The Curtain Rises
Hynds, Whitcomb, and Roihl bring different skills to the stage, but clearly share a philosophy—that the arts are integral to education, not just for budding artists but for everyone. This may be why they work so well together, and why their co-taught course, “Introduction to Performing Arts,” which piloted last fall, has already made a big splash. An intro course offering like this had been in the catalog “forever,” says Whitcomb, “but it had never been team-taught by all the department heads. All three of us did every single class together. I was singing, God forbid, and Catriona was dancing, and . . .” Whitcomb pauses. “It was an incredible experience.” More importantly, it exposes students in a meaningful way to a rich variety of creative expression. With their teachers stepping out of the comfort zones of their own disciplines, students have a model for trying something new—and perhaps uncovering a talent for it.
- Students perform at the winter Koch Friday Concert (KFC)
Or not. Discovering artistic talent isn’t the only endpoint here. Like Hynds, Whitcomb points out that the arts are important for all students because they support creative thinking—perhaps the most important talent of all. “We put an awful lot of store into math and sciences,” says Whitcomb. “I know we need them—both my sons are engineers!—but we also need the arts, especially when we’re developing the 21st century learner.”
David Dickinson heartily agrees. “I find that in teaching the current generations, I’m taking them through the process of problem solving,” he says. Such training may be even more crucial in the technological age. “Learning involves patience, focus, and time. All of that flies in the face of technology, where with the click of a button you can find an answer, you can Google anything.”
Whitcomb and Dickinson may have a vested interest here, but they are far from alone. Whitcomb thinks back to filmmaker Ken Burns’ visit to Deerfield last winter. “The very last question he got was, ‘What makes us quintessentially American?’ And Burns said it’s our ability to reinvent ourselves, to improvise. That’s why he believes strongly in the arts,” notes Whitcomb. “Young entrepreneurs talk about how important it is to think creatively, and that comes from the arts; when you engender creativity it can lead to all sorts of things: an entrepreneurial mindset, new ways of looking at familiar situations, and a fresh take on problem solving.”
Which brings us back to Deerfield’s now-vital performing arts program—a far cry from the empty, echoing gymnasium Whitcomb walked into decades ago with a class she could count on one hand. “I remember all of those students as though I taught them yesterday, and I recall that the gym felt immense to us,” Whitcomb says now. But then again, perhaps things haven’t changed that much. The goal is the same: to give students the skills and the inspiration they need to approach problems with fresh eyes, and to express what cannot be said with words. Looking back on those early days, Whitcomb comments that it feels like “half a lifetime ago.” And it was. But that means there’s half a lifetime to go yet. When she returns next year, her colleagues will have continued to set the stage, and the show will go on. ••
Watch Deerfield’s talented musicians, actors, and dancers in action.