By Chuck Schmidt, Instrumental Music Teacher and Band Director
In November, I had a moment when it really hit me how fortunate I am to be part of the music program at The Langley School. I started to write some recommendation letters for eighth-graders and updated my typical opening sentence to: “In this, my 25th year at The Langley School….” For 25 years, I have been part of a wonderful team of performing arts teachers, helping students of every age have fun making music. Because I also set up sound and lights for most of our performances, I also get to see and hear students younger than the ones I typically teach share their music in performances as well.
Sheila Malcolm starts our youngest students on their journey of making music. (Read her blog at https://langleyschoolblog.org/2017/02/28/performing_with_joy/.) Her goals with Langley’s Primary School students are many. She instills in them the joy of singing and playing instruments, both in class and on stage in performances. Watching the kindergarten plays or the grades 1-2 musical productions in the spring, I am awestruck at the quality, quantity, and variety of music our younger students learn every year. In addition, the music is connected to students’ curricular studies, providing context and furthering their understanding of a subject. Sheila also gives our younger students opportunities to listen to and experience music in ways that increase understanding and appreciation with her “composer of the month” lessons.
Dana Litke does amazing work with music classes for grades 3, 4, 5, and 7, Lower School Chorus (grades 4-5), and Middle School Chorus. In the recent fifth-grade production of the musical, “Dig It,” I was so impressed with the beautiful choral sound from our fifth-graders. In her choral groups and class performances, Dana works hard to find songs from all over the world that are both fun to sing and have a great deal of musical learning inherent in them. Sometimes she has taught music in various other languages. (I can think of at least six different languages sung over recent years.) Among her goals for students is to encourage deeper musical understanding and develop a unified clear ensemble vocal sound.
Soo You and I help Langley students begin their journey into instrumental music beginning in fourth grade, where we start each year guiding fourth-graders through the process of selecting just the right instrument. It is an exciting and huge challenge to help fourth-graders progress from opening the case and holding the instrument for the very first time in October to performing holiday music for an audience in late December! In fifth grade, we work on increasing the technical ability of our instrumentalists, and helping a few branch out into less common instruments (like bass and viola in strings, and saxophone and French horn in band).
Soo began our strings program five years ago and has made amazing strides in that short time. Dana arrived at Langley in 2009 to restart our Middle School Chorus and has turned it into a fine group. The Middle School band program has been a strong Langley tradition for 45 years now, and I’m proud to have led it for 25 of those years. In our Middle School performing groups, Dana, Soo, and I are always striving for that perfect balance of helping students have fun making music while achieving the highest degree of musical excellence we can muster. A great deal of time is spent just choosing the right music that will present an interesting and enjoyable performance to our audiences, and be both challenging and achievable for our players. We perform a winter concert, a February “pops” concert, a spring concert (where we present the music we will play on our annual competition trip), and finally a graduation concert featuring sixth- and seventh-grade band students and select string players.
Of the many high points of a musical year at Langley, I look forward to our Middle School drama productions with great anticipation. In the fall, we typically put on a play for which I “curate” a score of incidental music made from short selections of band pieces by well-known band composers and custom-arranged or originally composed music I create. In the spring, we put on a full musical. Our artistic production staff (Joanna Edie, Dana Litke, Devon McEnroe, Debi Gustin, and myself) is a fabulous team that helps more than 60 Middle School students present a full production. My student pit ensemble has evolved into the most advanced, challenging, and rewarding experience to which a Langley instrumentalist can aspire. Rehearsals are already underway for our spring production of “Beauty and the Beast” which will run April 12-14.
In 1995, I started the tradition of Middle School performing groups presenting pops concerts of lighter fare in the middle of the school year. Past themes have included movie music, TV music, the Beatles, and music of a certain decade (we’ve done 40’s, 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s). This year’s theme is music from Broadway! Please join us on Thursday, February 22 at 6:30 p.m. for Langley’s Celebration of Music: Past, Present, & Pops! In honor of Langley’s 75th anniversary year, we are inviting our alumni, families, and faculty from previous years to come enjoy the concert and to stay for a dessert reception afterward. Our Middle School performing groups will be presenting selections from “West Side Story,” “Hamilton,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Wiz,” “Phantom of the Opera,” and many other Broadway favorites.
Langley is very intentional and proud of our work helping kids grow through our Arc of Development. Our performing arts staff is equally proud of our Arc of Musical Development that has set the foundation for generations of students, with many pursuing the arts well beyond Langley, into high school, college, and their professional careers.
RSVP for Langley’s Celebration of Music: Past, Present, & Pops
Thursday, February 22 at 6:30 p.m.
(concert followed by dessert reception)