Kevin Strother looks at a picture of The Heights School’s 13-member choir from 2000, and without hesitation he picks out the five original Heights students who helped found the school choir in 1996, back when it was an extracurricular group. All five of the original choir members have since graduated from college.
Under the direction of Strother and Patrick Love, the Heights School’s music program has grown in similar fashion. The Heights choir now has more than 60 students, and is offered as a course to students at the private school on Seven Locks Road in Potomac. Students sing in a 9th/10th-grade choir or one for the 11th- and 12th-graders.
“The two men that we have running the music program are very dynamic and enthusiastic,” said Philip McGovern, chief financial officer at The Heights. “They have a great rapport with the boys, and they’ve helped the boys see that participation in a music program in a boys school is a cool thing to do.”
Next month, the choirs and bands at The Heights will perform a Christmas concert at Strathmore Hall in Rockville, another step for the school’s musicians. Strother toured the world as a singer, and he considers Strathmore’s concert hall one of the premier facilities he’s ever experienced. “To perform there is quite an opportunity,” Strother said.
IN A RECENT class, Strother and the students went through “Memory Check Day,” the first time students in Strother’s 9th/10th-grade class were expected to perform the Christmas Concert selections from memory.
Students have some laughs in Strother’s class — “No yodeling, please,” he asked of the students during rehearsal — but he is serious about wanting students to perform at their absolute best. “Let’s go back to ‘O Tannembaum’ and clean that up,” he said. “Last chord … Better.”
In a sense, Strother and Love have responsibilities similar to that of an athletic coach. Each year, they direct their student musicians with the capabilities and talents of their students in mind. “What I can do and what I want to do are two different things,” Strother said. The songs he selects for his choir are based on the vocal ranges he has in each class, and the performances in a winter show will be different from selections they perform in spring, as some students’ voices change and their capabilities evolve.
AT STRATHMORE, the a capella groups at The Heights will perform classic pieces and hymns, while many of the band’s selections will be more contemporary works by the likes of Duke Ellington, Robert Shaw and John Philip Sousa.
“It’s an absolutely beautiful, state-of-the-art facility … to give the boys the opportunity to showcase their talents,” McGovern said. “It really is a tremendous opportunity for them.”