Today, students can choose from a variety of music classes in strings, brass, wind instruments, chorus and chamber music as well as in percussion, keyboard, jazz improvisation and lyric writing. In fact, there are more than 20 music electives in the Upper School; in Middle School, in addition to chorus, instrumental (winds/brass) and strings, students can opt for classes like Electronic Music Lab or the newest offering, Introduction to Jazz Improvisation.
The tremendous growth in the music program has been spurred in part by scientific evidence that proves the enormous impact the study of music can have on brain development. But it is also reflective of Calhoun's historic dedication to integrating the arts seamlessly into academic studies. Plus, teachers and student musicians alike point to the collaborative nature of music performance, the discipline it instills, and, not insignificant, the sheer joy and fun that music brings.
Music as Interdisciplinary Partner
Music is, in fact, interwoven with curriculum in all divisions, reflecting Calhoun's mission to seamlessly integrate the arts with other academic studies.
As students progress through the Lower School, their class time continues to include song, movement, music appreciation and percussion instruments. In second grade, they begin their first formal instrumental lessons with recorders, and then in Middle School, each student can choose to sing in the chorus or pick an instrument to learn. By eighth grade, students can opt out of music, but more than half continue on in choir or instrumental music.
An increasing body of scientific evidence shows that the study of music is actually related to the acquisition of math skills and reading. The parts of the brain developed by music relate to linguistics and mastering both oral and written language.
Collaboration is key to the way Calhoun's music faculty approaches instruction. “Our mantra here is that every student has a job, and that job is to make everyone else in his or her band or orchestra better," says Victor Lin, US jazz teacher. “It's not about looking good or getting your solo in the spotlight. The best person isn't any better than the newest musician. Music-making isn't supposed to be a spectacle. It's something that people should want to participate in."
Although the objective of the music program isn't to churn out professional musicians, Calhoun is indeed home to some serious talent.
Pianist Tiffany Poon '14 has played in numerous international venues, from Australia and Russia to Montreal and across the United States, including Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall and Steinway Hall. Most recently, she won first prize and Best Performance of Concerto Award at the VIII Moscow International Fredrick Chopin Competition for Young Pianists.
Noah Krauss '15 has also earned countless accolades—including the New York Music Competition, first on cello and second on piano. But what both Noah and Tiffany also have in common is that they chose not to take the traditional route of conservatories.
“I never really had any interest in leaving Calhoun," says Noah. “You get individual attention here, which is so great. It's really student-based." Noah recalls his earlier years at Calhoun, beginning in Middle School. “It was very inspiring to see high-caliber musicians come in and play with us," he says. He had the option of auditioning for a music school when he was 14, but opted to stay. Instead, Noah—who performs with the school's Community Orchestra, all-school orchestra and in various ensembles—decided he wanted to be a positive role model for Calhoun's younger students. “I'm just trying to show them the greatness of this program and what you can do with it if you work hard and if you have a real love for music. And I think this program really does [encourage that], because you get to play pieces that aren't necessarily common in high school orchestras. We play pop songs, movie themes and all the really great classical works, so it's a really wide spectrum. I just love it."
Jack Gulielmetti '14, a talented guitarist who studied at Juilliard and wrote his first composition for the New York Philharmonic while still in school, is another student who firmly believes in Calhoun's approach to music education. “I have friends who go to [music] schools but don't have the same access to practice rooms, instruments or faculty; I think that sets Calhoun apart," he says. “I also think you need to be a well-rounded person to play music. You can't just get inspiration from music itself; that would get old after a while and you would end up sounding like the people you listen to. You have to bring in ideas from what you read or what you do in math or something you learned in biology."
What's been most noticeable about the music evolution at Calhoun is how quickly it bonds students and faculty. Says Meighan Stoops, Director of Music, “The first level of music education is listening together as a group, and then it's on to playing music together. But the third level, when you're in front of people performing—that's when the experience is ratcheted up to an entirely different intensity. You learn that you have to take care and look out for one another. And that's something that can translate to any other scenario in life."