When 7th and 8th graders at The Williston Northampton School settle into their seats for one of the fall assemblies, they may spot their head of school standing in the aisle, playing a joyful tune on the trumpet.
Jen Fulcher can’t think of a much better way to announce a new program that will have every student in the Middle School involved in music.
“I played the trumpet all through middle school, all through high school,” Fulcher said recently. “So this was an easy sell for me of the importance of music in young people’s lives, because it was a huge part of my life and my education.”
Under the new year-long program, students will join either the string ensemble, wind ensemble, or Middle School Chorus. The groups will meet three times every two weeks, and students will receive school credit for their participation.
Fulcher said the program was the culmination of several years of discussions, coupled with a recent change to Williston’s school day that added a seventh period. While Middle School students had been able to join the orchestra or band in the past, their practice times were limited to one 45-minute period, once a week.
“It wasn’t a lot of time, certainly not enough time for a musician,” Fulcher said. “So we wanted to move to something that was more time, more substantial…that [kids] would feel completely embraced in continuing to play their instrument or being part of a group.”
Fulcher said the new program rounded out what had already been a healthy mix of academics, arts, and athletics at the Middle School. The addition of the ensemble groups would give students the chance to stretch beyond their comfort zones, Fulcher said, encouraging them to discover new musical passions, take on leadership roles, and learn to work as part of a group.
“It can be a life-changing experience for some of these kids, gaining the confidence to be onstage, to put themselves on the line,” Fulcher said. “We’re going to create an environment where it feels really safe, really exciting, where kids feel they can stretch themselves and try new things.”
Fine arts teacher and choral director Cathy Kay said that, although students have always had an opportunity to play in ensembles, those opportunities have been limited. Last year, the Middle School offered two classes in music history and history, which was a good exploration but only a first step, she said.
By bringing music ensembles into the school day as part of the curriculum, the middle schoolers will not only have dedicated time to play, but, in the case of string and wind ensembles, will also be able to collaborate with Upper School students and professional musicians, she said. The string ensemble will work with cellist Nicole Fizznoglia, while the wind ensemble will be taught by brothers Jon and Rudi Weeks, a saxophone and bass player, respectively.
“The prospect of having an orchestra that meets seven hours over two weeks is hugely exciting,” Kay said. “I’m so excited to think of the material that we’ll be able to cover and the depth with which we can cover that material.”
The Middle School chorus, expected to include some 60 to 65 students, will meet during the same time in the school’s common area. Kay said she will be working with the group on a broad-based repertoire that will include traditional classical pieces, as well as rounds, show tunes, world and folk music, and perhaps even a pop tune or two.
“I’m really excited that finally our school will have middle school chorus,” Kay said. “They’ll sing at the same concerts as our upper schoolers and we’ll have a real Williston middle school through upper school, 7 through 12 grade, music ensemble program.”