The IHS Music Department is beginning the school year with new faces and a dramatic change in class structure.
William Makin was hired as the new Orchestra director to fill the vacancy left by Samantha Hecht, who departed at the end of the last academic year. Makin, who led the music program at a preparatory school in Phoenix, Arizona, before coming to IHS, is enthusiastic and excited to take on his new role. “I am very impressed by the caliber of musicians that are here. The students seem dedicated and hardworking. The facilities are very nice, so the students here are very fortunate—and so am I,” he said. “The number-one goal of mine is to help the program grow, become successful; so that involves a lot of recruiting.”
Makin emphasized that he wanted to facilitate a smooth transition between conductors and that instead of putting his own spin on things right away, he would focus on making sure everyone feels comfortable.
The idea of a transition is especially relevant because of the section split just implemented this year, a momentous change that stirred plenty of discussion as the 2015–16 school year wound down. Concert Band, Orchestra, and Choir, all formerly limited to a single section, have added new ensembles: Wind Ensemble, Chamber Orchestra, and Chorale, respectively. As audition-based groups, these new sections allow for more manageable practice and better catering to different skill levels, all while making high enrollment a positive rather than negative factor.
“People can hear themselves; I can hear each person,” said Nicki Zawel, IHS’s longtime Band director. “I can address more individual concerns, not only as they pertain to each human being, but each specific instrument, of which there are a dozen or more in each ensemble, each with their very own specific idiosyncratic technique issues.” Zawel noted that the split Band had only practiced for two weeks at the time of writing, but was still confident in assessing the impact of the change as “incredibly positive.” “It’s a change we’ve been working towards for three or four years, and the benefits are just going to be fantastic in terms of the music education that each student receives… any concert we put on is going to be at a much higher level,” she said. Makin also brought up that the section split allows students to perform more difficult works as class repertoire. “The Chamber Orchestra is working on a piece right now that’s by John Williams called Air and Simple Gifts, which is about as hard of a string orchestra piece as possible, so it’s a special-order piece of music,” he said.
Although some returning students were initially wary of the split, most have adjusted to the new environment and agree that many more possibilities and better pedagogy is being offered. “The split orchestra really helped to make a more unified and focused group of players,” said Jeong Hyun Lee ’17, the concertmaster of Chamber Orchestra.
To accommodate soaring total enrollment in band—50 students in Wind Ensemble and 70 in Concert Band—ICSD hired Kelsey Boyce to help out on Fridays. According to Zawel, this change allows students to continue attending their sectionals while only missing each of their other classes once per marking period. Boyce will teach at Northeast Elementary School in addition to her role at IHS.
For more details on the reasoning behind the section split, read “Music Dept. Eyes Drastic Changes” by John Yoon ’16 in the May 2016 Issue at ihstattler.com.