BRIDGEWATER, NJ - Acknowledging that there are more than 1,000 students performing in the performing arts programs throughout the district, and 163 at the Bridgewater-Raritan High School alone, a few parents came forward at a recent board of education meeting to request that the district hire a resident staff pianist to accompany all the choirs.
“We would like to request a staff piano accompanist in all classes, rehearsals and auditions,” said parent Wen-Ling Hsu. “Having one would be a huge benefit to our students, and many other New Jersey school districts provide such a resource.”
In the high school alone, the program has a mixed choir, select women’s choir, symphonic choir, Ensembros, Lorelei Women’s Ensemble, Men’s Choir, Glee and the A Cappella Alliance.
And in the 2016–2017 school year alone, Hsu said, there were more than 20 performances, including the Men of Note competition, Choir Christmas Spectacular, Broadway Night, Roxbury Choir Festival and the Festival of the Arts. In addition, she said, there are regularly scheduled district performances, master classes and showcases.
But, Hsu said, the program only has one conductor, John Wilson, who also plays the piano at all events and in rehearsals.
“We are lucky he can play the piano,” she said.
Hsu noted that Wilson is a passionate teacher who works hard to get the very best out of his students and help them improve in every class.
But by hiring a pianist, Hsu said, Wilson would be able to keep his focus on the students, without having to focus on the piano too.
“I was surprised to find the conductor did not have an accompanist in the regular classes,” she said. “I am presenting this proposal from the entire choir community, students and parents. This is a thought we have had for two years.”
“We have enough demand for this, and I hope the board will consider this proposal,” she added.
A Gateshead Drive resident, whose daughter is in the choir program, said Wilson’s energy and enthusiasm fills the classroom, and he watches, observes and works with students to get them to their full potential. But there are obstacles, she said, when he has to play the piano as well.
The students are missing Wilson’s observations when he has to play the piano, she said, so they would benefit from having a pianist in the room.
Board of education vice president Melanie Thiesse said she also thinks it is a good idea.
“I can’t imagine any other group or sports team that serves as many students, and there’s only one adult,” she said. “And having an accompanist that could work district-wide, I think that’s a great idea.”
Thiesse said she did a little research, and there are other districts with a full time accompanist.
Board president Jill Gladstone said it is something the administration will look into for the future.