October 3, 2013

Music in the Schools: St. Ignatius Prep.

By Mark MacNamara

Si PrepSt. Ignatius College Prep, popularly known as “SI,” is a Jesuit high school that opened in San Francisco in 1855. Originally an all-boys school, it became coeducational in 1989 and now has about 1,400 students. Although the school is better known for its academic and athletic achievements, the music program has a long history and has flourished in recent years.

In his book, Spiritus Magis, 150 Years of St. Ignatius College Preparatory, Paul Totah notes that the school’s first band began playing in 1874: “to cultivate music for innocent social enjoyment and to add solemnity to civil and religious festivals.” A school orchestra was started in 1925.

The school’s music program is enfolded within the Fine Arts deptartment and includes several courses: two one-semester Music Appreciation Courses; one is a survey of Western music, and the other an exploration of the roots of jazz. You must take the first course to take the second. There is also an Advanced Placement yearlong Music Theory course. Students are required to take two Fine Arts courses to graduate.

As for performance, there are both instrumental and choral activities. Groups include a symphony orchestra, a chamber orchestra, and a jazz band. The orchestra has more than 60 members; the other two, about 20 each. There are concerts throughout the year as well as a chamber music festival and a Broadway musical each year.

Admission to the chamber orchestra is by audition, which includes playing a solo of your choice, along with scales, and a sight-reading exercise. Entry to the symphony orchestra or jazz band is somewhat easier, with the requirement that you’ve taken some private lessons and have a willingness to practice.

The Director of Instrumental Music is Dr. Gillian Clements, a violinist with a B.M. in performance from Boston University; an M.M. in performance from Rice University and a D.MA. in musical education from Boston University. She is also a member of the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra and has performed with, among other groups, Classical Revolution.

In 2011 and 2013 the school arranged music exchanges in Kenya, which allowed students to see how music is experienced in other cultures. Instrumental performances with students from both countries took place at the Kenya Conservatoire of Music in Nairobi and the Mount Kenya Academy in Nyeri — where Clements started a string program in 2007, before coming to St. Ignatius in 2008. SI plans to continue the exchanges approximately every two years.

Director of Choral Activities Chad Zullinger came to the school in 2008 and presides over several choirs including a concert choir, advanced chamber singers, and a cappella ensemble. Zullinger has an M.M. in Choral Conducting from the University of Delaware, and a B.M. in Composition at San Francisco State University.

SI choirs have consistently earned the rating of Unanimous Superior at the California Music Educator Association choir festivals, the Napa Valley Invitational Choral Classic, and the prestigious Golden State Choir Competition, where just 10 schools are invited to perform.

Zullinger has led the choir on two European trips, which, he points out ,were more than performance tours. “Our purpose is to help students understand and appreciate St. Ignatius (who founded the Jesuit Order) and to go deeper into spirituality.”

“Our musical program is thriving because studying and playing music is part of this process of becoming a complete person.” - Chad Zullinger, chorus director

During the trip students performed in the basilica attached to the house where St. Ignatius was born, in Azpeitia, in the Basque province of Guipuzcoa in Northern Spain.

Zullinger adds that St. Ignatius believed in the education of the entire person, “and that’s one of the reasons that our musical program is thriving, because studying and playing music is part of this process of becoming a complete person.”

Next May, the entire music program will perform at Carnegie Hall as part of the WorldStrides Heritage Performance Series.

Although most music students at St. Ignatius don’t stay with music through college, some graduates do take it seriously.

“I don’t know yet whether I will study music in college,” says Rachel Yan, a senior, and a cellist studying with Amos Yang, an associate principal in the San Francisco Symphony. “But I know I will have music with me for the rest of my life. And it’s not only about the music; the people who sit across from me in music class are my best friends. We use music to come together.”

Among SI Graduates is SFCV major donor Gordon Getty (class of 1951): philanthropist, venture-capitalist, and classical music composer, whose works include, among many others, the opera Plump Jack, Joan and the Bells, and a collection of piano pieces and choral works.

December 9 and 11: Holiday Concert: Rutter’s Gloria and other songs of the season, St. Ignatius Church, 650 Parker Ave., San Francisco; 7:00 p.m. Free admission.

Mark MacNamara (macnamband.com) is a journalist in San Francisco who has written for such publications as Salon.com, Vanity Fair, and The Stanford Social Innovation Review. He also wrote a recent piece for Nautilus, a science magazine, about Edward Elgar’s penchant for ciphers and riddles.