Unique Arts Experiences

HS Singers Visit London
Andrew Leonard, Music
Over my head, I hear music in the air
Over my head, I hear music in the air
Over my head, I hear music in the air
There must be a god somewhere
These words are still resonating through my mind weeks after the High School Singers sang them in the Magdalen Chapel at Oxford University. Senior Camille S.L. started with a solo and the minute she opened her mouth, we were all stunned by the acoustics in the Chapel. I could tell on the faces of everyone in the room that this was a magical and spiritual experience for all of us listening to the sound of our voices reverberate off of the 600-year old walls. This was just one of the many inspiring moments on the High School music trip to the United Kingdom.
The beginning of our trip was a whirlwind two days of performances and masterclasses. The first performance day was at St. Paul’s Girls School. We were met by the kind and welcoming music staff and shown to our beautiful performance space. The school’s culture is embedded in music learning and the music building is gorgeous. This was the first time that the High School Singers and the Jazz Ensemble had ever performed together. It was incredible to see our students support each other. We listened to St. Paul’s Saxophone Ensemble, which was an amazing experience.
Later that same day we headed to our masterclasses. It felt like we were really on tour, performing one place then loading up the bus quickly to head to our next gig. Our masterclasses were held in a stunning old church and were led by two accomplished professors from the Royal College of Music. Professor Joy Hill ran the masterclass for High School Singers. She led exercises that focused on hitting the operative words, improvising as a group and performance technique. Langston H. ’18 was selected to practice conducting a song; it was joyous for all. The Jazz Ensemble worked with Professor Mornington Lockett. He focused on improvisation, and it was exciting to see that he got our students who are sometimes reluctant to play solos up on their feet improvising their hearts out.
The next day we performed at Dulwich College (Mr. Davison’s middle school alma mater). The campus is a stunning, vast expanse of buildings and grounds. Last year, Dulwich brought a group of musicians to perform at Grace as part of their U.S. tour, which is how the idea for our Grace U.K. exchange came about. I could tell that our students were excited to use what they learned in the previous day’s masterclasses at these performances. Our students played and sang beautifully in a joint concert with some of the Dulwich College bands and choirs. Our groups performed beautifully, and I was proud of them for their poise, professionalism, and musicality.
Later that night, we attended a performance of the musical “Dreamgirls” on the West End. After the show, we participated in a talk-back with the actor who played the lead role of Effie White, along with one of her fellow dreamgirls. The students asked thoughtful and passionate questions and received invaluable advice from professional performers. The energy in the room was palpable. Our students as well as the two actors were moved to tears when talking about the value of performance. The actors spoke to us with inspiring words about how diversity and inclusion matters and how representation on stage is integral to creating change in society. That is what we are trying to bring to our programs at Grace and hope to see reflected in the work we do with students.
The rest of the trip was filled with exciting adventures touring the most popular London sights and seeing a live music show. We were amazed by the grandeur and history of the sights we saw. We had meals together, and students who may never have met before got to know one another. We shared many laughs and have memories that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. We shared our love for music with one another, including that indescribable moment in the chapel at Oxford University. When it really gets down to it, that is why this trip even existed in the first place – a collective love of music.
More Unique Arts Experiences
Dance Meets Activism
High School dance students have been examining the relationship between dance and activism and how performing arts can be a vehicle to promote social justice. In March, the Dance II class, together with faculty members, performed a modified and excerpted version of Bill T. Jones’ work, “D-Man In The Waters.” This dance, created in 1989, was a response to the AIDS crisis. There were also two student-choreographed dances in this program, directed by Soleil A. ‘19, Stephanie C. ‘19, and Christina O. ‘19, that drew upon the history of racial violence and the Selma March as starting points for choreography. 

Two members of the critically acclaimed company, David Dorfman Dance, taught an excerpt of the evening-length work “Prophets of Funk” to members of the Grace Dance Ensemble. Over the course of 10 rehearsals, Dorfman dancers Simon Thomas-Train and Jasmine Hearn re-imagined the piece for Grace dance students. Set to the music of Sly and the Family Stone, the work provided an exceptional experience for the dancers and had the audience dancing in the aisles at the April dance concert, “Agents of Funk: Prophets of Change.”

Pilobolus Collaboration 
Students in every division had the unique opportunity to work with The Pilobolus Dance Company this winter. Pilobolus focuses on collaborative choreography to help dancers work together toward a common goal. Under the guidance of Pilobolus members, 148 Grace students in grades K, 4, 6, and 9 worked in groups using improvised movement to create dances based on shapes. Over the course of the six-week collaboration, the students employed the same process to develop their dances; the results, performed for their peers, were all wonderfully different.