April 11, 2013
April 18, 2013
Palo Alto High School, which opened in 1898, is right across the street from Stanford University; in fact, right across the street from Stanford in every sense. “Paly” is known for its intensely competitive academic schedule and is regularly rated among the top 30 public high schools in the state. The school has around 2,000 students, and both faculty and students say the feel is often like that of a small college.
To be admitted to the school you must live in a certain district of Palo Alto.
The school’s Arts programs have a long tradition and are widely recognized in various circles. The music programs have been particularly noteworthy.
The instrumental program begins with a 9th grade band class. A junior high band experience is generally required for admission, but there are exceptions. The fare is light pop, show tunes and some jazz arrangements. This “concert band” performs four times a year. At the next level there’s a symphonic band, an advanced wind and percussion group that draws musicians from 10th through 12th grade. It also offers four concerts a year, and with the concert band performs as a pep band at football games.
In addition, there’s the orchestra, an all-string ensemble that plays a range of classical and new music — from Bach to Britten, and beyond. Occasionally, the symphonic band and the orchestra are joined together for a full orchestra. There are four performances a year.
There’s also a jazz program, which includes a jazz band and jazz ensemble. The band is by audition only and plays a wide variety of contemporary music, including swing, Latin jazz, funk and ballads. The ensemble offers a less intense experience.
And there’s the vocal program, which has an 80-year tradition and a reputation for producing high quality events each year. The Paly choirs are lead by Monica Covitt and Michael Najar. Choirs include a Concert Choir, Madrigal Singers, Spectrum Singers, a Beginning Choir and the Viking Men’s Chorus. Choir members have performed at various state festivals and in a number of honor choirs.
“The difference here,” says Najar, “is that we can expect a level of musicianship among freshman that most public high schools can only dream of. That’s thanks to the Palo Alto Unified School District and a community that really support the arts. We are the beneficiaries of feeder schools that haven’t suffered cuts in music education.”
Najar, who has a music degree from UC Irvine and an MA in vocal performance from Notre Dame De Namur University in Belmont, notes that even with reliable feeder school it’s still a struggle to maintain a high quality music program
“If we didn’t have kids coming out of middle school choirs, I would have to recruit to save my job. I feel sad for my colleagues that don’t have this. But even so we do a lot of outreach. We go out to the middle schools and show the teachers what we offer and what students can expect.
“What we offer is really a highly refined boutique program. We can do very fine, small specific things. And we’re very energetic. We went to sing at the Vatican last year; we’re going to Spain next year. The New York Polyphone (an all-male quarter)just paid a visit. Deeke Sharon came and did a workshop.
Sharon is a well known singer, arranger, and composer, and in the view of some, the “father of contemporary a capella.”
“This is an environment,” says Najar, “where you have teach every student. You can’t weed out people. But by the same token the bar is set very high. You have to bring your 'A-Game' to every class because many of these kids are very sophisticated. And often their parents are musicians. Or they, themselves have played in ensembles. And so we have to be flexible as well and be able to offer talented people opportunities. I had a student who I arranged to work with guest conductors and to go on international tours.”
“And so we’ve built up this incredible faculty, which is distinguished by the fact that they’re not just teachers but program builders. Many similar kinds of schools live or die on the flair or charisma of one particular teacher. It’s what you might think of as Robin William syndrome. But our focus has been on the institution and making all the teachers strong so if any one of us left the program wouldn’t be undermined.”
Paly graduates, which include Joan Baez, have gone on to study music at among other places, Northwestern, The San Francisco Conservatory, Chapman University, Westminster Choir College, Harvard, University of Southern California, UC Irvine, UC Santa Cruz, and UC Santa Barbara.
Upcoming events include the Spring Concert on Sunday, April 28 at 4 p.m. The Chamber Concert and Award Ceremony on Thursday, May 16 at 7:30. Click here for more information.
Listen to an audio file of Paly Musicians: Wrestle From Golden State Competition
This is a "simple" early work by Elliot Carter. He stopped composing for choir after 1947 when his musical language became even more sophisticated. I have known it for years but had never sung or conducted it. I don't think it is done by many collegiate groups but I knew we had the horses to do it justice. It poses challenges as singer and conductor but is also incredibly gratifying when it starts to piece together.
April 4, 2013
Periodically, the Kids Around the Bay column profiles one of the local school music programs, to provide parents with a sense of the resources and philosophy offered, as well as how programs compare. This week we spoke with Marty Stoddard.
The Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco was born at the end of the 19th century from wealth made in the California Gold Rush. Among the school’s more famous founders: James Lick, a wildly successful land speculator, and Jellis Wilmerding, a wealthy merchant, who, among his other associations, was a member of the notorious Second Vigilante Committee of 1856.
There were originally two schools: The California School of Mechanical Arts, or “Lick,” and the Wilmerding School of Industrial Arts. After a series of evolutions, the Lick-Wilmerding High School opened in 1955, still with the founding idea of fostering “educated craftsmen.” And craftswomen one might add; the school is coed. The school’s motto has since morphed into “Head, Heart, Hands.”
Lick has long had a vibrant performing arts department, which includes an instrumental program that for the last 22 years has been under the direction of Marty Stoddard. She is perhaps better known in local classical music circles as the Program director for the John Adams Young Composers program at the Crowden Music Center; conductor of the Oakland Civic orchestra; and a member of the San Francisco Composer’s Chamber Orchestra. Stoddard is herself a composer.
The instrumental music program includes a chamber orchestra, an advanced jazz combo, an intermediate jazz combo, and a “21st-century ensemble” for brass, woodwinds, percussion, and all rhythm section instruments. Courses focus on jazz and electric musical styles. There is no traditional concert band. Four instrumental classes are offered, this year with a total of 63 students.
The school’s Vocal Music Program includes three courses: one each for women’s chorus; men’s chorus and vocal ensemble. The program is aligned with the National Standards for Music Education and this year has about 50 students. The director is William Sauerland, himself a countertenor, whose resume includes an MA from the Royal College of Music; performances with Chanticleer, among many other choruses and choirs; and voice teacher with the Pacific Boychoir Academy in Oakland.
Lick has abandoned all AP courses, including an AP music theory course. Music theory is now embedded in each of the performing classes. “Our goal,” explains Stoddard, “is to establish musical literacy but not sacrifice the enormous value of playing for courses on theory. The approach is to learn both simultaneously and let students pace themselves. I think what distinguishes us is the degree to which we offer individual attention.”
Besides the two members of the music faculty there is an auxiliary staff of five “coaches” who provide help with string technique, for example, and chamber music ensemble work. Occasionally, Stoddard also brings in fellow composers to work with students.
The school does not recruit music students but the admissions office is sensitive to musical talent or interest. In the words of Stoddard, “You can’t get in solely on musical ability, but it can be a largely noted factor.”
“I would say that overall we’re looking for kids that want to acquire a strong academic background, who want to be involved with the community and be truly conscious citizens, and who have some kind of passion.”
“When I think of our music students, here’s someone that comes to mind. I had a girl a few years ago, a jazz pianist who was not terribly accomplished, but very determined. Eventually, she worked her way up and became one of our TAs (teaching assistants). It’s a position where you help conducting and rehearsing. Her goal was to be an improv jazz pianist and at one point she put together a kind of tool kit with methods one could use to improvise. She went on to NYU, got in a jazz band, and I like to think began a life-long concern with jazz advocacy.
“That's as satisfying to me as someone who makes the jazz circuit, because part of the mission of a school program should always be to encourage a lasting association with the arts. And of course, the skills involved in mastering an instrument are eminently transferable to other disciplines.”
Music students often end up playing in the likes of the San Francisco Youth Orchestra or The Young People’s Symphony Orchestra, or the Peninsula Youth Orchestra. Some also attend the Jazz School in Berkeley.
A “steady stream” of music students go on to such schools as Julliard, Yale, NYU, and Whitman College. Lick graduates include cellist Nathan Chan, violinist Cory Lee, and composer Trevor Doherty.
Full tuition at Lick is $38,000. While no scholarships are available there is “robust” financial aid.
March 21, 2013
Periodically, the Kids Around the Bay column profiles one of the local school music programs, to provide parents with a sense of the resources and philosophy offered, as well as how programs compare. This week we spoke with Colin Williams of The Bay School of San Francisco.
The Bay School of San Francisco was the brainchild of Malcolm Manson, one of the most revered, and modest, private school educators in the Bay Area. He lead the school initially and since then has tried to withdraw from time to time; he remains the school’s assistant chaplain. ‘Bay’, which has 311 students, opened in 2004 in the Presidio. It has a reputation for being focused on science and technology and, always in the background, the study of ethics and religion. The school’s academic culture grows out of a sense that in the long run the world is better served by specialists rather than generalists, and as a broad notion, depth of knowledge trumps breadth.
