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Roxbury Latin students learn the importance of arts

Posted by Your Town  October 12, 2011 10:03 AM
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By Mekhala Roy, Globe Correspondent

“I tell you, just because going from youth to age sometimes means going from the Rolling Stones to kidney stones, from acid rock to acid reflux, from going to a hip new joint to getting a new hip joint, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t ride the bull of life…”

A fit of laughter erupted from the crowd. The school theater was packed. The audience – more than 100 mostly teenage boys – sat with wonder imprinted on their faces, as they watched actress Tovah Feldshuh perform excerpts from her one-woman show, "Aging is Optional," just a few feet in front of them.

The students at The Roxbury Latin School, an independent all-boys’ school, grades seven through 12, get the opportunity to connect with a performer once every year, through the unique Claire Berman Artist-in-Residence program, started in 2005.

Headmaster Kerry Brennan said the school believes in the importance of presenting students with people who have made a professional commitment to the arts.

“They begin to perceive the level of commitment, perseverance and discipline that’s required in doing what an artist does,” he said.

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For Brennan, headmaster since 2004, the arts have always been an important part of education. He was the director of music for the school from 1978 to 1986. He noted that in difficult budget times, music or arts programs often are the first things to go. So he is proud of the fact that at Roxbury Latin, students are taught to value the arts and appreciate the effort that goes into the creativity process.

Brennan said students today get so much information from the Internet, he views the arts program as "a mitigating experience to the technological one they are having.”

Alumnus Ethan Berman and his wife, Fiona Hollands, started the artist-in-residence fund in honor of Berman’s mother, Claire Berman.

“I very much enjoyed the school, and I got a lot out of it," said Berman, who graduated from Roxbury Latin in 1979. "It certainly had a significant impact on my life, and I wanted to give something back to the school. I was interested in the arts because it was really at Roxbury Latin where I developed my own interest in theater, which I went on to major in when I went to college."

Students at the school say they welcome the program.

“It was interesting seeing someone on the big screen performing in front of me. Our whole focus is on being well-rounded, so this program gives us a new perspective,” said Kani David, a senior at the school, who watched Feldshuh perform on Sept. 22.

For Harry Doernberg, a sophomore, the artist-in-residence program provides new insight into the performing arts -- something he said that many students might not experience otherwise.

In the past few years, the program has served up a wide range of artists -- actors Charles Holt, Kate Burton, Roger Rees and Christopher Lloyd; poet Billy Collins; and jazz artist John Pizzarelli.

Brennan said the program is a unique complement to the regular curriculum. “I didn’t have any other school as a model for this,” he said.

The performance by an artist is followed by a question-and-answer session, where students get to interact with the celebrity. For the past few years, the school also has hosted a performance for the public on the same day as the student performance. Brennan said this helps the school to act as a resource for the community, bridging the town-school gap.

But the main intent is to expose students to people who have achieved success through a commitment to their field.

“We are a school that believes in developing boys in all sorts of ways -- in traditional academic pursuits, as well as in artistic endeavors and athletically -- and most importantly, in terms of their character development as future citizens," he said.

This article was reported and written by Northeastern University journalism student Mekhala Roy, under the supervision of journalism instructor Lisa Chedekel , as part of collaboration between The Boston Globe and Northeastern.

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