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orchestra concert
Large group of student dancers performing on stage
In a Grove
lower schoolers making pottery

The Arts

When our students have the opportunity to perform and create, they find new ways for self-expression and self-discovery, and gain self-confidence.

Our Upper School Advanced Chamber Ensemble's annual Collage event is an evening of interactive listening, art, poetry, dance, and chamber music. The 2020 iteration, held on February 28, was centered around Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Middle and upper school music teacher Sarah Yoon first worked with students to launch Collage in 2018, and it's since become a favorite annual cross-disciplinary arts event, showcasing our students' boundless creativity and thoughtfulness.

Taught by faculty who are professional actors, writers, dancers, musicians, & visual artists, our extracurriculars & curriculum open doors for students who want to develop confidence & creativity in practicing an art form.

Art is woven into the very fabric of our students’ lives. Beginning School teachers integrate visual art and music throughout curriculum, and instruction becomes more formal in the Lower School. Children enjoy their weekly visits to the McCarthey Campus' beautiful art studio, where they learn technique, history, and criticism, and make 2D and 3D masterpieces under the able direction of professional artist-teacher Kathryn Czarnecki.

Learning to play Orff-Shulwerk instruments and exploring music theory, history, and performance from the talented baton of Susan Swidnicki also enthralls lower schoolers as their artistic interests begin to bloom. Stage performance starts in the Lower School, and students can develop their dramatic talents in the middle and upper schools.

Dance is everywhere—from movement exploration in the Beginning School, to impromptu playground rehearsals for the Lower School's annual Puttin’ on the Arts concert, to the Lincoln Street Campus studios where our older students develop fierce, animated choreography to express their feelings about the world they want to change.

Arts Stories in Fine Print Magazine

Sixth graders recording the original radio play "The Awakening."
Like all educators across the country, Rowland Hall theatre teacher Matt Sincell had to rethink his lesson plans after the COVID-19 pandemic derailed in-person learning in March.
With traditional classes and a spring production off the table, Matt found himself looking for ways to provide theatre experiences for students during quarantine. He decided to introduce them to radio plays, a completely acoustic type of theatre, which could be produced from their homes.

While the term radio play might bring to mind radio series from the 1930s and 1940s, this type of production still attracts audiences today—podcasts, for instance, are “sort of the modern-day version of a radio play,” Matt said. Stories told as radio plays also have lasting power: "The War of the Worlds," a Mercury Theatre on the Air radio episode based on the 1898 H.G. Wells novel of the same name, dramatized a Martian invasion and is remembered because of the fear it stirred when it aired in 1938. “It caused a nationwide panic when it was first performed. People actually thought we were being invaded by aliens,” said Matt.

In the early months of distance learning, Rowland Hall students began exploring this theatre form, ultimately creating an adaptation of the popular children’s book The Gruffalo (which was edited by seventh- and eighth-grade Arts & Ensembles theatre teacher Meighan Smith). Their work was shared with families and friends—and, thanks to Salt Lake City’s Plan-B Theatre Company, the wider community when it was featured on The City Library’s BiblioBoard. And as Matt planned for the 2020–2021 year—which he knew would still include distance learning in some form—he decided to continue the study of radio plays. “With students at home, in class, and, for some, distance learning only, it seemed the most likely class project to be able to complete,” he explained.

This fall, Matt assigned his sixth-grade Arts & Ensembles class the task of creating an original radio play. The result, The Awakening, is a 16-minute production written and performed by students Sebby Bamberger, Lila Bates, Josie Fonarow, Elayna Hoglund, Paulina Ize-Cedillo, Emery Lieberman, Elle Prasthofer, Morgan Schmutz, Sophie Smith, Izzy Utgaard, and Kate Weissman. The play, which took about two months to complete, was written in both the horror and comedy genres, explained Elayna.

“The inspiration for it was the story of ‘The Ghost with the Bloody Finger,’” she said, referencing a well-known campfire ghost story designed to make listeners laugh. Elayna said the sixth graders wanted to incorporate humor into their radio play because they knew their audience would be mostly made up of listeners who were middle-school-aged and younger. “We knew that it’d be more fun to have some funny in it.”

All 11 students were invested in the project, getting involved in the brainstorming, writing, and script editing required of a radio play. Although they weren’t able to do the close-contact acting techniques of a stage production, they did get to experience voice acting, with distance learners applying best practices to capture the cleanest sound possible by recording with blankets over their heads or by sitting inside a closet, and in-person learners utilizing a handmade, COVID-approved sound booth made of two stacked desks wrapped with a thick, padded moving blanket. (Blankets were changed and desks and equipment were sanitized between each recording session.)

