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…permeates the halls and hearts of Rowland Hall, from lower schoolers singing festive songs and playing handchimes in the annual holiday show, to the Upper School jazz band’s surprise concerts at morning meetings.

In February 2018, our Advanced Chamber Ensemble presented Collage, an evening of interactive listening, art, poetry, dance, and chamber music. Musicians: Austin Topham, Augustus Hickman, Patrick McNally, Tim Zeng (violin); Zach Benton (violin, viola); Alex Benton (cello); Jake Bleil (bass); Claire Sanderson (piano); and Alison Puri (harp). (Video by Oliver Jin ’18)


Beginning School

Children move creatively to music, explore the singing voice, develop melody, play simple musical instruments, discover beat and pulse, learn patterns, and play their own musical creations.
Read more: Beginning School specialties

Lower School

Our curriculum develops musicianship, provides hands-on experiences in performance and theory, and nurtures musical artistry. Students learn through the music-education approach Orff Schulwerk, of which our music teacher Cindy Hall is widely recognized as an expert. It combines singing, movement, poetry, and playing instruments. Based on national standards, the curriculum provides students with age-appropriate skills and a conceptual understanding of composing, performing, reading and writing music, music analysis, and music's ties to history and culture.
Read more: Lower School specialties

Middle & Upper Schools

Students can pursue their musical interests through a variety of program offerings, explained below and detailed on divisional pages.
Read More: Middle School electives
Read More: Upper School curriculum



Rowland Hall is known for having one of the best instrumental jazz performance programs among Utah high schools. Starting in the Lower School, students can sign up for beginning band, and very often stay involved through twelfth grade, honing their talents under the direction of professional musician-teacher Dr. Bret Jackson.

Middle and upper school jazz musicians regularly perform at school concerts and functions. Dr. Jackson helps his students, no matter their level of technique or years of experience, develop a better understanding of jazz through both performance and study of styles and musicians. Band members improve their skills in improvisation, reading and interpreting music notation, and articulation of musical notes and phrases.

Student playing trumpet



The Lower School offers an orchestra class for students of any level to learn fundamental string technique in a supportive environment.

Both lower and middle school orchestras perform a variety of classical and popular repertoire at concerts throughout the year. The Middle School also offers an advanced orchestra elective open by audition to advanced string players, pianists, and other classically trained musicians.

In the Upper School’s orchestra class, students further their musicianship in preparation for performance beyond high school. Students may compete at regional and state festivals and perform at school concerts and off-campus venues.

Upper schoolers experienced in reading notated music may take the Advanced Topics Music Theory course, which prepares students for advanced music theory courses in college. The class culminates in a recital showcasing students' compositions.

The Upper School also offers the Advanced Chamber Ensemble, featuring high-level student-musicians playing college-level repertoire—listen to a 2018 recording below.

Grieg Aus Holberg's Zeit Movement I. Praelude, performed by the Rowland Hall Advanced Chamber Ensemble.

students playing string instruments



In the Lower School, the optional after-school Chorus allows motivated third through fifth graders to perform a more advanced repertoire.

Middle and upper schoolers study music of different periods, styles, and difficulty levels. Skills such as singing with pitch accuracy, proper vocal tone, correct breathing and posture, balance and blend, diction, and proper rehearsal/performance etiquette are vital to the program.

In Middle School, a choir elective focuses on developing good vocal and ensemble technique. Students learn and perform songs from a variety of styles and cultures, including current music.

The Upper School choir's repertoire ranges from classical to a cappella, ancient to modern, and simple to complex. Singers strive for accuracy, expression, and style. Performances include school concerts, chapel services, region festivals and competitions, and community events.

students singing


Cindy Hall
Lower School Music Teacherget to know cindy

Jeremy Innis
Chaplain, Choir and Orchestra Teacherget to know jeremy

Dr. Bret Jackson
Band Diretorget to know bret

Sarah Yoon
Orchestra Teacherget to know sarah

In February 2018, Rowland Hall’s Advanced Chamber Ensemble presented Collage, an evening of interactive listening, art, poetry, dance, and chamber music. Visual artist Kayla Dunzinger ’18 painted on stage throughout the night. (Video by Oliver Jin ’18)

Music Stories in Fine Print Magazine

Band Director Dr. Bret Jackson Named State Music Educator of the Year

Rowland Hall Band Director Dr. Bret Jackson can end 2018 on a high note: the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) this month named him Music Educator of the Year.

