Pictured from left to right are drama instructor Allison Lamb, orchestra director Ben Sposet, dance instructor Margaret Harman ’14, and band instructor Mae Weiss.
Most Middle School students enrolled in fine arts classes at Baylor will take their first curtain call, create their first watercolor, fine tune the rhythm of a new piece of music, perform a new piece of choreography, or find the right pitch in their first vocal ensemble; but all of these creative pursuits will begin with the basics.
“We start with the mechanics,” says Middle School drama instructor Allison Lamb. “Middle Schoolers crave structure and enjoy the fact that there is a rubric of sorts to follow when it comes to learning stage directions, where their bodies are placed on the stage, and the projection of their voices. Once we get that foundation down, we move on to character development.”
Similarly, Ben Sposet encourages Middle School orchestra students who are holding a bow and string instrument for the first time to take things one step at a time. “I let them know constantly that what they are doing is a challenge. When they get discouraged, I level with them and tell them that the music they are reading is like a foreign language, and it’s okay to struggle. Bringing it back to the basics is how we get everyone on the boat together.”
I have had students who come in and are incredible natural actors in the sixth grade, and some who were not at that level at all…if you don’t continue to build your skill level, soon the natural ability will be passed by the student who works harder.
While music students are deconstructing notes and rhythms, drama students are developing the emotional and physical attributes of their characters. “The emotional aspects are the ‘why and how’ of the characters’ lives. The students love that creative process of creating a character from the inside out, especially when they are all researching the same character. They get to share their ideas and backstories, and it's so much fun to see them agree and disagree with each other,” explains Lamb. “Creating a character physically is a harder concept for them initially. We talk a lot about the differences between the way they carry themselves as opposed to the way a character would carry themselves.”
“Students at this age grow so quickly in their musical skills and knowledge,” observes band instructor Mae Weiss. “It’s a joy to watch them progress from putting their instrument together for the first time to focusing on getting just the right tone color for a particular piece of music.” Weiss says she also enjoys challenging students and has created opportunities for the eighth grade students to “play up” with the Upper School Concert Band and Pep Band. “Music is one area where there is no upper limit; you can keep learning and growing for your entire life, and guiding them on that path is why I love teaching this age group.”
Not all students come into Middle School math or English classes with the same aptitude, and the same holds true in fine arts classes. Although Lamb says she may have a student who is naturally talented, she never compares the actors to one another and emphasizes skill development at individual levels. “I have had students who come in and are incredible natural actors in the sixth grade, and some who were not at that level at all – just like in playing a sport, an instrument, singing, dancing, practicing your painting, or sculpting or photography: if you don’t continue to build your skill level, soon the natural ability will be passed by the student who works harder. The awesome thing to see is when a student comes in who has a natural ability, who also possesses the drive and focus to continue to improve.”
(This story also appears in the online version of Baylor magazine. See the entire issue here.)