The Arts at Bay
“I would say that overall we also value a mindful approach to education,” says Colin Williams, a history teacher, who also oversees the school’s instrumental music program. The program tends toward jazz, but includes electronic music and a very successful 20-member school choir. “Having said that, we’re not a Buddhist school by any means, but certainly we believe that meditation can play a critical role in helping students master their emotions and achieve their goals.”
“When it comes to music, this mindful approach asks students to be both thoughtful and deliberate in their creation. Recently, I had a beginning jazz student who kept asking me, should I do this, or should I do that? And I said, I can give you some suggestions but really the question is, did you like what you just played? And, if not, what are you going to be about that? How can you rethink this?”
“One of my goals is to make students more self-reliant and get them out of ‘body’ habits and into habits of mind. That’s one reason I get them to sing scales and melodies before they play them. It’s so easy, as a musician, to fall back on what’s easy, what’s been achieved, and so I press musicians to get out that trap, because, of course, repeating what you’ve already done is not improvising. My question to students is, what can you create, what’s something new you can do with this?”
Williams has been with the Bay School for eight years, He graduated from the Loyola University, New Orleans, plays electric bass and upright bass, and appears with his trio, from time to time, at various venues around the Bay Area.
“I’m interested in the art of improvisation — this is really what distinguishes us from other school programs — and one way to do that is to get students to notice structural similarities. And so we might study the Gershwins’ 1930 hit “I Got Rhythm” and those famous “rhythm changes” as a way to introduce 500 other songs with the same chord structure. In other words, the idea is to see a template and work toward an intrinsic knowledge of songs and playability. Naturally, we also study scales and melodies and how using one approach might not sound good but then you can use another approach and get the sound you want. The idea is to use your knowledge and creativity to make the music your own.”
Music studies include courses in electronic music, jazz, and composition. Facilities include a band room replete with instruments that students are encouraged to experiment with. There’s also a practice room and, occasionally, private teachers have used the facility to work with a particular student. Bay does not recruit music students, which would be “contrary” to the school’s culture, as Williams put it. But ensembles do play at various middle schools around the city, and if that attracts students so much the better. Students who are musically inclined at Bay have gone on to such places as Oberlin and the Berklee College of Music. Tuition for 2013/13 is $37,600.
March 14, 2013
Every two weeks, the Kids Around the Bay column profiles one of the local school music programs, to provide parents with a sense of the resources and philosophy offered, as well as how programs compare. This week we spoke with composer and jazz pianist Eddie Mendenhall, music director with the Stevenson School on the Monterey Peninsula.
The Stevenson School opened in Monterey in 1952 as the Robert Louis Stevenson School (K-12), named after the author whose spirit of adventure, and the willingness of his protagonists to take risk, became the school’s inspiration. The high school includes about 550 students, of which half are boarders. The high school is modeled after certain New England boarding schools, particularly those with the English public school ethos of self-reliance and ‘strong in deed’. It has an Episcopalian priest on staff, is co-ed, and in recent years has attracted a large number of students from Asia.
The music school gained momentum in 1977 when then headmaster, Gordon Davis, brought in Robert Klevan — initially to provide a band for the football team — but also to develop a real music program. “He was a visionary,” says Klevan, “He strongly believed in the notion of the ‘whole child’ and the positive effects of music on kids in general and wanted that to be part of their lives.”
Klevan created in effect a small conservatory, which fostered a dozen ensembles. He left in 2003 to be the director of education with the Monterey Jazz Festival. Two years later, one of his best students, Eddie Mendenhall, became the new music director.
“Although we don’t recruit, we always seem to have a number of very accomplished young musicians,” said Mendenhall recently. “And in the past some have gone on to outstanding careers. Our approach is to offer a progressive environment for those who wish to explore their talent and each year we adapt the program to the students we have.”
The school has a string orchestra, a concert band, and a jazz combo (quintet), as well as a general chorus and, for more advanced singers, a chamber group. The school presents one musical a year and several concerts. There is no music major, however, an AP music theory course is offered, and a number of Stevenson graduates go to the likes of The Berklee College of Music, where Mendehall himself went. Other destinations include the Thornton School of Music at USC, the New England Conservatory, and Oberlin College.
Mendenhall, who has a background in jazz, conducts the string orchestra, jazz band and combo and teaches a course in jazz improvisation.
