[History of SPA] Ep. 2 The evolution of SPA

Alison Mitchell: Hi, I’m Alison Mitchell, the host for this episode of the History of SPA podcast. While many current SPA students and teachers will surely remember the construction of the Huss Center, that’s not the only thing that’s changed about SPA in recent years. From expanding performing arts programs to new classes to massive construction projects, SPA is constantly evolving. That’s why, in today’s episode, Rubiconline reporter Rita Li will be talking with a few of SPA’s community members to look back on some of the ways that SPA has changed over the years.

Heather Ploen: I’m Heather Ploen and I’m the Director of Admission and Financial Aid.

Almut Engelhardt: My name is Almut Engelhardt and I teach the orchestras and beginning strings.

Rita Li: Um, so how has the school changed as in the system or like [the] buildings?

Ploen: Right. I mean the buildings have changed tremendously since I’ve been here with two additional buildings, uh the with the Huss Center and the science center, and then that whole revision, I mean, really, the Upper School has changed dramatically. The middle school was uh, as is when I came in, in 2000, they had moved the fifth grade up here to the middle school to make it a true Middle School, sixth, seventh and eighth grade. And then the, uh, our, what I was, you know, what I realized is that, even before the buildings were built, is that our programs were so outstanding, that we really caught up with making our buildings match our programs. And [we] also expanded our science program, and computer technology departments have changed dramatically since I’ve been here. And you know, we added a whole department really, and then the number of opportunities that we have for class offerings have increased dramatically since I’ve been here. And, but there’s a lot of thought put into sequencing, and, rather than just adding more classes for classes’ sake.

Engelhardt: The orchestra and band room were just one room. And they were the, it doesn’t exist anymore because the middle school is now where were they just to be. So there was a link to Old Main and in that link was one room and that was the orchestra and band room. And the choir used to rehearse on a small tiny little recital hall stage. Um, that also doesn’t exist anymore because they tore it down when they built the Middle School.

Li: Do you remember when they started, like, building, like, the Middle School?

Engelhardt: The Middle School was [in] 2000? Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And then yeah, and then Huss and Schilling, and I mean, the school really has dramatically changed its footprint. And in many, many, many ways, of course for the better. It’s, it’s fantastic you know, it gives so many more opportunities when you have the space for one thing I mean, the orchestra and band room, we never would even fit half of the classes in there now, it was so tiny compared to what, you know, and it’s fine because the orchestra was tiny, there were eight people in the high school in the orchestra and five in the middle school [orchestra]. So it was okay. But, uh, yeah, no way, you know, we could fit in there now.

Li: So how do you think, like, the uh, music branch at SPA has like evolved or like changed, despite like, the size?

Engelhardt: Well, I think what hasn’t changed is the commitment, uh, the school makes to music and in all the ways that are so critically important, for example, making room in the schedule, so it’s not just a club or before or after school activity where you compete with athletics or sleep, you know. [And] the fact that they even had an orchestra teacher for groups that were so tiny, it [the orchestra] was relatively new. They said we should really have an orchestra and so they had a succession of people who came and didn’t stay very long. But the fact that they stuck with it, for example, is a good, um, showcase for how they’re going, for how they’re determined to make this work for the arts in general, but for music in this specific case. And, um, when I came the jazz ensemble was very big and very successful. The choir had already grown a lot. And, um, I think the whole program has just really grown over the years. So, um, I know we have now one combined jazz ensemble. We had two smaller ones before, but I like the larger jazz ensemble. I don’t think that’s a step back. That’s a step forward. So I think in general, with the help of the school, the programs have grown a lot. And I think the exposure has grown a lot, the fact that we now have to do two Pops Concerts instead of one. Maybe it also helped that, you know, when I came, the Pops Concert[s] were like four or five hours long.

Li: Really? That long?

Engelhardt: Yes! And I said ‘you know what you guys? I’m not participating in that [the concert] because if we start also playing then it’s going to be six hours long.’ I don’t think so. No concert should be longer, in my personal opinion, should be longer than an hour and a half to maybe two hours, you know, and so we didn’t even participate with the orchestra in the first year or two. And then they shrunk it down and then we started playing.

Li: So they shrank the, uh, the musics, and like, how the program is?

Engelhardt: Yeah, we used to have four concerts a year not two. You know, and I also think, you know, quality before quantity, let’s do less and let’s do it better because I think that’s a better experience for everybody. And, fortunately I was able to convince everybody ‘less is more’ and let’s do it well, so, um, yeah.

Li: So how has, um, recognizing that history or like knowing that, hearing about it, help students and faculties, I guess, feel more connected to SPA?

Ploen: So, um, you know, I think the, what I really appreciate about, um, SPA students though, is their flexibility. And, but that there’s an appreciation for all these new spaces. Um, I hope that our students remember kind of our more humble beginnings and, uh, where, you know, what we didn’t have before, you know, it’s hard because you all don’t necessarily remember what it looked like beforehand, but I do, and I hope that as we, um, you know, as somebody continues to go through SPA, they do remember, um, kind of simpler beginnings and then appreciate what we have.

Mitchell: Once again, this is Alison Mitchell. Thanks for listening to this episode of the History of SPA podcast. Want more History of SPA content? Check out episode one in the Podcast section of the Rubiconline and stay tuned for the final episode, coming soon.

Music Credits:
“Chill Abstract Intention” by Coma-Media (found on pixabay.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License