“There was never a time that a student was directly interacting with another student, but we were able to create the illusion that they were indeed responding to each other,” said Matt, who edited The Awakening.

The students also learned the importance of sound effects in radio plays, which are key to bringing this art form to life. “The tricky thing about a radio play is that there, of course, is no visual to accompany it,” Matt explained, “so it's even more necessary to rely on our sense of sound to tell the story.” He had students experiment with Foley, a sound-making technique pioneered in the 1920s and still used today—Elayna captured the sound of a refrigerator door closing, a microwave beeping, and a candy wrapper crackling, while classmate Sophie recorded a door slamming, feet running on concrete, and her interpretation of a leprechaun laughing. Sophie said it felt good knowing that her sound effects helped make a difference in the finished recording. “It was pretty nice because you knew it was your work,” she said.

Art will find a way, even in the most challenging times.—Matt Sincell, theatre teacher

And that finished recording is impressive indeed. It’s a strong reminder of student creativity and ingenuity, even within a pandemic. “What they have been able to accomplish in the face of such adversity is really quite unique and wonderful,” said Matt.

The theatre teacher is hopeful that the radio play will also bring smiles to the larger community: on December 14, Matt announced that Jerry Rapier, Plan-B Theatre’s artistic director and a dedicated supporter of theatre education in Utah, had offered to again promote the Rowland Hall students’ work by linking The Awakening to The City Library’s BiblioBoard and to Plan-B’s mobile app.

“It's super exciting to once again have Plan-B Theatre support our students' work,” said Matt. “It’s nice to think that they are able to provide a 16-minute gift of joy to other students outside of the Rowland Hall community. It's proof that art will find a way, even in the most challenging times.”

Banner photo: Rowland Hall middle schoolers Lila Bates and Kate Weissman preparing to record lines of The Awakening.


A Rowland Hall lower schooler playing ukulele in music class.

Watch our COVID-adjusted music program shine in this year's Lower School virtual holiday program, organized by McCarthey Campus Music Teacher Susan Swidnicki and filmed by videographer and PE teacher Collin Wolfe.

Susan Swidnicki, McCarthey Campus music teacher, is passionate about the power of music—especially during a global pandemic.

There’s perspective in music. People use music both for celebration and for mourning—and for understanding life a little better: love and friendship and what is important.—Susan Swidnicki, McCarthey Campus music teacher

“There’s perspective in music,” she said. “People use music both for celebration and for mourning—and for understanding life a little better: love and friendship and what is important.”

For many, music has been a powerful tool for coping with the emotions that the pandemic has stirred up—and that’s true for all ages, Susan explained. During the early childhood and elementary years, music can help children process and express big emotions, as well as build their confidence. As a longtime music educator, Susan has seen this again and again: how a song can help a child work through a difficult experience, how the discovery of hidden musical talent can awaken a previously unengaged student, or how performing in front of classmates can empower a shy student. It was, therefore, more imperative than ever to safely provide music education this year.

“I needed to figure out a way that kids could have skilled, active music making together in community,” Susan said.

Susan spent the spring and summer immersed in professional development with music educators around the world, trading ideas and best practices for lessons that fit within safety recommendations and school guidelines. She acknowledged that this was tricky: Rowland Hall has a long tradition of active music making, and the Lower School curriculum uses the Orff Schulwerk music-education approach, which emphasizes play, and in which music and movement go hand in hand. But under the school’s health and safety guidelines, activities like singing, playing the recorder, working in small groups, and folk dancing were off the table. Susan didn’t let this discourage her, though. Like many other COVID-related challenges, she said, it just required a new kind of thinking and some creativity.

“We’re all learning that we can adapt and be flexible,” she said, “and that we are more resilient than we thought.”

For Susan, this meant examining the skills that music class has always built, and then finding new ways to teach them. For example, she’s developing students’ notation, rhythm, and patterning skills with sets of non-wind instruments—like ukuleles, bucket drums, glockenspiels, boomwhackers, xylophones, and hand drums—that are rotated among classes monthly. Additionally, she’s helping kids, who tend to think of movement as something that requires their legs, find different ways to express themselves with their bodies. “They’re learning there are other parts to movement to explore,” said Susan, like arms and torsos, and even facial expressions around their masks (she challenges them to do things like share feelings using only their eyes).

Rowland Hall Lower School students play instruments at their desks in adherence with safety guidelines.

And to continue helping students process 2020, Susan is also focusing on ways to further tie music education with school-wide social-emotional learning goals. She plans to expose students to music and expressive movements that don’t always reflect happiness, as well as to continue to introduce them to music from around the globe to illustrate how many cultures use music to make sense of the world. It’s clear that every choice she makes is thoughtful and designed to support students’ overall well-being, whether they are learning in the classroom or from home.

