Spotlight on Curriculum: Music

Grace Church School is bursting with music. Students sing in performances, while parading, marching or caroling; they play a bevy of instruments at every chance, from rehearsals to concerts, and as accompaniment to dancers and plays.
Music has always been the heartbeat of Grace Church School--from our founding as a choir school for boys more than 100 years ago through today, students study, create and enjoy music, steeped in the elements that provide its shape and form. This year’s expansion of the Middle School performing arts program represents a leap for GCS, and a chance for more students to get an earlier start to go deeper into their study and exploration of music.
All students take music classes from Junior Kindergarten through Grade 8, and high school students have a variety of music classes and ensembles from which to choose, including a music concentration. Throughout the years, students explore a full spectrum of musical styles and have abundant opportunities to perform, appreciate, and make critical assessments.
The thread that runs through every grade is the importance of experiencing music in all of its facets - from singing and playing instruments to understanding music theory and feeling its emotional depth. Students learn how music plays a crucial role in our lives by not just listening to it, but by actively participating in its creation.
The youngest students take combined music and dance classes, making the most of that group’s natural ability to express themselves with their whole bodies. A spirit of play prevails in the emergence of both dance and music expression as they begin to develop their vocal, rhythm, movement, and spatial skills. Honing these skills aids the students’ learning in all academic areas.
When children enter Lower School, music classes separate from dance. Students learn to read music from the treble clef and to play the recorder. They explore music theory using multicultural folk songs, study the instruments of the symphony orchestra, and sing choral music as part of the Fourth Grade Chorale. Ample performance opportunities not only give students chances to show off skills and talents, but also allow time to be attentive audience members.
In the Middle School, music theory starts with a focus on Broadway musicals in a combined Music/Drama Musical Theater class. They move on to classical music history, which includes attending an open rehearsal of The New York Philharmonic. The eighth graders can delve into jazz history, while learning to use a state-of-the-art computer music composition program in the Digital Arts Center; they visit the home of Louis Armstrong in Queens.
The recently expanded middle school program means students may study new instruments during the school day. New ensembles have sprung up and the long-standing choral program now offers a new chorus, a vocal ensemble, as well as a select vocal group, GCS Singers, for students in sixth through eighth grades. Students in the choral program perform in two major concerts a year, participate in all-school Chapel services, and every December, go holiday caroling at the Lighthouse Guild School and Mt. Sinai Beth Israel Hospital.
A soaring new instrumental program has taken off. GCS is alive with the sounds of students exploring instruments of a string orchestra and band; melodies and scales from the saxophone, French horn and percussion, waft through hallways, in addition to the those from instruments that have been taught for many years: violin, flute and cello. Individual study prepares students to play in one of two levels of band.
Performance opportunities expand once again when students progress to the High School Division. The program is designed to allow students to study three different styles: Jazz (Duke Ellington, Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis), Band (Gustav Holst, Antonin Dvora'k, Edvard Grieg) and Strings (Jean Sibelius, Mozart, Béla Bartók). The tiered program offers all students, whether they’re just picking up an instrument or have been playing since age five, a place to play. Students progress from beginning classes into jazz band, concert band, or concert strings; they can delve deeper with jazz ensemble, wind ensemble, or orchestra.
Students studying voice begin with vocal foundation courses and perform in mixed and single-sex groups, including the Boys and Girls High School Singers; In Treble, an all-women ensemble; The Gracemen, an all-male ensemble; and Voices, a select a capella group whose repertoire includes pop, jazz, and contemporary songs, as well as the more formalized a capella works of other stylistic periods.
Interested High school students can increase their musicianship and add a concentration in music through intermediate and advanced courses in Music Theory, Jazz Theory and Harmony and Jazz Arranging and Composition. For students planning to attend a conservatory or major in music, the High School will soon offer an AP Theory course.
Music at Grace Church School throughout the grades instills a deep sense of appreciation for the art; it allows students to engage directly with the essential elements of musical creation, and provides the opportunity to see how individuals can work together and become an important part of a larger whole. Music fundamentally shapes and changes the way they see themselves and the world around them; the hope is, with enough experience, they will leave Grace understanding how.