Faculty Spotlight: Music Department

Photo%3A+Homestead+High+School+Orchestra
Photo: Homestead High School Orchestra

Photo: Homestead High School Orchestra

Photo: Homestead High School Orchestra

Oliver Fisk, Staff Writer

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With each start to the school year, the Maggie Walker family becomes a little bit more extended, as the incoming freshman class adds their threads to the MLWGS tapestry. This year’s influx of newcomers extends beyond students and includes a revamped music department following the departures of highly regarded and respected music teachers: Mr. Von Klein and Mr. James. With a new teacher for each section of the performing arts, warm Green Dragon welcomes are in order for Mr. Merillat, Mrs. Graham, and Mrs. Sienkiewicz. Mr. Merillat will be taking the reins of the jazz band program, while Mrs. Graham and Mrs. Sienkiewicz will be heading the chorus and orchestra programs, respectively.

Though members of the incoming triumvirate have different specialties, each teacher brings with them a great deal of experience, knowledge, and character. Mrs. Graham previously taught at Midlothian High School for 35 years, while Mr. Merillat has spent a great deal of time studying and performing as a percussionist of all sorts- snare, concert percussion, and marimba to name a few. Mrs. Sienkiewicz carries a wealth of experience, as she has taught all ages- from the 3rd grade to the collegiate level.  The three also seem to share a similar mindset and belief regarding music classes here at Maggie Walker: that music is incredibly effective at serving as a mechanism to de-stress students, and that music classes are some of the most attractive to colleges. Mrs. Graham in particular believes that music is “more needed than ever” in the lives of students, as low-stress classes like choir provide a sort of “mindfulness retreat” for those enrolled. It’s fair to say that Mrs. Graham would love for more students to realize their potential; to her “there should be 50% [of the student body] enrolled in visual and performing arts.”

Her sentiment is echoed by Mr. Merillat, who says that it’s undeniably attractive to colleges when students “stick with a program for four years, [have] continuity, and show devotion.” In Mrs. Sienkiewicz’s experience,“ she can safely say 90% [of students who took orchestra for four years] at least, got into their choice schools, which have included Duke, Dartmouth, Stanford, Harvard, and UNC Chapel Hill.” Of course every student at Maggie Walker is required to take a fine arts credit, but perhaps too many err on the side of restraint with respect to continued involvement.

Chorus, Jazz Band, and Orchestra will all be making their debut this Friday at the annual Fall Fest, however don’t expect to see too much of Mr. Merillat on stage. For him, the night is “all about the kids,” so he’s hoping to say at the most a quick introductory line before taking his place at the back of the ensemble with the percussion. And it will indeed be the kids shining under the spotlight on Friday evening, as a combined band will play two songs: “Blue Flame” by Woody Herman, and “Jungle Boogie” by Kool and the Gang.” Each song will feature soloists, with Daniel Xue (‘20) and Keriann Slayton (‘21) taking center-stage on “Blue Flame,” while “Jungle Boogie” will have Lane Kelly and Varun Mandgi (both ‘21) flexing their improvisational muscles.

It must be said that Chorus’ performance will really embody the school’s international identity, as students will be singing in Swahili, Latin, and English. “O’ Sifuni Mungu” will be the first number of the night, a song that represents the marriage of African and Western cultures and languages, as it is half in Swahili and half in English. Next will be “Non Nobis,” in an arrangement that “gives a contemporary setting” to a piece usually sung in Latin, before Chorus concludes with the unifying anthem, “Stand Together.” Appropriately named indeed, as Mr. Merillat will be playing supplementary percussion alongside the chorus in the name of the message that “if we stand together we can make a difference.”

On Friday, prepare for a “polished performance” from the pair of orchestras. Though the Orchestra 1 and 2 classes will be performing separately, each group will be playing a piece by Mozart in pairing with a more popular tune. In the case of Orchestra 2, the group will be wrapping up their performance with a hit of beloved Richmond-area native, Jason Mraz. With regard to the classical music, both classes has been working hard to refine new, “advanced string techniques”, so keep your eyes and ears peeled to hear the musical fruits of the orchestra’s labor.

Every year Fall Fest is chock-full of incredible performances from the MLWGS student body, so here’s to a successful first performance for the band, choir, and orchestra programs. If you hear bells on Friday, it’s either orchestra, band, or most likely, the sound of the ringing in of a new era of Maggie Walker music.

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