Leading the Arts by Example

Art Department Chair Rachel Norton recently took to the stage with her local community theater group in a performance of The 25th Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee. Read on for news on the show and why Rachel values finding time to perform herself as an important part of her teaching practice.
People often throw around the phrase, “leading by example.” It’s a phrase that most educators would agree is valuable to their work with students, but in the busy moments of independent schools, it can be difficult to show our students that our love for our subjects is real by publicly practicing the things that we teach. But that is exactly what music teacher and Art Department Chair Rachel Norton has been up to.


Members of The White Mountain School community were treated to a performance starring their music teacher at the Littleton Opera House the last two weekends. Rachel played Rona Lisa Peretti, one of two judges in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee with The Upstage Players, a community theater group that presents several plays and musicals each year.


The Littleton Opera House was fully outfitted as a middle school gymnasium, and the audience was wowed by the choreography, singing and moving sets. In the play, six children have advanced to the county spelling bee, each with his or her unique spelling methods and personal dilemmas. The show is hilarious, and the Upstage Players did not disappoint in that area, either.


Rachel, who holds a Bachelor of Music from the New England Conservatory of Music and a Masters of Music in vocal performance from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, was also the show’s Music Director. Since 2012 she has served The White Mountain School as the music teacher, and currently is the Art Department Chair. When Rachel is not teaching at WMS, she also makes time to sing with the North Country Chorus and The Pine Hill Singers. Additionally, she has her own private vocal studio. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee was her first show with the Upstage Players.


We asked Rachel:


What did you enjoy most about preparing for and performing in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee?”


While it was challenging to take on a role in the production in addition to being the music director, I found it to be an incredibly rewarding experience.


My favorite part of being on stage is getting to become someone else entirely. You get to make all of these decisions about what your character would be like; the more creative you are – the better.


The best part about being the music director was working with individuals who have a lot of natural talent and being able to take them to the next level vocally and musically. It’s also a great deal of fun to work with singers in a choral setting and to work with them on their solo pieces.


Has being on stage again influenced the way that you think about teaching or working with young actors/musicians?


Yes, being on stage certainly influences the way that I think about teaching and working with young actors and musicians. It is one thing to be able to understand concepts, and a completely different thing to be able to apply it to what you are doing.


As a teacher, it is important to be able to do what you teach. Continuing to be a performer enhances what I am able to accomplish in the classroom. It is essential to keep my performance skills fresh and current in order to reach my students. Modeling is an incredibly effective tool for teaching.


Will we see you on stage again soon? Do you have more projects in the works personally?


It is possible that you may see me on stage again. I plan on continuing to serve as the Music Director for the Upstage Players. There are some other opportunities that I am exploring as well. Stay tuned!


What upcoming WMS musical events are you looking forward to for your students?


On Family Weekend, my Vocal Ensemble will be performing for the school community. The theme is “A Night on Broadway.” Each of them will be singing a song from a Broadway show.


A select group is performing the song “Landslide” for Baccalaureate and for Graduation and A Cappella will be singing the song “Seasons Of Love” from the musical Rent.

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