A View From Glen Hill: Let the music draw you in

It was several weeks ago, right before the holiday break, and students were packed into the Middlebrook auditorium.
Their purpose in being there, between two excellent music-filled pre-vacation assemblies, was to grant the much loved and admired Janet Nobles — in her 24th year as a Middlebrook teacher and her 15th year as instructional leader for STRIDE, the Unified Arts team — her “Someday Wish.” That’s a teacher’s wish “some day” to do some very special thing with her students. Janet’s wish was to hear all 700plus of her chorus students across all three Middlebrook grades (sixth through eighth) — comprising 70% of the school’s entire student body — sing together just once. These students normally rehearse separately and perform in individual concerts by grade level because the Middlebrook auditorium is not large enough to accommodate the audience across all three grade levels of those wishing to attend these concerts.
And so all of her chorus students sat awaiting instructions to proceed as they filled every seat in the auditorium. They were directed to stand and turn around so that they were facing the back of the auditorium while Janet perched atop the audioand- lighting control booth at the rear of the auditorium. From there she directed these 700-plus singers in a beautiful rendition of Stephen Schwartz’s When You Believe from The Prince of Egypt.
Among Schwartz’s lyrics is this: “Who knows what miracle you can achieve when you believe!” In fact, that sentence captures perfectly the music programs across our schools. From the youngest grades forward, music is offered as a core part of our students’ educational experience in a program carefully envisioned by those who believed that extraordinary results could be achieved as they gradually expanded yearby- year sophisticated music education into ever younger grades as part of an integrated curriculum spanning all grade levels.
Those results at the intermediate (Middlebrook) level were very evident during these concert assemblies that bracketed the fulfillment of Janet’s wish, as choruses, orchestra, bands and even a flute ensemble with a dozen members performed impressively. And the assembled students were enthralled with the additional treat of a friendly face-off between eighth-grade beatbox impresario Evan Timnev and the very versatile and talented Middlebrook music educator Michael Gordon, who had overnight to prepare himself for a contest in this amazing form of vocally percussive musical expression!
The outstanding end result of our school system’s extraordinary education program across all of the grade levels is evident when one attends our high school concerts. For example, the Winter Concert three weeks ago in the Clune Center auditorium featured magnificent performances by hundreds of students, both vocal and instrumental, in multiple choruses and orchestral and band groupings and with a variety of soloists. The concluding portion of the program brought together the choruses, orchestra, and soloists in stunning performance of challenging works, including Pergolesi’s four-movement Magnificat. The student performers exhibited such a high quality of execution that it felt like a major college’s concert, not a high school one.
Speaking afterwards in response to compliments about the extraordinary student performances that evening, Orchestra Director Marty Meade and Instructional Leader John Rhodes underscored the fact that what is accomplished by our high schoolers in performances like this one is built on a foundation that spans all of our schools and all of our grade levels. That foundation is the result of those years of careful planning, coordination, and building of program across the music departments in each of our Wilton schools from our high school to Middlebrook to the upper elementary grades at Cider Mill, right down to the youngest elementary grades at Miller-Driscoll.
The depth of talent and insight among our music educators and administrators makes possible what was so vividly displayed on the stage of the Clune auditorium in the Winter Concert and on other occasions throughout the year. It is also reflected in the Grammy Award finalist status for Wilton High School’s remarkable instructional leader and Band Director Chip Gawle. But Chip is the first to note that his finalist status is, in turn, a reflection of the quality of the music program in all of our schools and of the educators who implement it every day.
This program impacts our young people across the board, not just a select few virtuosos. It offers these many students musical knowledge and skills they will be using and enjoying throughout their lives even as it gives them exceptional experiences in working together to produce truly outstanding performances. And for that we can all be very grateful!