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.
…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.
The Advanced Chamber Ensemble covers John Lennon's "Imagine" during distance learning in May 2020. Video collage by violinist Sophie Ayers-Harris, class of 2022.
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
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 Susan Swidnicki is 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
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).
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.
Editor's note: this is one of six profiles republished from Rowland Hall's 2018–2019 Annual Report feature story, "Winged Lions on the Rise." Millennial alumni are finding their voices and already shaping their fields and communities—from physics to film, music to medical innovations, and environmental policy to conservation-minded real estate. Learn how Rowland Hall impacted them, and how they’re impacting the world. From left, Jared Ruga ’06, Claire Wang ’15, Phinehas Bynum ’08, Jeanna Tachiki Ryan ’01, Tyler Ruggles ’05, and Sarah Day ’06.
Phinehas Bynum makes “whizbangs and gizmos” to automate mundane things in his Minneapolis house. A motion sensor on his washing machine messages him when the washer stops. Between loads, he composes and plays music in his DIY home-recording studio. It’s a delightful showcase of his two biggest passions.
Phinehas—Phin, for short—holds a music and computer science degree from St. Olaf College in Minnesota. By day, he works for software company Jamf on a technical-implementation team that teaches and trains clients. But the renaissance man has also been a lifelong singer—performing with the likes of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as a fourth grader, the renowned St. Olaf Choir as a college student, and operas around Minneapolis, including the Minnesota Opera (MNOp), since college.
You can make someone's day better by fixing their computer, or by singing them a song. And both of these involve compassion, creativity, logic, and technique.—Phinehas Bynum ’08
“I was just about born singing,” said Phin, whose parents prophetically gave him a name that means, among other interpretations, mouth of brass. “Every time you say ‘Phinehas’ a trumpet gets its wings,” the alum quipped. Naturally, young Phin also dabbled in reverse engineering. “Mama and Papa stepped on clock springs and screws on the daily because I took everything apart to see how it worked,” he said. “Computer science was an extension of tinkering for me because you could change how something worked just by telling it to change, no take-apart required.”
Phin has deftly balanced singing and computing, which he said similarly fulfill him. “You can make someone's day better by fixing their computer, or by singing them a song,” he said. “And both of these involve compassion, creativity, logic, and technique.” And he continues the balancing act, in part, because of Rowland Hall. “I was always encouraged to spend time doing what I was passionate about, and that goal has stuck with me,” he said. “Ultimate frisbee, robotics club, cross country, choir, jazz band—most of the things I am doing now, I was also doing in some form in high school.”
Now, Phin’s arts life is expanding. The singer made his theatrical debut in March to rave reviews. Two Minneapolis arts organizations collaborated to present Candide, a reimagining of the Leonard Bernstein operetta. Phin landed the titular role. Tickets to the five-night, 505-seat show in the heart of downtown sold out early, so the final dress rehearsal became a sixth production. Phin called the performance—his largest to date—transformative. He described his character as an optimist whose misadventures make him wiser instead of bitter. “I'd consider myself a stubborn, but quiet optimist,” Phin said. “It was core-shaking to inhabit a character who lives his optimism completely on the outside, and it challenged me to let the rest of the world, the audience, see that element of me.” His months of practice paid off. In the Star Tribune, critic Terry Blain praised Phin’s performance: “Bynum cut a convincingly boyish figure, his light tenor imparting a touchingly artless quality to songs.”
Since Candide wrapped, Phin has spent more time making his own music—an exploration of jazz, pop, and electronic. He’s recording an album, a longtime dream that combines his musical and technical pursuits. He’s also excited to sing with MNOp again. “I get to sit in a room of wonderfully passionate and diverse folks and bring feelings and ideas and notes and rhythms off a piece of paper and into reality,” he said. “It's the best.”
Phin credited Rowland Hall for a solid foundation, and expressed gratitude to teachers and administrators—particularly the late Linda Hampton, a beloved Upper School staffer who attended nearly all of his performances. “Linda called herself my ‘biggest fan,’” Phin said. “I’m blessed that my musical endeavors have always been supported by my family and friends, but Linda will always have a special place in my heart.”
Winged Lion musicians enjoyed a banner school year dotted with captivating chapel and morning-meeting performances, well-attended concerts, a visit from a Stradivarius-playing concertmaster, and glowing reviews at competitions.
Highlights for the year, according to music teachers Sarah Yoon and Jeremy Innis:
On October 16, our Advanced Chamber Ensemble (ACE) performed at Primary Children's Hospital for the third year in a row; read our November 2017 story about ACE and their volunteerism. New this year, the hospital internally televised the concert for all patients to enjoy.
On April 23, Pacific Symphony Concertmaster Dennis Kim visited Rowland Hall for a masterclass, brown-bag lunch concert, and Q&A session. Dennis worked with our musicians in small groups, giving them direct, practical pointers—particularly on playing their instruments with passion. He also shared personal anecdotes, including the story of his career and how he acquired a Stradivarius violin, one of the most celebrated and valuable instruments in the world.
On May 2, ACE and the Upper School Orchestra performed music from Schindler’s List at the Jewish Community Center for Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. “It was very powerful to be among Holocaust survivors and family members,” Sarah said.
On June 1, choir students performed Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” along with our jazz band and dance company at the Salt Lake City Pride Parade; participation was driven by middle and upper schoolers in LGBTQ+ advocacy and allyship clubs.
Sixteen Rowland Hall students competed at Regionals on March 26. From there, one choir and all eight ACE students moved onto the Utah High School Activities Association’s State Solo and Ensemble South Festival held Saturday, April 27, in Provo.
At State, all of our competing students (listed below) received a “superior” rating, the highest on a five-point scale. View a full PDF of all results.
- Cora Lopez, contralto singer, La fleur que tu m'avais jetee by Bizet
- Claire Sanderson, piano, Chopin Nocturne
- Ziteng Zeng, violin, Mozart Rondo from Serenade in D minor "Haffner"
- Jake Bleil, string bass, Koussevitzy Valse Miniature
- Augustus Hickman, violin, Bach Concerto in A minor
- Austin Topham and Zach Benton, violin and viola, Handel Halvorsen Passacaglia
- Patrick McNally and Ziteng Zeng, violin, Vivaldi Concerto in D minor
- Augustus Hickman and Atticus Hickman, violin, Bach Double Concerto
The innovative show featured large-scale murals, traveling props, a costume menagerie, every style of dance, and integrated orchestral, vocal, and jazz music.