By Katie Park ‘21
For numerous years, the ensembles were only offered as half-credit courses for everyone at St. Mark’s, but starting this year, they are also offered as full-credit courses for only the third formers. The immediate response from the returning music students was, “That is unfair because we did not have the option of taking a full-credit ensemble class.” However, the addition of Ensemble Plus, the full-credit music course, is for the betterment of the music program as a whole.
All third formers are required to take six courses. However, since choir, orchestra, and jazz band are half-credit courses, third formers had to take music as their seventh course and give up their free blocks. Some students gave up taking music classes because they desperately needed the free blocks to finish their work. This led the music department to offer the Ensemble Plus to the third formers so that the six-class requirement does not hinder them from continuing their passion for music. However, the Ensemble Plus is only offered for the third formers because the requirement is to take five courses from the fourth form year.
The Ensemble Plus students meet three days a week whereas half-credit course students only meet twice. Also, they have written work that has to do with basic music skills and theory. For the returning musicians who think that the change is unfair, Mr. Wallace, the Director of Music, has responded by saying, “The Ensemble Plus students still have to take the course for two years to fulfill their art requirement just like everyone else.” Also, Mr. Wallace emphasized how the Ensemble Plus “is a self-selecting process and that it is totally up to the students and their learning style” to choose if they want to take the course.
The change in the music curriculum has truly opened up doors for this year’s third formers. Cathy Zhou `21 shared how she was negatively affected by the six-class requirement in her third-form year by saying, “I was interested in playing an instrument but ended up taking ceramics because I did not want to be overwhelmed with all the work and no frees.” This would not happen to any of the third-formers starting this year, and that is the exact purpose for adding the Ensemble Plus into the music curriculum.
This decision positively influences not only the incoming third-form musicians but also the music program as a whole. If there are more talented musicians taking the ensemble courses, this will truly raise the quality of the music. The ensembles are excited to see these positive changes, and Waverly Shi `21, the Concert Master of the Orchestra, shared, “Our orchestra sounds awesome as it is, but we will sound even better with more musicians.”