Letter to Prospective Music Students

From Music / Dance Department Head Cathy Block

Solebury is a school that is accustomed to breaking new ground. Perhaps nowhere is that more apparent than our music program.

Solebury School's music program is current, it is innovative, and perhaps most of all, it is unique. Much of this is because it is inhabited by a faculty of working music professionals with real-world experience in the music industry and performance arena. They bring their contacts, expertise, and experiences into the classroom, as well as creating inventive classes that offer unusual opportunities for students. When you have teachers who have written songs for icons like Diana Ross, or worked with legends such as Leonard Bernstein and Mislav Rostropovich, much is possible.

Additionally, we have several performance ensembles. In the spring, the music department has a contest for student bands, duos, etc -- one or two groups go to Morningstar Recording Studio and record a demo, working with Grammy-winning engineer Glenn Barrett. Other students are invited to come along for the trip for the experience. This event happens during Arts Festival, a week devoted to the arts, where many workshops and events are available to all students.

Our courses are always evolving, as we often respond to the needs and desires expressed by the current student body. The fact is, you’d have to be in college to find many of the music courses that we offer at Solebury. And even colleges may not offer them, as they are wholly unique and created by Solebury teachers. Here is just a sampling of what we offer throughout the year (some of these classes may rotate from year to year):


Studio Music Production
This class teaches the basics of computer music production, from concept and pre-production through production and mixing. We will use software to create hip-hop and electronic beats utilizing both sample-based production techniques and original ideas. We will take our best ideas and turn them into songs, recording vocals and live instruments on top of them. As we traverse the broad genres of both hip-hop and electronic music, we'll discuss where they started, what they meant, and where they intersect. Although different on the surface culturally, they draw from the same pool of inspiration, sounds, and technology. In short: We will be producing beats, writing songs, and recording vocals.

Indie Music and How It Is Re-Shaping the Music World
In this class, we take a deep dive into where the music industry was, how it originated and operated, and where it has landed. This class is all about how the current recording and touring artist shapes and creates a career. One of the things we do in this class is Skype with many of the artists we cover. Some of the past artists we have Skyped with include The Districts (as well as a Skype session with their manager), JukeBox The Ghost, Good Old War, producer/ film composer Dan Romer (Ingrid Michaelson, and music for Beast Of The Southern Wild), and WXPN radio hosts. We've also had in-class visits and discussions with artists such as Ground Up's Alexander Charles Azar. We take questions right to the source with an insider's look into the industry.

Scoring for Big and Small Band
Students learn about voicing for horns, woodwinds, and writing for rhythm section. It is an advanced course that you would find at the music college level. At the end of the trimester, students have their arrangements played.

Jazz Theory and Composition
A follow-up to the scoring class, it delves deeper into the compositional aspects of music.

Scoring for Film and Video
Students will use and become familiar with Pro Tools software. They score a commercial, voice overs, and a video. Both of these are produced in the Digital Filmmaking Class.

Music of the 1960s
This class is all about how the music from this seminal decade changed the world and shaped the future. It is an in-depth look at the music, artists, and people who were the intellectual movers of the time. The class has often enjoyed hearing from Solebury teacher Chris Langhart, who was the technical director of the original Woodstock Festival in 1969.

American Song Roots
This is a class that explores how various cultures have influenced American song. Students explore how their own cultures have played significant roles in the shaping of what we think of as "American" music. This is done by drawing from students' own life experiences and that of their ancestors through story telling, culture sharing and song. They engage history through a diversity of lenses and are reminded of their relevance to the American story.

The Black American Singer In You
Through a musical lens, this is a class about the ancestors who live in each of us and how they have impacted the particular way we exist in the world, and yes, how we use our voices. It's a class about Black history, as it is deeply rooted and even synonymous with American history at large. It's about the history of all people who migrated to the Americas and, of course, those who were already here. Who were your ancestors, pre-USA? Student activities include, but are not limited to: songs, culture sharing, shared storytelling, discussions, documentaries, games. etc.

A Capella Class
This class covers the basics of singing without instrumental accompaniment across different musical styles, i.e. Classical, African Folk, Doo-wop, Spirituals, Pop and more. Students learn the joy of building vocal harmonies while maintaining the rhythmic dance that characterizes a given style. It's a class designed for experienced singers, and preference is given to those who have completed at least one year of chorus. Others are admitted by audition.

Greatest Bands of All Time
This is a fun, in-depth look into the most influential bands, ever. We look at who were the first, and who might it be now, and why, from Buddy Holly and The Crickets, to Sly and The Family Stone to Nirvana, let the debates begin!

Music Production
Students work in the recording facility at Solebury, learning about production with an emphasis on electronic music.

Gamelan
Solebury School is one of only a few high schools in the country to have this Indonesian instrument, which originated over 1000 years ago. Gamelan is a combination of percussion instruments, and is thought to be the first orchestral ensemble. No prior music experience or training is required for this class, giving everyone an opportunity to create music whether they come from a music background, or not. The student experiences the joy of making music as part of a larger ensemble, all the while learning about this ancient instrument, and the culture from where it originated, as well as it's spiritual meaning and intent. During the last part of the trimester, students work together and create an original Gamelan piece.

Many things make Solebury a unique educational experience, and the Solebury music program is certainly one of them.