The SDJA music program gives a new spin on old school programming, and introduces students to new views on the art form
By Ron Gneezy (‘21)
The Advanced Music class, spearheaded by Rabbi Frank and Mr. Collins, with help from Mr. Kahn, performs arrangements of classic Jewish songs at Kabbalat Shabbat. Photo by Rosie Alchalel (’21)
Since the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, the music program — especially the Advanced Music class — has grown both its presence on campus and its influence on the student body vastly. It’s practically a different entity compared to itself in previous years.
One big change is the rejuvenated presence of singers in the Advanced Music class. When asked about her history with the class, Sivan Gabai (‘23) stated, “I started Advanced Music this year,” and the story is the same for every singer.
With a constantly changing student body, bringing in new students is important for making sure the music program thrives. Mr. Collins has been teaching for, by his own account, “around fifteen years,” so he’s seen much of the program’s evolution.
Some students currently in the program have been participants since well before they entered high school, such as accomplished trumpeter Charles Simons (‘21), who, “started actually… playing the trumpet in 5th grade.” No matter when they joined the program, though, the goal for Mr. Collins remains the same: to make sure that, “as [the students’] musical ability gets better and they get more comfortable playing with other people, that they’re able to communicate through the music,” adding that, “improvisation is really the ultimate goal.”
Many students have greatly appreciated this direction of teaching, such as Devin Marcus (‘21), who says that, compared to when he was playing mostly by himself, “knowing that the other instruments are there to accompany me and what I can do is really fun, and I enjoy playing with them because they can also teach you a lot more about how to work in a group.”
The biggest change for the music program this year, though, is the integration of the Advanced Music class into the brand new Kabbalat Shabbat programming. The weekly repetition of these performances has played into their evolution, with Sivan Gabai saying that, “singing in front of the entire group at Kabbalat Shabbat has just become, y’know, more like a routine, so not necessarily as big as a performance.” This is key for that comfort in playing that Mr. Collins is seeking.
In addition to furthering Mr. Collins’ goal of teaching students the valuable skill of improvisation, the Kabbalat Shabbat involvement is a massive part of Rabbi Frank’s ultimate plan for the Friday programming. The Rabbi’s goal since day one has been, “to get kids up on the stage with us, not only playing music, but ultimately my vision is that all of the staff are gonna be very far in the background. The kids are gonna be taking ownership for introducing the various Brachot, candle lighting, Mi Shebeirach, and so forth, and giving Drashot instead of me.” The musicians’ involvement is just the first part of this.
Everywhere on campus, the impact of the music program is increasing at a breakneck pace. As more students get involved in events and performances around the school — from showcase night to open mics — the general capability increases, with members from the seasoned students to the fresh blood learning nonstop. Hopefully, this trend continues for years to come.