“We try to embrace technology as much as possible, and to that end the school has built computer labs and practice rooms, and a large auditorium. I also use an automated music assessment program to encourage students to keep practicing.”
Students receive free tickets to both the Monterey Jazz festival and the Bach Festival. Tuition ranges from $33,200 for day students to $54,600 for boarders.
February 28, 2013
Each week the Kids Around the Bay column includes a profile of a local school music program, to provide parents with a sense of the resources and philosophy offered, as well as how programs compare. This week we spoke with Rob DeNunzio, Director of the Music Conservatory and Music Programs at San Domenico School in Marin.
San Domenico opened in 1850, founded by Mother Mary Goemaere, who traveled from Paris to Monterey, via Panama — and this was before the canal — to open the first independent school, and the first Catholic school, in California. The school, inspired by the Dominican spirit of “freedom and love in constant search for truth” eventually settled in the Sleepy Hollow neighborhood of San Anselmo in 1965.
The school includes grades pre-K through 12. The high school is all-girls, and has 160 students of which about 50 percent participate in some form of music education.
The school’s conservatory was born in 1977, from the brow of Faith France (see more), who felt there should be a private school alternative for students who could no longer find music programs in public school. From the beginning, her vision was to use string ensembles as the cornerstone for what has become known as the Virtuoso Program, a scholarship program that this year has 20 students. The heart of the program’s curriculum is chamber music.
Beyond the focus on string instruments, the school offers instruction and groupings for other instruments as well. Moreover, the middle school offers elective music classes and, as part of every school day, students are engaged in some kind of music setting, in a chorus, for example, or a group guitar or a string ensemble.
“We see generally two kinds of students,” DeNunzio told us, “those for whom music has been a lifelong arc — and actually the number of those students has gone down in the past few years — and another group who continue to study music and may be very passionate, but have a kind of dual identity and are drawn to the whole package of academic and music study.”
“I can’t think of another school, Crowden excepted, where there are so many opportunities to engage in the study and performing of music. From rock bands to ukulele groups to vocal ensembles, from string to percussion, we cater to a great variety of interests and talents. And we can do that because we have 25 music teachers on our staff. Some teach five days a week; some, one day a week. Many lead ensembles as well as teach. Together they provide an extraordinary resource of knowledge and leadership. Essentially, the school provides the space and administrative support for what is a true conservatory. ”
There is an audition process for prospective high school students, in which applicants meet with DeNunzio, play scales, sight read, and then come to an orchestra rehearsal. “We look to see how a student might approach unfamiliar music, and how they fit into a group. We’re looking at chemistry. We’ve found that one reason our orchestra has been so successful is that time spent in small groups has a great effect on the orchestra as a whole.”
Auditions for classes starting in the fall of 2013 have passed; however, latecomers should contact DeNunzio, who can make special arrangements. Not every student gets through the audition process but “we always give her an idea of where they are and we can help them get to where they need to be. We often know their music teachers and we have students who are working to get into the program. I can only say, the doors are not closed.”
In the past few years students in the Virtuoso program have gone on to The New England Conservatory, Oberlin, Harvard, Princeton, UC Berkeley, and Stanford. “It’s become increasingly clear,” says DeNunzio, who has a degree in composition from the University of Oregon, “that colleges and universities are attracted to students that have taken music seriously, because kids driven to pursue music at this level, who have shown the drive and focus you need to flourish, tend to do very well throughout their academic careers.”
“We have kids doing music in pre-K and even at that point we have those kids up on stage. I always tell parents that whether or not their child studies music in great depth, the basic foundation of learning to play an instrument, along with the effects of practice and overcoming the fear of being on a stage, for example, all those experiences and the confidence they engender, stay with you all your life. And of course we’re looking at kids who may or may not be fully engaged with music now, but they recognize that music is important and they will probably support opera and symphonies later on.”
As for tuition, grade 9 this year cost $34,700; boarding is around $51,000. Of the 20 students in the Virtuoso program, most are boarders, if only because their academic and instrument practice schedules are so tight.
February 7, 2013
We’re adding a new feature to the Kids Around the Bay column, in which we report on what’s going on in the schools. It’s an effort to give parents a close look at the resources and philosophy that different schools offer. We begin with the San Francisco Waldorf School and a chat with David Weber, a humanities and music teacher in the Waldorf High School. For many years he also taught children at the Waldorf lower school.