Despite the year’s limitations, Susan says students are still shining in music class, discovering not only their ability to create, but an understanding that they have something to contribute.

“My main goal, of course, is to keep kids healthy, but also to give them some sense of peace and calmness in their day,” Susan said.

And, of course, to empower them. Despite the year’s limitations, Susan says students are still shining in music class, discovering not only their ability to create, but an understanding that they have something to contribute, “which I think is one of the biggest messages we want to give to children right now,” she said.

Susan Swidnicki, formerly our Beginning School music teacher, took over for longtime McCarthey Campus music teacher Cindy Hall after Cindy retired this summer. Susan—also a professional oboist who has played with the Ballet West Orchestra and the Utah Symphony—was a natural choice and Rowland Hall is so grateful to have her. Read more about Susan in this 2018 profile.

The Many Benefits of Music

Rowland Hall has long embraced active music making, and each division offers opportunities for students to build musical artistry. On the McCarthey Campus, explained Susan, music is an integral part of the beginning and lower schools’ curricula for many reasons:

  • It builds self-discipline. In music class, students learn to control themselves within a group by listening to and respecting their peers when they perform.

  • It encourages bravery. Everyone is expected to contribute, which builds students’ confidence and performance skills—and sometimes even taps into undiscovered talent.

  • It helps students get comfortable making mistakes. Though all students are expected to contribute in music class, perfection is never expected. “You can still enjoy the process with mistakes,” said Susan.

  • It supports math skills. The skills built in music class, like patterning, can help contribute to students’ success in math.

  • It supports language skills. Music class helps build language skills in many ways, from exposing students to vocabulary and rhyming words, to helping build fluid reading skills with meter.

  • It exposes students to diverse cultures. A culturally inclusive music approach, like Orff Schulwerk, helps students understand and appreciate the diversity of cultures.


Collage of Tesserae and Gazette websites on laptops.

As the pandemic plunged Rowland Hall into remote learning in spring, and as it continues to keep some students learning from home, upper schoolers in our newspaper and literary magazine classes have nimbly reimagined their printed products. Both publications have now found homes online, at least temporarily.

Read the 2020 Tesserae student literary magazine Read the Gazette student newspaper

Ben Fowler ’20 and senior Garrett Glasgow shared editor-in-chief duties to get Tesserae online—an effort that started in April and concluded this month. While the Tesserae team hopes to keep the website updated with future issues, Garrett said they’re definitely planning to bring back print for 2021:

“Due to COVID-19’s impact on the ability to create a print copy of this year's edition of Tesserae, the staff decided to shift to a digital copy of the magazine. With help from Rowland Hall's marketing team, the staff created a website with the usual collection of poems, prose, artwork, and photos created by students. In addition to the typical artforms seen in prior magazines, the digital nature of this year's edition also enabled us to include short videos. While we hope to create a print copy of the 2021 issue, the 2020 issue is widely accessible and filled with content by talented Rowland Hall students. We hope everyone takes an opportunity to look through this year's edition.”

Over at the Rowland Hall Gazette, senior and editor in chief Sophie Dau and her team look forward to posting new pieces every week or two:

“We decided to go digital this year because of the limited amount of students on campus, and we hope to incorporate outside content with more flexible publishing. We will update the website much more frequently, so keep an eye out for opinion pieces, teacher and student profiles, school news, current events, and more!”

Thanks to Ben, Garrett, Sophie, and their classmates—along with teachers Joel Long and Dr. Laura Johnson—for getting these digital publications up and running for community members near and far to enjoy. Our students’ creativity persists, even if the presses are paused.

Top: Tesserae and Gazette website collage featuring background artwork by Tesserae contributing artist Alex Armknecht ’20.

Student Publications

Senior Ashlee Jackson performing at alum dance show INTERsect.
As the sun set on September 5, its golden light illuminated a masked dancer, casting long shadows that fell on audience members watching her from blankets and benches spaced six feet apart. The dancer’s arms and legs crossed and uncrossed, mimicking the freeway overpasses rising above the group that had gathered in this industrial area of downtown Salt Lake City. The sound of cars whirring overhead mixed with live music, all of it echoing off the area’s concrete columns and warehouses.

Oliver Jin ’18 interviews sophomore Mikel Lawlor on his Intersect performance. Video by Oliver Jin.

This alum-organized dance event, called INTERsect, was designed as a special collaboration between Rowland Hall performing arts students and alumnae dance artists. INTERsect came together after Sofia Gorder, Lincoln Street Campus director of arts and co-director of dance, had heard from several alums who were looking for a creative outlet during COVID-19 restrictions.

