Music Seminar offers a unique learning experience


Thomas Toghramadjian

Upper School Choral Activities teacher Anne Klus teaches the Music Seminar class. “Each student brings their own expertise and musical insight into the class,“ Klus said.

Today’s lesson involves rules for conversion between major and minor scales, but in a matter of minutes, several students make it clear that they don’t understand the notes written on the whiteboard.

“Excuse me, may I?” Director of Choral Activities Anne Klus asks a student watching from the piano bench. She begins teaching from behind the piano, counting the half steps out loud as she demonstrates a scale. Then, everyone wheels the piano to the middle of the choir room, and the Music Seminar students gather around to try for themselves.

“We do not sit at a Harkness table; we choose where ever we want to sit. We can get up and walk around during class, to stay focused,” senior Emma Chang said. “Class is very hands on; we get to practice our lessons by playing the piano and listening to music,” Chang added.

“It’s a really great class because we sometimes go off on tangents–but those are always about music. Someone may just start singing something, or we’ll listen to a piece of music, or Ms. Klus will tell us something awesome related to music,” senior Vittorio Orlandi said. “I’m surprised how much we learn/get done considering how fun and relaxed the class is.”

Despite Music Seminar’s free-flowing lesson plan, or perhaps because of it, the students manage to get through an astonishingly wide range of subject matter.

“The objective is to introduce the students to the basics of music theory, beginning ear training, melodic and rhythmic dictation, harmonic analysis, beginning composition and the history of Western music from the medieval [era] through the 21st century,” Klus, the class instructor, said. “That’s a lot to cover for one year!”

According to Klus, St. Paul Academy and Summit School has offered Honors Music Seminar for more than twenty years. “My mentor and predecessor, Dr. Olive Jean Bailey, taught the class before she retired and I took over,” Klus said.

The class currently consists of twelve students, and is offered to juniors and seniors recommended by the music faculty.

“Each student brings their own expertise and musical insight into the class. Some years I have had more vocalists taking the class. Some years there are more students who play in the orchestra or jazz ensembles, and that brings a rich dimension to the class as well,” Klus said.

Chang, who sings in Academy Chorale and Chamber Academy Chorale, decided to join the class because “I have a passion for music and I wanted to know learn more about the history of music and music theory.”

Orlandi, a pianist, elected to take the class for both available semesters. “I hadn’t heard of the class and I’m really into music so I thought I’d try it,” he said.

“I definitely think it gives the music students a much deeper understanding and appreciation, both theory-wise as well as history wise, [of] what the music they are performing is all about. They make connections and have more insight because of what they are studying,” Klus said.