Maryland High School Music Department Head Fosters a Community of Support

The class of 2011 at South River High School in Edgewater, Maryland, graduated this week, and for those students summer has arrived. But like many music teachers, music department head Dennis Blair has some loose ends to tie up before he takes any time off. Among other things, Blair, who is choral director as well as assistant band director, is considering choral pieces for the next school year.

“I am also doing calendar planning, looking ahead at concerts, performances, and other cultural events at the school. We work closely with the dance and theater programs here. A lot of our students are involved in more than one program, so we have to make sure there aren’t any conflicts.”

In addition to building bridges within the school, Blair believes the music program at South River functions well because of ties the school has with arts organizations like the Annapolis Symphony and the Chesapeake Chorale, both of which regularly work with students and even have students perform with them in concert.

Many of the students also perform at community events and at charity fund- raisers. Blair is also the Tri-M® advisor at South River, and his students perform community service, too.

Blair, a one-time studio musician and a former member of the U.S. Naval Academy Band and other Navy music groups, has strong ties in the community. He says, “I have a lot of contacts,” which helps him find groups with which to partner.

The South River Music Boosters are an active group, helping students raise money so that the whole music program—band, orchestra and choral—can take performance field trips like recent visits to Walt Disney World. There also have been international trips to Paris and London.

A trumpet player, Blair said that after doing some community outreach with the Naval Academy Band, he decided to go back to school and get a teaching certificate.He chose the secondary level because “I wanted to have the chance to make music with kids. That is one thing I love about my job.”

One thing he doesn’t like, though, is standardized testing and other school-mandated functions that cut back on class time for music classes. “That is definitely a trend that makes it harder for us,” he said. Anne Arundel County’s numerous magnet school choices also transfer music students out of South River to other schools for concentrated math, science, or other classes, Blair said.

But back to summer plans. Blair said he enjoys combing through and listening to potential choral options for the fall. He has a men’s choir, a women’s choir, a chamber choir, and men’s and women’s quartets in the Barber Shop and Sweet Adelines tradition.

Music for the fall marching band program was selected in April so students can practice music over the summer. Band camp is the first two weeks in August. The instrumental program also includes an orchetsra and a jazz ensemble.

Blair said he has one major goal as a music teacher: “If a student leaves here with a lifelong love of performing, or even a lifelong love of music, then I have done my job.”

South River High School music program

Roz Fehr, June 3, 2011 © MENC: The National Association for Music Education