One challenge all teachers at Deerfield face is creating time, or opportunity, for students to explore new disciplines. It is a major focus for Dan Roihl, now in his third year directing the music program. “Deerfield has a structured day,” he reflects. “I kept hearing that students wished they could sing in chorus or play in orchestra but had no time. And heaven forbid if some students wanted to do both! They simply couldn’t.” So Roihl, with support from Whitcomb, Moorhead, and other faculty, is creating more opportunities for musical expression, and not just for diehard musicians. Some ensembles meet outside the academic day, for example, but Roihl has also helped to establish new traditions that build on the school’s musical history, such as a candlelight ceremony shortly before Commencement. Even small things, like making sure a piano is available in the Dining Hall for a spontaneous rendition of “Happy Birthday” can affect the school culture.
It’s no wonder that Roihl places a priority on song. Still only in his 30s, he has worked at times as a church music director, a children’s choir conductor, a composer, and a professional countertenor, both as soloist and in ensembles. He established a chamber choir in Cambridge, MA, before he even headed to graduate school. Singing is in his bones, and as such he is building it into the Deerfield day. In many ways Roihl’s philosophy mirrors that of Frank Boyden, who used song as a means of leveling the playing field, providing inspiration, and uniting his Deerfield boys into a cohesive unit.
“Some students have never encountered group singing before,” Roihl says. “They may even have experienced a stigma around it. If it’s woven into the daily fabric, that’s a good start to erasing negative feelings. Also, if it’s something students are exposed to on a regular basis, some will want to pursue it further.”
That might mean participating in the chamber music ensemble, Academy Chorus, or “Bands: Wind/Rock/Jazz,” an umbrella course offering that includes a concert band, jazz band, percussion ensemble, and even rock bands. String players with full academic loads can now participate in orchestra once a week without enrolling in class. The audition-only Madrigal Choir recently won accolades at the Great East Festival at Six Flags New England, and was a semifinalist in local PBS affiliate WGBY’s “Together in Song” festival. And, of course, there are the a cappella groups—the all-male Mellow-D’s and all-female Rhapso-D’s, both exploring a contemporary/pop repertoire, and the newly established Chamber Singers, an a cappella ensemble of soloists that meets during the co-curricular period for one term out of the year. Interestingly, more popular than any of these are “Koch Friday Concerts.”
The program (named after the Koch Center, where performances are usually held) is an important element in building musical arts into students’ lives. “Many of these kids have nothing to do with performing arts, but they get up with their guitar or sing,” says Moorhead. “And no matter how good or bad they may be, they get tremendous support from their peers. There’s an obvious need and reward for them to perform.” The event has grown substantially over the years, Moorhead notes. “I think it comes from a desire in students to connect in a primary way,” he says. “That personal contact is something they welcome, need, and value in a way that’s different from what it was years ago. The performing arts program is helping to meet those needs.”
Perhaps because his focus is on the visual arts, longtime art teacher and KFC organizer David Dickinson sees it in a somewhat different light. “Performance isn’t only good for building confidence,” he points out. “I think it’s an emotional release.”