Expressing

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Music

…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.

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.

In February 2018, Rowland Hall’s 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). Student Oliver Jin ’18, a talented artist himself, captured the interdisciplinary evening on video.

BY DIVISION

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 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

BY DISCIPLINE

Student playing trumpet

 

students playing string instruments

 

students singing

 

Susan Swidnicki
McCarthey Campus Music Teacherget to know Susan

Jeremy Innis
Chaplain, Choir and Orchestra Teacherget to know jeremy

Dr. Bret Jackson
Band Directorget to know bret

Sarah Yoon
Orchestra Teacherget to know sarah

The Benefits of Music Education in Preschool & Elementary School

Music Stories in Fine Print Magazine

Alum Nicholas Miller '14 in Southern Utah, where he and former classmate Camille Backman '14 created their album.

by Heather Ernst ’14

Among the chorus of duetting birds deep in the canyons of Southern Utah, a new duet is echoing off the red sandstone walls. Nicholas Miller ’14 and Camille Backman ’14 have traveled hundreds of miles to be here, on sacred land, and their purpose is a special one: to make music.

This pair’s story began nearly 12 years ago, when Nicholas joined the Rowland Hall community as a middle schooler. Since then, he and Camille have developed a deep friendship around their love for Southern Utah; their shared interest in activism and volunteering, which was nurtured during their time at the school; and their predilection for playing music, sometimes together (when the stars, and their schedules, align).

From a young age, both Nicholas and Camille have had an infectious passion for music. Nicholas found that love playing the guitar, mainly focusing on jazz, but he’s no stranger to experimentation: he’s done everything from play in rock bands to study the sitar in India. Camille, a classically trained violinist, has spent a great deal of her life dedicated to mastering her skills and perfecting her sound. Both have found a great deal of joy in collaborating together and with other musicians, something they’ve done since high school.

“We actually played a duet together at graduation,” revealed Nicholas. “That was the first formal time that we played together.”

Camille Backman and Nicholas Miller playing at their 2014 graduation.

Camille and Nicholas playing at their 2014 Rowland Hall graduation.

After graduation, both continued their study of music, Nicholas at the Lamont Jazz School at the University of Denver and Camille at the Oberlin Conservatory in Ohio. Although the pair has been hundreds of miles apart—most recently on two separate continents, as Camille is now working on her master’s degree in Brussels, Belgium—they have always maintained their relationship as friends and musical partners.

“I would say each year that we’ve met up since high school we inevitably have some sort of jam session,” laughed Camille. “It’s so natural—when we spend time together, usually music is somehow being made.”

In fact, their musical connection is so natural that they managed to create their new album, For Other Waters Are Ever Flowing, without even knowing it, while traveling together through Southern Utah in summer 2020.

“I didn’t actually know that we were recording an album when we did it,” chuckled Nicholas, but the creativity flowed and “it ended up being an album’s worth of music.”

For Other Waters Are Ever Flowing consists entirely of improvised music between the violin and guitar, as well as the natural sounds of each location Nicholas and Camille visited during that trip. “Our aim was to find places in Utah with acoustic qualities that we were interested in,” explained Camille.

It became clear to the pair that this project could be a way for them to help spread awareness about the importance of the sacred indigenous lands that spread for miles across the desert of Southern Utah.

Location was a key aspect of this project. Both musicians had previous interest in Southern Utah after having traveled there numerous times growing up. And as they returned in summer 2020 as young adults and spent more time exploring the area’s spaces—rappelling into canyons with their instruments and recording materials strapped to their backs—their interests expanded from acoustic qualities to the history behind those spaces. It became clear to the pair that this project could be a way for them to help spread awareness about the importance of the sacred indigenous lands that spread for miles across the desert of Southern Utah. 

“Part of sharing this album is a way that we can protect indigenous lands while also making them accessible to people,” explained Camille. “Regardless of where you are in the world, you can listen and connect to Utah.”

As the pair explained, they were “trying to communicate with their roots and grapple with homecoming, leaving, returning, and belonging” through this music. Upon entering these wild spaces that mean so much to them, the music allowed for moments of connection with the ecological and cultural histories of the places. Listeners of the album have this experience too. It begins to feel as if the instruments are speaking to you: with each strum of the guitar and bow of the violin, you can feel yourself moving through the canyons, developing a new sense of consciousness and connection to those who lived there before. The abstract blending of sound, ecology, and activism make for an album that speaks to the history of the space in which it was recorded. And the most interesting part of the album is that it cannot be recreated—and it’s not meant to be.

Camille Backman '14 in a slot canyon.

“The music on the album can only happen in certain locations, in the moment it was created,” Camille explained. 

Looking back on her musical career, Camille credits Rowland Hall for giving her the space to build strong relationships. “Rowland Hall does an excellent job of allowing you to develop your interpersonal skills with your mentors and peers,” she reflected. 

Both Nicholas and Camille also credit their mentors from Rowland Hall in preparing them for life’s challenges. “I would definitely have to shout-out to Kody Partridge and Dr. Hickman,” Nicholas said. “Both of their classes made me a better thinker, which has connected to art and creativity for sure.” 

Nicholas and Camille will continue their creative pursuits: Nicholas is currently applying to graduate programs, where he will further his studies in music, and Camille is in her third and final year of her master of music program in Brussels. Looking forward, Nicholas and Camille are anxious and excited to be back on the same continent where they can create more music and collaborate on future projects.