Athletics Director Kendra Tomsic nominated Bret. She said she's ecstatic UHSAA selected him and the honor is well-earned. "He is truly the consummate professional who loves his students and who loves to bring music into their lives."

It never fails that I see or hear him working with a student or students in the music room every time I walk by. —Athletics Director Kendra Tomsic, Dr. Jackson's nominator

Bret trains students to view music as a creative art that has relevance and potency in their lives, Kendra wrote in her nomination letter, and he's often the first person in the building each morning and the last to leave each night. "It never fails that I see or hear him working with a student or students in the music room every time I walk by," she added. "His dedication and commitment to creating a strong music program at Rowland Hall is incredible."

Through that dedication—plus his musical prowess and unfailingly friendly disposition—Bret has made a big impression on Rowland Hall since his 2005 hiring. He and his students have accumulated numerous awards, including top honors at state and region music festivals and competitions. And his contributions extend beyond the music department: he's always happy to organize a jazz band performance at sports games and other school events, Kendra wrote. "Any time our band is involved with a sporting activity, our fan attendance goes up exponentially because of the festive atmosphere that Dr. Jackson and his jazz band creates in the gym."

I feel lucky to have a career that allows me to help young people develop important life skills and a love for art through nurturing their musical talents.—Band Director Dr. Bret Jackson

Bret loves teaching young musicians in their formative years: he said his own life has been largely defined by the opportunities for growth, achievement, and leadership he had back in high school. "Recognizing this, I feel lucky to have a career that allows me to help young people develop important life skills and a love for art through nurturing their musical talents."

The top teacher added he's grateful for the award and bolstered by the recognition. "If it can help get the word out that there is great music being made at Rowland Hall, then all the better."

Read more about Bret in his biography.

The accolade is part of UHSAA's Distinguished Service Awards, initiated in 1987 to honor individuals for their service and contributions to high school activities. Bret will join 16 other coaches, officials, teachers, and contributors who will be honored at a January luncheon.

Bret is the seventh Rowland Hall employee on record to receive a UHSAA Distinguished Service Award. Full list:

  1. Dr. Bret Jackson, band director and music teacher, 2018 Music Educator of the Year
  2. Bobby Kennedy, girls soccer head coach, 2015 2A Coach of the Year
  3. Mark Oftedal, cross country and track and field coach, 2014 2A Coach of the Year
  4. Kathy Howa, softball and volleyball coach, 2013 Distinguished Contributor of the Year
  5. Shawn MacQueen, former boys basketball and golf coach, 2009 2A Coach of the Year
  6. Ryan Hoglund, former debate coach and current director of ethical education, 2007 Speech Educator of the Year
  7. Kendra Tomsic, director of athletics, 2004 Athletic Director of the Year


Susan Swidnicki Fosters Lifelong Love of Music in Beginning School Students

Professional Oboist Found 'Joy of Her Life' Teaching Children

Susan Swidnicki is a self-proclaimed evangelist for children's music education. On any given day, you can find her at one of six jobs throughout the Salt Lake Valley, most of which involve teaching children ages three through 18 to express themselves through music, song, and movement. Lucky for Rowland Hall, one of her positions is in our Beginning School, where for the past 16 years she's taught our littlest learners to embrace their natural love—and ability—for music.

Every child should receive a high-quality music education, Susan said. "It's super important." In modern-day society, where students are too frequently staring at screens and passive in their learning, Susan sees music education as a tool to help children learn to be more present. She cited the listening skills, self-control, and confidence students learn through music and movement, emphasizing that these foundational skills must be taught in early childhood.

For three-, four-, and five-year-old budding musicians, Rowland Hall's classes typically focus on finding their singing voices, learning rhythm and rhyme, and learning how to move through space un-self-consciously but with awareness of others. Susan also frequently uses games to enhance music lessons, and over the course of the year, introduces students to different instruments.

"You can learn so much faster, and more joyfully and naturally when you're a small child. You're wired to be receptive," Susan said. She added that schools or districts that wait until junior high to offer music have it backward. It's one reason she loves being part of the Rowland Hall community, a place where everyone is on the same page, understanding that "children are very capable, and we want to give them the best environment and best-quality materials we can." She added, "There's a real investment in best practices for young children."

For three-, four-, and five-year-old budding musicians, Rowland Hall's classes typically focus on finding their singing voices, learning rhythm and rhyme, and learning how to move through space un-self-consciously but with awareness of others. At that age, Susan joked, "learning not to just smash into everybody is a major skill." She also frequently uses games to enhance music lessons, and over the course of the year, introduces students to different instruments.