By way of background, the first Waldorf School opened in 1919 in Stuttgart Germany, the creation of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher strongly influenced by, among others, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The education is “alternative,” holistic, and despite a common misconception, not religious. The San Francisco Waldorf School started in 1979; the high school opened in 1997. Its overall philosophy, which increasingly has been picked up by other schools, is “Head, Heart, Hands.” The music curriculum, which is in the very nature of holistic education, is practice-based but includes a good deal of music theory. Each high school student is required to take four years of music. Students who don’t have a music background sing in the choir or play the guitar in beginner classes. There are also an orchestra, a jazz band, a choir, and various ensembles, including a drum ensemble.
“Our primary goal,” says David Weber, “is not to turn out musicians but to influence a student’s approach to life and their ability to make sound judgments through the artistic effects of music. We think that the study of music makes students much more well-rounded.”
In the lower grades, the pedagogical approach is to use music to wake the child up through the “sensing of the heart”. As Weber puts it, “meeting the child where they are and involving them in the artistic process” — to feel, if not understand, how colors go together and shapes go together; how notes can be in tune and tones can go together. “It’s an effort to develop a very fine sense of what is beauty and harmony and allow that to become part of their thinking. The idea is that mind and heart go together and over time, as they get older, this enables them to use an appreciation of beauty to find truth.”
“Everybody talks about the ‘Mozart effect’ and how the brain and motor skills in particular are affected, and we’ve found that to be true. So we want younger children doing music every day. That’s why children play recorders initially, and then when they reach the third grade, around the age of nine, we encourage them to try out a standard orchestral instrument, and to take that up as a discipline. It doesn't mean we stop with singing and recorders, but we make music a subject lesson. That’s also when we begin forming small class ensembles, which continues right into the high school.”
The importance of storytelling in a Waldorf education, says Weber, cannot be overstated. “We want to encourage thinking that is not merely abstract, intellectual and cold, but is combined with a sense of humanity. And so the importance of stories and, of course, music tells its own kind of stories. It gives us the ability to create ‘landscapes of feeling’ when we play or listen to music. This is something that Steiner talks about: A melody statement in music is more specific and definite in its meaning than any written statement. Or think of it this way: The quality of a Schubert melody on a cello is more definite than any word expression, because you can feel it and understand it with your heart. For children, this offers new places to imagine themselves and new ways to be creative.”
The San Francisco Waldorf High School offers at least three music-related events every year: a winter concert in November; a Eurhythmy performance in the winter; and other musical performances later in the year. For more information go to sfwaldorf.org.
February 14, 2013
We’ve added a new resource for parents: descriptions of school music programs in the greater Bay Area. We provide a look at the music resources and philosophy that different schools offer. This week we talked to Eugene Sor, of the Crowden School in Berkeley. He is interim music director of the Crowden School and director of its sister organization, the Crowden Center for Music in the Community.
The Crowden School was founded in 1983 in a church basement by Anne Crowden, who had served on the music department faculties at the UC Berkeley, Stanford, and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She was a violinist intensely interested in the virtues of string instruments and chamber music. In the beginning, she offered bowing and technique classes to 11 students and from that the school was born. She ran it for 16 years and died in 2004.
The school now has 55 students and covers fourth through eighth grade. Admission includes an audition, an academic placement test, and informal visit to the school, along with a personal interview. The basic requirement is that a student be interested in learning a string instrument. There are some exceptions for those studying piano.
“Our mission,” Sor told us, “is to give students both a well-balanced music education and an outstanding academic education.”
Chamber music is at the core of the curriculum and is also the metaphor that best describes what we’re trying to impart — finding your voice. Certainly one of the great joys of playing chamber music is that unique harmony you experience within yourself and within a group. Moreover, to participate in the ensemble you’re obligated to practice, again by yourself and with the group. I, myself, learned more sitting in a music room, by myself or with a coach, than I did sitting in a conventional classroom. It’s not only the hands-on experience, but it’s also the way you study the music; the way you hear music; the way you appreciate textures and interpretations — and the way you come to understand music history and theory. The benefits apply to critical thinking and to becoming responsible and self-reliant.
But in the end, I think the most important aspect of this education is that you learn how to listen to each other on a deeper level and you learn the real meaning of community and how a community succeeds, which means understanding the art of leading and following; improvising and communicating; and finally, trusting. Trusting yourself and others. And there’s one other thing — you learn how to enjoy music and just have fun. That’s so important.”