Album art of %22For Other Waters Are Ever Flowing.%22

   Courtesy Bridget Hartman

After many hours of collaboration, as well as editing from two different continents, and with the help of Anthony Peña (mixing) and Bridget Hartman (album artwork), Nicholas and Camille are proud to share For Other Waters Are Ever Flowing. Those interested in buying the album can do so through BandCamp, and 50% of the proceeds will go to Utah Diné Bikéyah, an alliance between the five native tribes of Utah who strive to preserve and protect the cultural and natural resources of ancestral Native American lands to benefit and bring healing to the people and the earth. The album is also available on Spotify, YouTube Music, and Apple Music.

Alumni

Cedi Hinton playing trumpet in Rowland Hall’s jazz and pop band.

The Utah All-State Band's virtual performance of "Incantation and Dance" by John Barnes Chance. In the collage, Cedi Hinton appears above the S in State, and she gets the spotlight several times throughout the video.

In early December, Rowland Hall junior Cedi Hinton received an exciting notification in her email inbox: she had been named first trumpet in the Utah All-State Band.

“I was really shocked,” she said.

Shocked, because 2020 was the third year that Cedi had auditioned for the All-State Band, a group made up of top high school musicians from across Utah. After not making the cut in 2018 and 2019, Cedi said, she almost didn’t audition again.

“I auditioned the past two years,” she explained, “and I was always planning to audition, but I just got really busy with school and said, ‘I’m not going to stress myself out more with having to record another thing.’”

So she let the deadline pass her by.

Not long after, however, she learned that the Utah Music Educators Association (UMEA), which manages the All-State Band as well as other all-state groups, had extended the deadline. This convinced her to rethink her plan.

Cedi's recording not only secured her a place in the band, but also earned her the honor of trumpet first chair—an endorsement of both her musical skill and leadership abilities.

“So I submitted a recording,” she said.

That recording, which Cedi submitted on her 17th birthday, not only secured her a place in the band, but also earned her the honor of trumpet first chair—an endorsement of both her musical skill and leadership abilities (first chairs are recognized as the best in their instrument groups and often act as section leaders). Dr. Bret Jackson, Rowland Hall’s jazz and pop band director, wasn’t surprised when he learned of this impressive accolade.

“Those who have heard Cedi performing with the Rowland Hall jazz band know what a brilliant trumpeter she is,” said Bret, who noted that the last year one of his Rowland Hall students made All-State Band was 2014. “This honor says a lot about how hard she's worked to become a well-rounded trumpeter that is comfortable performing in a variety of musical genres and mediums.”

Cedi’s journey to well-rounded trumpeter began in elementary school, when she decided to take on a new instrument after playing the piano for several years. She decided to try the trumpet, she said, because “I thought it looked kind of cool.” And though she has also enjoyed checking out other instruments over the years—such as the bass, drums, and guitar—the trumpet is the instrument that’s stuck. By sixth grade, Cedi was taking private lessons with instructor Seretta Hart, whom she still works with today. She’s also embraced opportunities to hone her skills in music groups at Rowland Hall and through Salt Lake’s Wasatch Music Coaching Academy.

Cedi Hinton with her trumpet.

In the Utah All-State Band, Cedi’s talent was further developed by professional musicians: the group, which gathered virtually in January 2021, was instructed by Loras Schissel, music director and conductor of the Virginia Grand Military Band and the Cleveland Orchestra Blossom Festival Band, and mentored by members of the Utah Symphony in an online masterclass. While Cedi acknowledged that the virtual format made some aspects of the All-State Band experience tricky, she still recognizes and appreciates the benefits of it. In particular, she said, she enjoyed how the band’s performance of John Barnes Chance’s “Incantation and Dance” pulled her out of her comfort zone—as someone who loves and prefers to play jazz music, she said, studying this song helped her better appreciate classical music.

“I really enjoyed the song and expanding what I love to play,” Cedi said, “so maybe I’ll work on more songs like this and enjoy classical music more—and that’s kind of exciting.”

Cedi plans to try out for All-State Band one more time this fall, when she’s a senior. She admitted that, even though she’s made the band once already, the thought of auditioning for it one last time still makes her nervous.

I definitely want to keep playing, and meet people who also play, and join bands and groups.—Cedi Hinton

“That really intimidates me, but I kind of have to now—and I really want to,” she said.

It’s clear that Cedi is using this experience—including the lessons she learned before making All-State Band—to help guide her journey as a musician. It serves a reminder of her talent, as well as her resilience when things haven’t quite gone as planned. It’s also shown her that, whatever opportunities come her way, she’s driven by a passion for playing and the magic of collaboration.

“I definitely want to keep playing, and meet people who also play, and join bands and groups,” she said with a smile.

Congratulations, Cedi! We are so proud of you.

Music

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.

Academics

Phinehas Bynum performs in Candide
Winged Lions on the Rise—title page graphic featuring six alumni.

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.”

Actors on stage in front of orchestra.

Phinehas Bynum, second from left, stars in VocalEssence and Theater Latté Da’s March 2019 production of Candide. (Photos by Bruce Silcox, courtesy of VocalEssence)

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.”

Alumni

You Belong at Rowland Hall