"Susan is uniquely talented with young learners," Beginning School Principal Carol Blackwell said. "Her music classes strengthen literacy and math skills while at the same time developing musical skills." Indeed, according to scientific research, musical training in young children benefits the brain in multiple ways, improving memory and overall language skills.

Becoming a music educator wasn't something Susan planned. She grew up in Cache Valley, where she began playing the oboe at age 12 and benefitted from what she described as a "super strong" music program in her school. In ninth grade, she started playing with the Utah State University orchestra. "I had a lot of opportunities to play," she said, "and I loved it." After high school, she earned a BA in oboe from the University of Utah and then a master's degree from the St. Louis Conservatory of Music.

Susan Swidnicki joyfully leading a class.

However, securing a full-time job as a performing musician proved challenging. While working with the Flagstaff Symphony in Sedona, Arizona, Susan picked up a gig teaching at a Montessori school and discovered the joys and rewards of being an educator. Since then, she's worked diligently to develop her teaching craft, training in the Orff Schulwerk approach and the Kodály method. The latter focuses on teaching musical literacy through song—often using folk songs—and provides excellent ear-training for young learners, Susan said.

Cindy Hall, Lower School music teacher and fellow Orff educator, described the benefits of Susan's background and professional training: "Since the Orff approach emphasizes learning through play and sound before symbol, it is a natural fit for this age group and our Beginning School philosophy. Susan is a master teacher who draws in children and nurtures their budding musicianship, and we are so fortunate to have her start our students out on their musical journeys." Susan expressed in-kind admiration and said she's pleased to be handing students off to another highly skilled, passionate music educator in Cindy.

I have a very meticulous performing life, and then I have this kind of joyful improvisatory life with children where I can say, 'Oh, you like this nursery rhyme? Let's go act it out.'—Susan Swidnicki

While Susan described teaching children as "the joy of her life," she still maintains an active performing life. She is the principal oboist with the Ballet West Orchestra and an extra with the Utah Symphony, filling in when other musicians are ill or out of town. Add those two roles to teaching positions at Rowland Hall, Canyon Rim Academy, Westminster College, and the Zion Lutheran Church, along with being a single mother to two teenagers, and Susan's schedule could make your head spin.

She doesn't seem to mind juggling her professional obligations. "Mostly the challenge is just remembering what day of the week it is, so I can make sure I go to the right place," she laughed. And she's not ready to give anything up—the way she sees it, teaching and performing provide her with balance. While playing classical music requires discipline and exactitude, in the classroom, she thrives with creative freedom.

"I have a very meticulous performing life, and then I have this kind of joyful improvisatory life with children where I can say, 'Oh, you like this nursery rhyme? Let's go act it out.'"

Susan plans to keep adding to her resume, too. This summer, she'll be an instructor with SummerWorks—something she's enjoyed doing for years—and will travel to Seattle for a Smithsonian Folkways course on multicultural music for children. As a long-term project, she wants to develop a website that would provide fourth-grade teachers in Utah a collection of songs, folktales, and dances from the state's indigenous population to integrate into their curriculum.

Susan's goal is to lay the foundation for music to be both a practice and a pleasure that children will have their whole lives, and she loves watching them grow in confidence during the process. "The great moments are when children who have not been singing—who have only been listening—start singing, and then sing by themselves. They find their singing voice," she said. "Is there anything more rewarding than that?"



Rowland Hall student-musicians.

Our Upper School student-musicians continue to excel under the direction of orchestra teacher Sarah Yoon and choir teacher and interfaith chaplain Jeremy Innis. Out of our students' eight entries at the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) State Solo and Ensemble South Festival held Saturday, April 28, they received six superior and two excellent ratings—the top two ratings on a five-point scale.

Singers Sophia Hodson (soprano) and Cora Lopez (alto), both juniors, received superior ratings on their solos, and freshman Katie Moore (alto) earned excellent.

Rowland Hall's Schubert "Trout" quintet (junior Austin Topham, freshman Zach Benton, senior Alex Benton, junior Claire Sanderson, and junior Jake Bleil) and our Dvorak "American" quartet (Austin, Zach, Alex, and sophomore Ziteng Zeng) both received superior ratings. Ziteng (violin) and Claire (piano) also received superior on their solo pieces, and Jake (bass) received excellent.

Read the complete UHSAA festival results including songs performed, and read about their music ratings system here.


Students Lead the Way in a Finely Tuned Ensemble

Community Outreach Adds Depth to Advanced Chamber Ensemble's Repertoire

This is an updated version of an article published in the 2016-2017 Annual Report.

