Our recent events, held in conjunction with our Spring Parents’ Days, reminded me of the importance and impact that our performing arts program has on our students. Throughout the admission process, I frequently hear from parents of students who are looking for a passion, or a sense of direction, that comes with being engaged in school. As an extension of the traditional classroom subjects, the catalyst to this engagement often is discovering and developing a new talent at Oak Hill Academy.
Let’s look first at our theatre department. I’m amazed at the number of students who absolutely shine in this arena who, upon their arrival at Oak Hill Academy, were struggling to fit in socially, or were frustrated by a lack of social confidence. Acting in the school play helps them confront these fears, conquering them in the process and opening up a wealth of new relationships.
Our theatre department produces short one-acts throughout the year and then, in the Spring, produces the main school play. With contributions from our art department and students, the sets are constructed, costumes designed, and, as was the case especially this year, make up and special effects were planned. Adding to the mix are the number of students who contribute behind the scenes as the lighting and stage crew, and it truly becomes a community project. I can’t tell you how many times I hear from the kids about the relationships that are strengthened, or in fact, begin through participating in our drama productions.
Our school, which gets a lot of media attention for basketball, is so much richer because of the performing arts programs under the direction of Theatre Sponsor Mr. Matt Pease, Art Teacher Ms. Brittany Luksic and our Music Department Director, Ms. Jean Callison. As I often interject when people ask about our star basketball players, “Let me tell you about how they act in our school plays and perform awesome music along with other members of our student body!” That’s what is beautiful about the arts–it gives people a chance to shine in new and unexpected ways!
Our music curriculum is NOT your typical high school music classes! Yes, we have a Pep Band that performs during our home basketball games, showcasing our students’ talents with a range of instruments including guitar, woodwinds and percussion. But the emphasis here is developing musicians in more contemporary forms of music. We have guitar instruction for all skill levels. Advanced classes bring together guitarists, keyboardists, percussionists, vocalists and other musicians to work out songs. These are performed in a variety of “open-mic” nights, homeroom presentations and special events on campus. Our Praise Band, and other musicians perform at area churches. The Appalachian String class allows our students to take advantage of the rich musical heritage of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountain area in which we are located. Ms. Callison is completely connected to the local music scene. (It is amazing to see a Nigerian student add his unique stamp to a bluegrass song.) In addition, our “Music Lab” class allows students to develop electronic music, arrangement and production skills.
The unique feature of boarding school is that we have a captive audience, with a schedule that allows for consistent practice of new interests. Music often becomes that for our students and I’m lucky to have a front row seat, as my office shares a wall with the music room! I hear the kids go from complete beginners to rather accomplished musicians.
The pride that develops from becoming competent in a new skill or talent, and the delighted surprise I saw on the faces of many parents this past Parents’ Days, lets me know that something powerful is going on here.
The arts definitely complement the academic growth and self-confidence that our students invariably experience at Oak Hill Academy.