by Christy McTigue Backley ’66
The Fine Arts program at Withrow keeps on growing, thanks to generous alumni, dedicated staff, and talented and motivated young Tigers. New activities since the last Tower News was published include a holiday show in which all groups — band, orchestra and choir —performed; a live show (recorded and re-aired on Star 64) shot at Washington Park with Music Hall in the background and Withrow as a featured choir; and, standalone performances of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (a radio drama) and A Christmas Carol, acted, produced, and directed by the drama department headed by teacher Diane Roland with technical assistance from alumnus Zachery Riggins ’72 and his stage crew of 11. Spring activities include a spring concert (again featuring all music groups) and participation in the High School Shakespeare Festival, with Withrow students performing Hamlet.
Helping to keep the momentum going were a generous donation from Susan and Bill Schermer of timpani, bringing the total to four sets, and $50,000 worth of fire-resistant stage curtains and curtain materials from River City Scenic, a company that builds lighting and sets for cruise lines.
All music classes are now housed on the newly-renovated third-floor former study hall. Joining Ms. Roland and Mr. John Beasley, strings teacher, on the staff are two new teachers full of fresh energy and ideas.
Vocal Music and Choir
The day Zach Sutton decided to leave rural northwest Georgia for Cincinnati was a good day for Withrow. The new full-time music teacher/choir director has spent the first part of the year establishing routines and teaching students to read music and to “hold their own voice” so they are not all singing the same note. Everyday Zach teaches three classes of 7th grade general music and music theory, and two classes of choir. The ages of students in those two choirs range from 11 to 19. “A combined choir of 7th- through 12th-graders can be a challenge,” says Zach. “But the last few weeks have seen the choir come together as a family. The seniors have stepped up to mentor the younger students. This has been a good leadership opportunity for them, and it’s good for the younger students to see what’s ahead for them.”
One of the lessons Zach strives to impart to his students is that they can be whoever they choose to be. It looks as though many young singers have chosen to improve their craft. Twenty-two seventh graders have already signed up for choir next year. There will be a junior high choir of at least 40 members, and a separate senior high choir of at least 30. All will have a year of group singing experience under their belts.
Zach’s plans include taking the choirs to competitions sponsored by the Ohio Music Educators Association (OMEA). At these adjudicated events, students receive valuable feedback and direction. He sees the potential for students to participate in an honor choir on district and even state levels. He plans to take the choirs to Kings Island in the spring for a multidistrict Festival of Music. All these valuable experiences come at a price: for example, it costs approximately $375 per student to cover hotels and meals at the state level. He’d also like to be able to buy T-shirts, stickers, and awards, which will help grow student interest in the program.
New band director Brandon Carter appreciated the warm welcome he received when he joined the staff after earning his degree in music education from Xavier University. But he needed no introduction to Withrow and no introduction to what it takes to build a band from the ground up. He was a member of the reemerging Dater/West High band and helped with band programs during his student teaching. “The previous director set us up well,” he says. “My plan now is to keep establishing roots with the concert band because that is the basis for all the rest. Everybody needs the same foundation before they move on to jazz or marching band.”
The entire band program in 2022-23 comprises 70 students—a senior high band and two beginning bands. Brandon hopes to have an intermediate band next year. Some successes that he and his students have experienced this year include having the band and orchestra perform the alma mater along with the the choir. Three band students were nominated to perform this year with the Xavier University honor band. Unfortunately, two students became ill, so only one was able to finish — and perform with the best high school players in the city.
Like private lessons offered to the strings players through the Carlson-Berne Scholarship Fund, private lessons, paid for by Withrow alumni, are offered to students learning woodwind, brass, and percussion instruments. Brandon says this is especially important for certain instruments — the oboe, for example— that are more difficult to learn. Withrow’s oboe player receives extra private instruction to get her to performance level.
Continuity is one of Brandon’s goals; he’s anticipating progress next year. This year there were only three seniors in the band. All the 7th through 10th graders who participated will return. Challenges he faces include those of a physical nature. All the instruments are on the third floor; percussion instruments, stand racks, and chairs can’t fit into the elevators. “More hands aren’t necessarily better,” Brandon says. “There’s a certain way to move a piano that doesn’t depend on the number of people available to help.” Ideally, there would be safe storage in the tunnel and enough equipment to have a class set on the third floor where the classrooms are as well as a set stored in the tunnel.
Brandon’s primary goal is to grow a marching band by increasing the number of players in the concert band.
“We start with a drumline and then add a significant element each year. I am well aware of Withrow’s music tradition, and I look forward to continuing that tradition. The seeds have been planted.”
Alumnus Zachery Riggins ’72, the force behind the renaissance of fine arts at Withrow, concurs. “Things are moving in the right direction. Progress is slow, but that’s alright as long as we keep moving.”
- storage space
- acoustical paneling and carpet
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