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January 24, 2023

By Tom Christensen, Angela Dixon, Emma Johnson, Blake Rowe, and Amy Travis

At the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, winter is an especially magical season. One of the most festive ways our students celebrate the holidays is by sharing the gift of music. A stroll down the halls in any of our four divisions in December and January will be peppered with the sounds of students singing and playing instruments and our music teachers excitedly planning for the widely anticipated Winter Concert Series. 

We spoke to the music teachers involved in each assembly, concert, and celebration to hear more about what made this year’s performances particularly special. 

Ethical Culture

This year’s Holiday Assembly — which is the first where the entire community was invited to join since before the COVID–19 pandemic — was planned by music teachers Amy Travis and Angela Dixon, but several members of faculty and staff helped out. Principal Rob Cousins worked with the 5th Graders on their speeches for the candle lighting; the performances were accompanied by the fantastic work of pianist Woody Regan. There was even a special guest kora player, Yacouba Sissoko — a featured artist for the Carnegie Hall Music Explorers program — who joined Angela’s 2nd Graders on the piece he arranged called “Wawano,” a traditional Malian song about lasting friendship, sung in the national language, Bambara.

Ethical Culture Music Teacher Amy Travis reflected on what it was like to prepare for the annual Holiday Assembly during her first year with the School: 

“The Holiday Assembly is truly a celebration of the entire school. One of my favorite things about this year’s Assembly were the community songs. In brainstorming for the event, Angela and I talked about how much the students love ‘The 12 Days of Christmas,’ partially because the 5th Graders have their shining “five golden rings” moment, but even more so because this and the Ethical Culture School Song are the only two songs where the community got a chance to sing together. With that in mind, we collaborated to choose additional songs to sing together as a School. In reflecting on the Assembly once we returned from Winter Recess, I was surprised how many students cited those songs as their favorites because they loved how it felt and sounded like singing together. Even before the Holiday Assembly took place, student Sabrina S. ’31 shared, ‘I am most looking forward to ‘Draw the Circle Wide’ because it gives us a sense of community,’ which is exactly what the Assembly is all about: celebrating the School community. The students all worked so hard and performed so beautifully. We couldn’t have been more proud of them.”

Dixon added, “another highlight for me in preparing for the Holiday Assembly was working with Amy. She’s a true collaborator and a wonderful music teacher. Each part of the process, from figuring out the logistics and details of the assembly to rehearsing the community songs, felt like we were a team. My students especially loved practicing one of our community songs with the big kids and Amy.”  

Fieldston Lower 

Fieldston Lower celebrated the return of their Winter Assembly, which was also put on hold for two years in response to the COVID–19 pandemic. Entering the lower gym, students, faculty, and staff anxiously waited for their turn on the risers. Music Teachers Blake Rowe and Bárbara Martinez shared encouraging words with their student performers, who smiled from ear to ear in excitement. 

Rowe shared a bit more about the Fieldston Lower musical program this year: 

“Pre-K and Kindergarten sang ‘Colorful Mittens,’ which required them to remember six colors in sequence and the words that rhymed. 1st Grade did a very robust version of ‘Winter Fun,’ expressing their excitement for the great outdoors, while the 2nd Grade sang about playing outside with ‘Snowtime Fantasy.’ Breaking from the winter theme, 3rd Grade sang ‘Give a Little Love’ by Dianne Warren, and the 4th Grade took us back again with ‘Mr. Frosty Winter.’ 5th Graders warmed the hearth with ‘Revel, My Friends’ by Nancy Silber and Tony Soll.”

“The Faculty Chorus was in the house as well, singing a beautiful song by Audrey Snyder entitled ‘One Little Candle.’ The assembly was rounded out by the whole community singing ‘Doce Uvas,’ celebrating the tradition of eating twelve grapes at midnight on New Year’s Eve, ‘Diamonds in the Night’ by Teresa Jennings, and the Fieldston Lower School Song by Colleen Garnevicus. It was a joy to see every grade singing for the School! Singing in a close group feels very new after the past few years. Our assemblies bring us together in the community, so it feels extra special when we can celebrate each other this way.” 

Fieldston Middle and Fieldston Upper

Each year, Fieldston Middle and Fieldston Upper students perform fabulous winter concerts in several disciplines, including chorus, percussion, strings, band, and jazz band. The Music Department, including Department Chair Tom Christensen, Middle School Band Director Eric Gilley, Scott Latzky, Kathleen Hayes, Russell Currie, Gizem Yucel, Johnathan Lowery, Ena Shin, and of course, the wonderful student performers, spend much of the fall preparing to share their musical talents with the ECFS community.

For Fieldston Middle students, this year’s performances varied, from a 6th Grade beginners band performance of “Beethoven’s 9th Symphony” and a 7th Grade rendition of the “Star Wars theme,” to the 8th Grade wind ensemble playing the “Legend of Alhambra” and the Middle School chorus’s presentation of “A Million Dreams,” each piece heartwarming and showcased our talented students.

Christensen explained, “I was super proud of the students and my fellow music faculty for putting together five fantastic concerts, two Fieldston Middle assemblies, and one Fieldston Upper assembly this winter. The students played really well, and it feels like we are back in full swing this year!”

Please click the video link below to view a recording of the Fieldston Upper Holiday assembly.

According to Fieldston Upper Principal Stacey Bobo, “the Winter Concert Series was a delightful demonstration of musical talent. They were all outstanding! The selections were complex and upbeat, bringing a wonderful ending to the day. Congratulations to all the students for their hard work and dedication. I am in awe of your talent!”