We cater to every student’s previous musical experience level, providing appropriate challenges and a personalized path to artistic growth.
In the Lower School, students develop their musical voice through singing, creating original songs, and exploring a diverse variety of instruments, genres, and cultures. Middle School students continue their musical journeys in music appreciation classes and have the opportunity to engage in performing ensemble electives. Upper School music offers dynamic and fulfilling performing ensembles, as well as opportunities for exploration in audio production and music composition.
At the lower school, music classes encourage children to find the musician within themselves. Students learn about beat, rhythm, and notation through clapping, tapping, and stepping. They are given opportunities to respond to changes in tempo, dynamics, pitch, and melodic themes through movement. Good vocal habits are developed through singing folk and composed songs, rounds, and singing games. Students learn from a variety of musical styles, including those from folk and ethnic cultures, as well as those composed of music from Western traditions. They sharpen their listening and analytical skills through creative movement and dance, illustration, written description, discussion, and dramatization.
Percussion instruments are used at all levels for accompaniment and for reinforcement of the concepts of beat and rhythm. All students learn to play the soprano recorder in Grade 4 and have the opportunity to choose the alto recorder or barred instruments in Grade 5. In ensemble experiences, students gain self-discipline, concentration, and appreciation for the process that carries them from first rehearsal to polished performance. Ensembles include chorus and orchestra for students in Grades 3 through 6. The young children also share songs in weekly and special assemblies.
At the middle school, general music in the 7th grade is a skill-building class that also develops prerequisite skills for 8th grade electives. Students work towards proficiency in musical notation by studying rhythmic values and using treble and bass clefs. These skills are reinforced by using percussion instruments and singing in class. Each class will perform at least once during the school year. Topics include basic music theory and musicianship skills, score reading, ear training, form and analysis, and basic compositional practices. In 8th grade, students may elect to participate in several performance ensembles. Students may elect to participate in several performance ensembles. These groups, Chorus, Chamber Music, Jazz Band, and the BB&N Players, give students the opportunity to use their talents outside of the classroom and perform at community events.
At the upper school, students are given the opportunity to learn the basics of producing layered musical audio tracks using Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software such as Soundtrap, Garageband, or Logic Pro. Students learn to create beats and backing tracks using both digital instruments and live audio capture with a microphone. The course focuses on gaining familiarity and practice with the concepts of song form, meter and rhythm, texture, equalization, and the use of digital effects. Students also develop critical listening skills by analyzing musical tracks from contemporary artists such as Michael Franti, Drake, and Rachel Platten. Having taken this course, a student may have the necessary skills to collaborate on sound design in future theatrical productions and/or student film projects.
At the middle school, the Chamber Music program gives students the opportunity to learn the art of ensemble playing. An elective offering for students with some experience in playing a musical instrument, the program tries to be flexible to accommodate students with a broad range of musical backgrounds. Acceptance into the class is based on ability, numbers of students, and instrumentation. Ensemble playing develops critical listening skills and fosters a deepened appreciation for problem solving through group interaction. The program also offers opportunities for performance, which helps students develop poise and confidence.
At the upper school, Chamber Music Ensembles of 2-8 students prepare repertoire for two formal concerts per year, with additional performance opportunities like assemblies, class meetings, or receptions. Practicing individual parts, score study, and active listening fill the necessary learning time outside of class. A Chamber Music Ensemble may choose to focus on music composition or music theory in addition to or in lieu of preparing for musical performances, based on student interest and scheduling. Examples of recent chamber music repertoire include a conductorless performance of Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto No. 4,” string quartets by Beethoven, Dvorak, Haydn, Mozart, Ravel, and Shostakovich, piano trios by Schubert and Smetana, wind ensemble pieces by Beach, Debussy, and Reicha, and a wide variety of repertoire, from Baroque to Modern.
At the upper school, vocal ensembles include the introductory 9th Grade Chorus, the close harmony a cappella groups – The Knightingales and the Voices of the Knight, and the upper level, 45-member Chorale. BB&N singing groups perform two major concerts a year in the acoustically resonant Grace Episcopal Church, Newton and at local festivals, school admissions, and alumni functions. Over the past 20 years, the BB&N Chorale has embarked upon seven International tours, performing in cathedrals, schools, town squares, and festivals across Europe- in countries such as Italy, Slovenia, England, Spain, Austria, Hungary, Sweden, and Iceland. Repertoire spans the classical spectrum- from Renaissance madrigals to contemporary choral works- and also includes spirituals, gospel, and non-European traditions such as folk and ethnic music from Asia, the Caribbean, South America, and Africa.
The musical theater tradition is also strong at BB&N, with the main stage winter production dedicated to a musical as well as a festive annual fall “Cabaret Night” featuring students, faculty, and alumni.
The Chorus is open to all students who enjoy singing. Chorus performs at WinterFest and the Spring Concert, but may also perform at assemblies and at other special occasions. The literature of Chorus ranges from classical to Broadway, from classic Rock and Roll to contemporary, with the accent on fine arrangements suitable for middle school voices. All music is in the form of choral octavos from two to four parts. Student interests or special areas of expertise will often be taken into account when choosing the repertoire of Chorus. Emphasis includes vocal hygiene and basic technical skills, posture, accuracy of pitch, enjoyment of singing, and a commitment to the group process and rehearsal skills.
At the middle school, Jazz Band is offered to 7th and 8th grade students by audition. No previous experience in playing jazz is required. The aim of this class is to explore this unique American art form, characterized by complex, syncopated rhythm and improvisations. Students learn to interpret traditional notation, make it “swing” and improvise melodies. Through this course, students experience a spirited aspect of American culture, are challenged by new musical concepts, and work at developing their own risktaking skills. The group’s work is shared with the BB&N community in at least two performances during the year.
At the upper school, students are given the opportunity to participate in one of our jazz ensembles; they all perform during jazz concerts held at the end of each semester as well as in assemblies and other more informal settings.
At the upper school, Orchestra is an ensemble that features string, woodwind, and brass players. Comprised of 30-40 students from Grades 9 – 12, the Orchestra prepares two formal concerts per year, with a repertoire that centers on classical music and also broadens instrumental students’ horizons with contemporary and collaborative projects. Past performances have included Mozart’s Symphony Nos. 35, 41; Beethoven Symphonies Nos. 1, 3, 5, 6, 7; Schubert Symphonies Nos. 5, 8; overtures, concerto movements, and individual pieces ranging from Bach and Handel to Copland and modern American composers. Examples of exploratory collaborations include “Shri Raga,” a new structured improvisation developed in collaboration with a BB&N student tabla player, and Terry Riley’s “In C,” performed outdoors with members of the jazz ensembles and faculty musicians. Members of the Orchestra also form the Musical Pit Orchestra ensemble, accompanying the Winter Musicals each year.