a spot to fit their needs. A well-rounded performing arts program should have outlets for students of all abilities and backgrounds to find their place to grow as a performing artist. This includes non-auditioned ensembles and opportunities for entry points into the program at any age. It is never too late to start singing in the choir, composing in the music technology lab, or learning a new instrument to play in the jazz band.
What I Hear: “I love the performing arts, but I don’t have enough time with my course load and after-school sports.”
What to Ask: “Can I still be involved in the performing arts if I choose to take a rigorous course load and play sports?
There is a benefit to giving students options. It is important to understand how rehearsals and classes are scheduled. With a healthy mix of curricular and extracurricular options, students can schedule courses that work well for their personal mix of commitments.
Strong Performing Arts Programs Offer
- Before-school or after-school ensembles or classes
- Courses scheduled during the school day
- Summer courses
- Programs that allow students to customize their schedule and maximize involvement
- Private lessons held during the school day rather than after school
A school’s performing arts department should support the growth of a well-rounded person, which includes allowing and encouraging their pursuits in athletics and academics, in addition to performing arts education.
Discover Sanford's Exceptional Performing Arts Program
With a state-of-the-art building and four full-time music teachers, the Performing Arts Department at Sanford School is worth a look. There is a spot for your child to grow and pursue multiple interests in this active program. From preschool through twelfth grade, students at Sanford School can be fully involved in the performing arts and create their own individual musical identity. Furthermore, our community and the opportunity for collaboration are unmatched in the world of education. There is a community when the first grade is walking to music class and peeks into the Middle School concert band rehearsal; perhaps they ask their middle school peers a question about an instrument. There is collaboration when Upper School acting students dramatically read stories to PreK students. Inspiring bonds are formed when fourth-grade students who are new to chorus witness older students take the stage for the musical. Take a look, ask the right questions, and find a place that fits. Perhaps you will discover that the Performing Arts at Sanford School is a tough act to follow.
Jenna Knaster attended the University of Delaware to pursue her bachelor and master degrees in music education. Her master's thesis is entitled Middle School Jazz Band Students' Experiences Composing and Improvising. She is a member of Sanford School's Performing Arts faculty and teaches third through eighth-grade general music, instrumental music, and music technology. Each day, she hopes to encourage her students to develop a lifelong love for music and creative music-making. As a performer, Jenna plays jazz piano and enjoys performing in pit orchestras with various theater companies such as College Light Opera Company in Cape Cod, MA, The Brandywiners at Longwood Gardens, as well as in local school productions.