String musicians play at the Large Ensembles concert

The sound of music has echoed down the hallways at SMUS for decades now, but the last couple weeks have taken it to a new level across the Junior, Middle, and Senior Schools. The benefit of music education in the school curriculum has been long established as well; it improves and develops language skills in children, is a vehicle for building memory, provides a creative outlet to relieve stress, and allows students to build self esteem and confidence in their own work, and working with others. From choir to strings, band, pit orchestra, musical theatre and more, SMUS students have been able to share their hard work and musical talents with the community this winter, similarly enriching the lives of those around them.

Middle School students kicked off the season with a strings concert at the end of 2023, where they explored the bounds of creativity in music as students played contemporary pop music on classical instruments, and utilized their strings to create sound effects like slides and tremolos in other works. Amidst many holiday concerts, Senior School students followed soon after, with the Piano Club’s recital filled with passionate melodies. The Club makes the most of the many music rooms in Schaffter Hall, where Senior School students have the opportunity to practice on a number of beautifully crafted instruments, in both private and large-scale rehearsal rooms.

165 students on stage, ready to perform Danzon No. 2

More recently, the Senior School Large Ensembles Concert showcased 165 choir, band, and strings students. The performance was inspired by last year’s spring break music trip to Cuba, where students were immersed in the interlaced musical culture of the region, and how art imitates life (and vice versa). Band director Ian Farish noted that typically, there are separate programs for Juniors (Grades 9-10) and Seniors (Grades 11-12), but “this year, our 9s have proved to be a very capable and motivated set of musicians, ready for the challenge of Senior repertoire, hence a combined program.” The concert pushed students “to new heights in their technical playing as well as musical awareness”, and the titular piece, Danzón No. 2, featured 110 string and band students playing on stage at one time.

Students’ dedication to playing an instrument goes beyond learning the notes for the piece; how you play is equally—if not even more—important. “My main goal behind the repertoire has been to teach students how to become expressive players who successfully communicate to an audience. As Beethoven once said “to play a wrong note is insignificant; to play without passion is inexcusable,” says orchestra director Guillén Fàbregas. 

The full cast of Something Rotten! singing their hearts out

Passion and expression are important aspects of communication outside of music, too. Choir director Christina Banman shares, “Our voices are deeply intertwined with our identity, making the act of learning to sing a vulnerable yet transformative experience. When singers learn to use their voices effectively in choir, they are also learning to use their voices effectively in the world.” Being able to understand and practice those aspects of performance and communication in an environment like choir, and the large concert events like this, gives students a leg up in honing those skills. With the Senior School musical, Something Rotten!, performing this weekend (February 29 - March 2), students are further able to explore identity, passion, and intention in music by simultaneously pairing it with acting and dancing.

These skills, and the ability to play cohesively as part of a group, do not start forming in high school, of course—the foundations are first developed and built upon in the Junior School at the elementary level. “As they learn to hone technical skills in Strings class, they also learn to listen to one another, practicing staying in time and working on tuning. Each stroke of the bow must match the ones around them and if they become off, they must quickly get back on,” Duncan Frater, music teacher at the Junior and Middle Schools, explains. Students were given the opportunity to demonstrate their cohesion at the Junior School Strings and Choral Concert at the end of February. “The second part of the concert had the students singing difficult music. Each piece had at least two-part harmony and, once again, they were required to listen and focus intently on the conductor.” Practice enhances bodily awareness and memory skills to create an end product that they can then feel confident about. “The students should feel proud of their work on stage.”

Junior School students singing on stage

Creating a home for music at SMUS is integral to the success of students across all grade levels, as it provides opportunities for students to build skills that will serve them for a lifetime. That home is physically built by utilizing purpose-built spaces on campus like Schaffter Hall at the Senior School and the music room in the Trottier-Morgan Annex at the Junior School, in the community at UVic’s Farquhar Auditorium and the McPherson Playhouse in downtown Victoria, and abroad by facilitating music-driven international trips to countries like Cuba. These opportunities would not be possible, or as effective and fruitful, without having passionate teachers like Mr. Frater, Ms. Guillén, Mr. Farish, Ms. Banman, Mr. Smith, Mr. McLeod, and many more who create an environment that allows creativity and passion to thrive. They understand the intricate layers of music in its many forms, and their ability to pass that deep understanding onto youth and provide our community with concerts, performances, and musicals this winter enriches the educational experience of students in and out of the classroom.