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Buffalo High School

Michael Walsh

The Buffalo High School Vocal Music Program is filled with a diversity of experiences and has a focus on striving for excellence. Its nearly 250 students participate in one of three major choral ensembles: Freshman Choir, Varsity Choir or Concert Choir. Each choir then has a select ensemble which meets during an activity period or in extracurricular time on a weekly basis: Freshman Singers, Varsity Singers, Treble Singers or BHS Singers. All choral groups participate in a wide variety of performance experiences. These experiences are at the heart of a program which emphasizes the development of musical skills and knowledge to achieve the highest level of performance possible. Performances include:

  • A fall major work concert for the Concert Choir (performances have included the Schubert Mass in G, Vivaldi Gloria, Rutter Requiem, Mozart Vesperae Solennes, and Clausen A New Creation).
  • A biennial program entitled “A Sixteenth Century Christmas” (a madrigal dinner but only serving wassail and dessert) featuring BHS Singers & Treble Singers.
  • A combined holiday concert with the BHS Concert Choir, Buffalo Community Orchestra, Wright County Chamber Chorus and the wRight Ringers Handbell Ensemble.
  • Two performances of our annual “Sounds of the Season” concert (approx. 1200 in attendance).
  • An annual musical (alternating fall or spring).
  • An annual Variety Show involving students school-wide which raises money for music student scholarships.
  • Participation at Large Group Contest for Concert and Varsity Choirs.
  • A World Music Concert in March.
  • Approximately 70 solo & ensemble entries with a Solo & Ensemble Awards Night featuring the top performances.
  • A program entitled “Night Out for Music” – an evening of jazz with BHS Singers and Treble Singers, as well as Jazz Ensemble I and Chamber Strings I which raises over $12,000 annually.
  • A biennial trip with all of the Concert groups together (Choir, Band & Orchestra)
  • A Broadway music revue in collaboration with Buffalo Community Theater which raises funds for a college scholarship and All-State camp scholarships.
  • A spring Choral Finale concert.
  • A senior Showcase Concert featuring all of the ensembles which include seniors with an awards ceremony at which all of the seniors receive a plaque in recognition of their commitment to music.

The success of the vocal music program at Buffalo High School is the result of many interwoven threads. It is through the combination of all of these strengths that the BHS vocal music program has been able to thrive.

1. An excellent middle school program.

Over my 32 years in the Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose school district, it has been exciting to see the growth and continually improving quality in the vocal music program at Buffalo Community Middle School. Dawn Agre and Jeana Menzemer are both dedicated and outstanding teachers who instill a love of singing and a desire to learn about music that results in a high level of participation and enthusiasm.

2. A supportive and enthusiastic administration.

Over the years, we have had numerous administrative decisions that have impacted the music program in general and the choral program specifically in a very positive way, from establishing a schedule that provides the necessary time to develop excellence, to supporting the inclusion of private music lessons at the high school. On a daily basis, our Activities Administration is dedicated to giving the same weight and importance to music activities and events as it does to all other activities and sports.

3. A schedule that allows for student choice and growth.

Buffalo High School has had great success making the block schedule work for the arts. We have a four-period day with 80-minute blocks. Our Freshman groups meet on an alternate day schedule for a full block for the full year, the Varsity Choir meets for 3/4 of the year for a full block and the Concert Choir meets for a full year for the full block. This results in enough time in the schedule to work in depth on teaching music theory, music appreciation, sight singing, as well as regular sectional rehearsals. However, what is most remarkable is that the administration recognizes that schedule only works if the students are able to fit music in their schedule so there has been a true effort to minimize the number of requirements and the length of AP and CIS classes to allow for that. Approximately 15% of students are in both vocal and instrumental music with their time split between the two.

4. A department that works together to make all parts successful.

As you may have gathered from the number of department-wide events, BHS benefits from having a highly collaborative staff. Two of our instrumental directors, Michael Knutson and Scott Rabehl, come in to teach music theory and appreciation to my choirs so that I can use a portion of our block schedule for group lesson and sectional rehearsals. We team teach AP Music Theory and Classical Music History classes during our prep-period to provide these courses to the handful of students going on to major in music in college. We have one of the longest standing Tri-M Music Honor Society chapters in the state which sponsors an annual Variety Show, as well as a Broadway musical revue to raise scholarship funds for music students’ lessons, summer camps, and even college tuition. Our staff also includes Jill Starr, a para-professional, who manages our lessons program, fundraising activities, performance attire and day-to-day issues like attendance, as well as accompanying for all of the choirs.

5. A community which supports the arts.

Buffalo has a long tradition of support for the arts and is home to a number of organizations that demonstrate that support: Buffalo Community Orchestra, Buffalo Community Theater, Buffalo Art Guild, Wright County Chamber Chorus, and wRight Ringers Handbell Ensemble. This support is demonstrated by high attendance at concerts, the financial support of community individuals and organizations (Rotary, Lions) and the building of quality facilities for music performance such as our BHS Performing Arts Center and the Sturges Park Bandshell.

6. Unique opportunities for individual growth.

Music students at Buffalo High School have the opportunity to take private and semi-private lessons during the school day. This is a program through our Community Education Program but is tailor-made for our music department so that students are able to schedule private lessons on a weekly basis. Additionally, we have voice teachers in the community allowing students to be matched to a teacher to whom they are suited. Scholarships are available to help students who need assistance. Our facility allows for a high level of solo & ensemble work with 13 practice rooms in addition to our three main rehearsal rooms. It is not unusual for all of these spaces to be filled before and after school, as well as during class times and our end of the day 20-minute flexible period called AAA (Academics, Activities, Arts).

7. A variety of repertoire and experiences.

I have always held as a central philosophy that high school music programs should provide a wide variety of musical experiences for students, as you never know what music or experience will really fire a student’s interest. To that end, all of the select ensembles at BHS perform a wide variety of literature from vocal jazz to chamber choir. Students within all of the choirs sing everything from musical theater to major choral works to standard choral repertoire to newly commissioned works. This may mean that a student only sings one or two selections of any particular type of music in a given year, but they will have that opportunity each and every year and with that same breadth of styles included annually.

8. Throughout all, striving for excellence.

From the very first day in Freshman Choir, students are made aware that they are a part of something special. We tour our beautiful Performing Arts Center and talk about what a great place it is to make music. Students are brought into our music practice room space and encouraged to use the space regularly to prepare music for class or rehearse solo & ensemble literature. They are introduced to our entire music faculty so the students understand they are part of a collaborative effort to develop their musical knowledge and skills. As students continue in the vocal music program they are encouraged to take advantage of the many opportunities available to them including in-school lessons, auditioning for state honor choirs, participating in our own Buffalo “In-house” Solo & Ensemble Contest, becoming a Tri-M Music Honor Society member, auditioning for the annual musical or variety show, or caroling at local nursing homes and businesses. These many experiences are always created with the goal of bringing beautiful music experiences to performer and listener alike.

Also, ever present is the understanding that beautiful music making is based solidly on the development of musical skills and knowledge. Daily sight singing, lessons in vocal technique, ear-training and music theory are all an integral part of that development. This emphasis on musicianship has resulted in some true “mountain-top” experiences for Buffalo students like performances as a featured choir at choral festivals at Concordia College, St. Cloud State and Mankato State; at the 2012 Choral Arts Finale at Orchestra Hall and ACDA-MN Fall Convention at Bethel University, the 2014 Jazz Experience Day at the ACDA-NC convention, and at the 2011 and 2017 MMEA Mid-Winter Clinics.

 

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