The Upper School Advanced Chamber Ensemble (ACE) in March brought a judge at a regional competition to tears with their interpretation of the Mendelssohn Trio. But it's not just ACE's melodies that move people. Through community-outreach projects such as annual half-day visits to Primary Children's Hospital, lighthearted, often-smiling Music Teacher Sarah Yoon fosters compassion in her students that seems to transfer to ACE's evocative performances.

On a warm mid-October morning, ACE played for a few tiny hospital patients and their parents in the children's playroom, which was blanketed with toys and sunlight beaming through windows seasonally painted with bats, monsters, and spooky scenes. ACE's quick but gripping set of popular songs included "City of Stars" from La La Land, "When I Ruled the World" by Coldplay, and "A Thousand Years" by Christina Perri. Then, the young musicians gathered in a crafting corner with patients and families to assemble and paint cardboard violins created with recycled Rowland Hall theater props. The entire visit, Ms. Yoon said, provided "a great breather to a child's daily hospital routine." Indeed, little patients escorted out to doctor's appointments promised they'd return to finish their violins.

This sort of outreach teaches students to use their talent to give back to their community without expectation, Ms. Yoon said. "My guys had a great time. It always warms my heart to see our high school students working with patients."

ACE is a seminar class—part of an Upper School program that gets better every year. Students may enroll in pre-selected seminar classes or they can pitch their specific interest to administration and form an accredited class with like-minded kids and a mentor.

Last year when then-sophomore and budding violinist Austin Topham decided he and a cadre of musicians—Atticus Hickman and Tobi Yoon '17—could expand their group and pursue a challenging repertoire, he decided to reach for the certified title of Advanced Chamber Ensemble. Upper School Principal Dave Samson reviewed the earnest seminar class application and gave it a thumbs-up. Middle School Orchestra and Chamber Music Teacher Ms. Yoon gladly agreed to mentor the group.

The ACE class roster quickly grew to seven members when Patrick McNally, Jake Bleil, Alex Benton, and Claire Sanderson joined in fall 2016. The new parties brought further sonic depth to the ensemble, which included violin, cello, bass, and piano. This school year, harpist Alison Puri and violinists Zach Benton, Augustus Hickman, and Tim Zeng joined the group.

In addition to their seminar class, ACE meets on weekends and before school as needed to prepare for regional and state competitions. Last year, Ms. Yoon divided the class into three ensembles: Dvorak Quintet in G major, Mendelssohn Piano Trio in D minor, and Vivaldi Cello Duet in G minor. This year, the group is tackling more: Dvorak American Quartet; Schubert Trout Quintet (students prepared for that piece with a fly-fishing trip to the Provo River); Holberg Suite (large chamber ensemble); Shostakovich Violin Duets; Handel Sonata for Two Violins; and Elegy for String and Harp. Members of ACE often participate in advanced music competitions and ensembles outside of school, such as Utah Youth Orchestras and Ensembles, the Gifted Music School, and the All-State Orchestra. The ACE curriculum prioritizes a college-level repertoire, within reason—Ms. Yoon ensures the young musicians can balance ACE with the rest of their course load.

In March, the three ensembles and four individual soloists successfully competed at the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA) Region Solo and Ensemble Festival and advanced to the State festival. Onlookers at Regionals caught the judge wiping away tears at ACE's interpretation of the Mendelssohn Trio. At State, the Dvorak Quintet, Mendelssohn Trio, Vivaldi Duet, and three soloists received a superior rating, the highest possible. One comment on the judging sheet for the Dvorak performance read, "Wow! The best thing I heard all day! Congratulations on an outstanding performance! Bravo!"

A scan of the UHSAA website shows past Rowland Hall ensembles have achieved superior ratings, and more and more are qualifying for State—proof of the increasing success of all Rowland Hall music students due to excellent training by Ms. Yoon and Interfaith Chaplain and Choir and Orchestra Teacher Jeremy Innis. Megan Fenton, Cindy Shen, and Alicia Lu, all 2017 graduates, also advanced to state-level competitions last year.


Coming up with ACE


Friday, February 2, at 7 pm: catch ACE's Collage, an evening of interactive listening, art, poetry, dance, and chamber music in the Larimer Center for the Performing Arts. ACE-designed poster pictured below.

Advanced Chamber Ensemble's Collage

Late February (date to be determined): ACE will play with the Fry Street Quartet at Rowland Hall
March and April: Regional and State competitions
Thursday, April 26, at 7 pm: ACE concert






You Belong at Rowland Hall