In early December, The Harker School’s lower school music students gathered for their annual concert. The concert featured six groups total, including the choir (directed by Jennifer Cowgill, a grade 4-5 performing arts teacher), the orchestra and the jazz ensemble. Technically, practice for the concert began on the first day of class. As Louis Hoffman, a K-5 music teacher, said, preparing for the concert is a “whole learning process.” Class and practice are one and the same, and the concert allows students to showcase the broad range of style they’ve learned by singing and playing in various pieces.
Closer to the concert date, Hoffman brought a selection of songs to his students and let them pick what they’d play. The wide range of songs performed was capped off by a unique, energetic song choice. As the finale for the event, the students chose the theme song to the popular game Angry Birds. The students wore Angry Birds hats, and Hoffman conducted the piece with a slingshot (an item any Angry Birds fan will recognize as the tool the birds use to launch themselves at their enemies). Conducting the piece and hearing it performed tied for first for Hoffman’s favorite moment in the concert. His other was hearing the choir sing “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” complete with sound effects for each day’s calling birds or pipers piping or swans a-swimming. “It was very funny,” Hoffman said.
At the end of each year, the three campuses have a joint performance. So as Hoffman said, “It’s nice to highlight the accomplishments of our youngest students. It’s different at this level than it is at a high school level. Rather than instilling a sense of competition, we focus on learning to play together, learning to hear yourself, and learning to follow a conductor. We give them the opportunity to explore and to be successful.”
The concert provided the students with the chance to let everyone participate equally. Even in the jazz ensemble, where each student had a short solo piece, no one solo was focused on over the other. This way, Hoffman said, “The real star of the show is the music itself.”
That does not mean there isn’t room for special recognition for those who help make the concerts happen, though! Hoffman noted Toni and Paul Woodruff, both from the performing arts department, for playing violin and piano, respectively, and “for all their support and willingness to participate. They’re really remarkable people.”