“There was a desperate outpour from students I hadn’t talked to in a long time, saying, ‘I want to create, I want to respond, I want to connect,’” Sofia said. Remembering an underground show she had attended in the industrial area located at 600 South 600 West, Sofia proposed that these alums, along with interested current students, use that same space for a physically distanced dance performance. She knew that this opportunity would not only help them feel connected during an uncertain time, but also help them process the emotions they were feeling due to the heavy news of 2020, from the ongoing fallout of the coronavirus pandemic to racial injustice around the country.

“It was a platform for artists to respond to the world around them,” Sofia explained.

Each artist was asked to choreograph a dance or build a performance art piece at home, to use minimal lighting to take advantage of shadows cast by sunset (and by construction lights, after the sun went down), and to wear a mask (a requirement for attendees as well; the event poster specified WYOM—wear your own mask). For alum and student dancers who had felt disconnected from their passion for months, the opportunity was therapeutic.

“Dance is a very important part of my life and I have missed collaborating with others and performing,” said Rowland Hall senior Katie Kern. “This project safely allowed me to connect with other artists and feel the joy of performing again after six months of missing out.”

In dance class, we always talk about how, compositionally, we take bits and pieces from each other. Each of us is a combination of our peers melded by our own style. In other words, all of the dancers from Rowland Hall are connected by an artistic link, even if we never physically danced in the same space.—Ashlee Jackson, class of 2021

INTERsect featured dances by current seniors Katie Kern and Ashlee Jackson, sophomore Mikel Lawlor, and seven alumnae: Laja Field ’08, Elissa Collins ’15, Sophia Diehl ’15, Eliza Kitchens ’16, MiaBella Brickey ’17, Adie Christiansen ’17, and Sydney Rabbitt ’18. The show also included the talents of Matt Jackson ’13—who provided live music with his father, Rowland Hall Jazz and Pop Band Director Bret Jackson—and Oliver Jin ’18, who designed the promotional poster and ran day-of tech. (Sofia also called out four alumnae—Sophia Cutrubus ’18, Grace Riter ’18, Cassidy Clark ’19, and Tori Kusukawa ’19—who were unable to perform due to scheduling or geography conflicts, but who were instrumental in building inspiration for the event.) The evening’s success was due to the enthusiastic collaboration between these students and alums, many of whom had never met before the event. Participants were quick to credit Sofia's ability to make connections among current and former dancers—a testament to the Rowland Hall faculty’s focus on building, and maintaining, meaningful relationships.

“We all have a connection through the education and guidance we gleaned from the one and only Sofia Gorder,” said alumna Laja Field. “The strength of this community is shown through generations of connections coming together.”

The dancers also discovered that, despite varying graduation years and styles, they were connected through a similar approach to dance, thanks to the years they spent in the Lincoln Street Campus studio studying under their esteemed instructor.

“Watching these dancers communicate through the medium of dance—while keeping traces of the same fundamental teachings of Sofia Gorder—has been beautiful to watch and amazing to be a part of,” said sophomore Mikel Lawlor. Senior Ashlee Jackson added, “In dance class, we always talk about how, compositionally, we take bits and pieces from each other. Each of us is a combination of our peers melded by our own style. In other words, all of the dancers from Rowland Hall are connected by an artistic link, even if we never physically danced in the same space.”

For Sofia, these connections, and the show they inspired, are reminders of how Rowland Hall is a place to find calm within chaos.

Sofia isn’t surprised to see dance act as a healing balm during chaotic times. Dance has the power to remind us of our collective humanity, she explained, and it is one way we make sense of life. Because of this, the dances coming out of the pandemic are some of the most creative, intelligent work she’s seen.

“I am so happy to see people coming back to the space of Rowland Hall to find connection and purpose,” she said. And Sofia isn’t surprised to see dance act as a healing balm during chaotic times. Dance has the power to remind us of our collective humanity, she explained, and it is one way we make sense of life. Because of this, the dances coming out of the pandemic are some of the most creative, intelligent work she’s seen. “It’s taken COVID, and being separate, to see why movement has such connecting power,” she said.

Laja, a professional dancer who has devoted her life to sharing the art form with others, echoed her former teacher: “It’s clear that most—I would argue all—people live through some kind of art. We seek out conduits of expression and portals that transcend us elsewhere,” she said. “The arts are the vessels that make us feel whole, allow us to laugh, to mourn, to speak our multilayered emotions that are sometimes difficult to articulate.”

And even, perhaps, to inspire change.

“In a time where COVID-19 has exposed the very pitfalls of our country, and technology has made history and the present of systemic racism an undeniable fact, it is only through art that I find my will to continue working, dreaming, and fighting for a better future to come,” Laja said.

Banner photo: Rowland Hall senior Ashlee Jackson performing in INTERsect. Photo courtesy Joel Long.


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