Performing Arts Thrive at Northwood

This is the second in a series of articles to explore the arts at Northwood. Here we look at music and performing arts, while the previous story features visual arts.

The student and faculty talent showcase held on April 25th represented a variety of interests of the Northwood community from singing and dancing to stand-up comedy and improvisational theater. Fourteen acts, consisting of students and teachers, captivated the packed auditorium crowd. Event organizers hope that the talent showcase is a successful start to a series of annual performing arts shows.

“Ms. Sanford and I initially wanted to organize [the showcase] for students who weren’t in music classes,” commented Mr. Michael Portal, a music teacher at Northwood. “But then we also figured that it would be nice to add some variety to our band and guitar classes. I think that this event was a great opportunity for those who performed and for the audience as well,” said Portal. “Everyone seemed to enjoy the acts.”

Owen Pierce ‘21 played the violin in the talent show as a part of the band class. “I used to play the violin in an orchestra back when I lived in Baltimore,” said Pierce. “I’ve been in county showcases before, and the student talent showcase at Northwood was a very unique experience for me. [The performance] was on a much smaller scale than what I am used to, but at the same time, I did feel kind of uncomfortable because I’ve always played my violin with other people in the orchestra,” he said. “Overall, it was really fun, and I can’t wait to experiment with more songs and play them in front of people,” said Pierce.

Northwood tends to have a competitive culture, and the talent showcase featured prizes for the top acts. “Northwood kids tend to be competitive, and it was great to see how they competed against each other in arts,” said Ms. Noël Carmichael, the Ninth Grade Class Dean who also helped organize the event. “Next year, the art department is looking forward to expanding the talent showcase to also incorporate visual arts so that it can be more of a mixed media presentation rather than just music,” added Carmichael.

At Northwood, students develop their abilities to communicate their artistic visions not only through performances open to all levels, such as the Northwood Cafe open-mic events and the talent showcase but also through daily practices. The school offers a total of five music classes — Band, Guitar, Advanced Guitar, Music Recording, and Vocal Performance — and students are welcome to tap into the knowledge and skills of the Northwood performing arts faculty to learn new instruments, create their own music, sing, and so on. The courses explore various musical techniques, including classical and contemporary repertoires, and teach students to apply them to different genres like jazz, soul, rock, and pop.

Northwood School requires students to three trimesters (or one full year) of art, but many choose to take many more than the minimum graduation requirement.

Many students learn to play the guitar for the first time in Mr. Portal’s guitar classes. “Growing up, I’d always jump around and play the air guitar, even when I was raking leaves in my backyard,” said Mr. Portal. “I think that it’s great how my passion for playing the guitar influences my students,” he said. “Learning to play the guitar can be physically hard in the beginning, but it’s one of those instruments that are easily accessible. For a beginner, guitars are a great starting point because once you know a few chords, you start picking up really quickly,” he added.

“What I like most about guitar classes here is that I can learn to play the songs I like,” said sophomore Courtney Fairchild. “The first time I took Guitar in my freshman year, Mr. Portal taught me how to play ‘Seven Nation Army’ and ‘Simple Man,’” she recalled. “I instantly fell in love with the guitar. Starting from guitar classes, I’ve challenged myself to take Music Recording, and now, I’m taking Band,” Fairchild added. “In Music Recording, I had no idea what I was doing, but I managed to make a pretty good heavy metal song. Band classes give me a break from academics. Also, my band is just a pretty fun group,” added Fairchild.

Zach Zientko ‘21 currently plays the bass in Band. “In band class, there is more variety in what we can do,” said Zientko. “We can have a lot more fun because we can choose what songs we want to play as a group. You wouldn’t really expect a traditional instrument, like Owen’s violin, to go well with a band of electric guitars and a drum, but we were surprised to find out that they make a shockingly good mix,” Zientko added.

In recent years, students have been permitted to use the co-curricular time each day, once reserved exclusively for athletics, to pursue other interests, like art, music, robotics and community service.

“I think that co-curricular music is a good place to start if you don’t really know what instrument you’re interested in playing yet,” said junior Isaac Newcomb. “I did it last year, and I liked how I was able to make music individually, at my own pace.” Twice this year Newcomb has successfully performed the music he has composed: in the Winter Carnival talent show and the Northwood talent showcase. Each of Newcomb’s performances received a fervent response from the audience. “The most important thing when making music is being able to gain comfort and confidence,” said Newcomb.

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This year, the Northwood community has also collaborated in producing theatrical productions. What is Love? was directed by Ms. Carmichael and included 21 students who participated in the co-curricular drama offering that culminated in the performance following the Valentine’s Day formal dinner. Carmichael and her students put together numerous acts, ranging from spoken word to dancing, all under the theme of love. “I was really pleasantly surprised by the number and variety of people who wanted to participate in our show this year. We had students doing backstage work as well,” commented Carmichael. “Next year, we are going to have two shows — one in the fall, which will probably be a small-cast musical, and one in the spring. We will be having auditions for the fall show the week after LEAP so that during the summer, the cast can memorize their lines and practice for the performance that will be held two months after school starts. One of the main reasons I’ve decided to have another show early is because I want people who are dedicated to their winter sports to have a chance in participating in school theater,” she said.

Carmichael is excited about a new course offering next school year. “Approaches in Acting is a new one-trimester elective course next year. For those who are interested in taking the course for an entire year, I am willing to make it progressively intense,” Carmichael said. “I encourage students who don’t necessarily think of themselves as ‘theater’ kids to join because we will not only learn about the history and techniques of acting but also how to gain self-confidence and project our voices when we are on stage,” she added.

In the coming days and weeks, students will be making course selections for next year. Art teachers and student artists encourage students to add art classes to their schedules, even if they’ve met the minimum requirement. Art courses available to students next year include:

  • Fundamentals of Art
  • Drawing (and Advanced Drawing)
  • Painting (and Advanced Painting)
  • Print Making
  • Ceramics
  • Raku (Advanced Ceramics)
  • Sculpture
  • Digital Imaging (Photography)
  • Advanced Studio Art (Honors)
  • Innovation with Design Thinking
  • Approaches in Acting
  • Band (and Advanced Band)
  • Guitar (and Advanced Guitar)
  • Vocal Performance
  • Music Recording


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