Passion and Discipline: The Arts Program at Kennedy Catholic

Johann Sebastian Bach famously chalked his success up to sheer effort, opining that “anyone who works as hard as I did can achieve the same results.” But for Ines Boston, it’s less about perspiration and more about passion.

Mrs. Ines Boston, Chair of Kennedy Catholic's Arts Department

Mrs. Ines Boston, Chair of Kennedy Catholic’s Arts Department

“Passion is the key. I am passionate about the kids. I am passionate about the arts in general,” Mrs. Boston explained. In her 7th year as Chair of Kennedy Catholic’s Arts Department, her passion has translated into an advocacy that permeates Kennedy’s curriculum and after-school activities, and has contributed to the music and performing arts program’s wild growth. The school, once known primarily for its rigorous college preparation and science/technology programs, has begun to attract new students by the sheer virtue of its arts and music curriculum.

Before her arrival at Kennedy, Mrs. Boston’s passion led the German-born music educator throughout Europe. A classically trained opera singer with a master’s degree in voice from Dresden University, she made her living training other professional singers. Upon arriving in the U.S., Mrs. Boston discovered her true calling: training – and inspiring – high school kids.

At Kennedy Catholic she found a school with a robust after-school theater program but otherwise in need of a shot in the arts arm of its curriculum. So, as J.S. Bach would have appreciated, she got to work.

The chorus numbered 7 voices when Mrs. Boston arrived in Somers, and now boasts 54 singers. The concert band, under Mrs. Martha Belardo, has nearly doubled in size. The string ensemble – a rarity in any high school music program – didn’t even exist at Kennedy. Now, under 37-year music education veteran Mr. William Ostrovsky, it’s become a sensation. No longer confined to their own individual arts silos, each of the programs are more integrated, with greater collaboration among all the singers, musicians and artists.

Mr. Frederick Ostrovsky conducts Kennedy Catholic String Ensemble

Mr. Frederick Ostrovsky conducts Kennedy Catholic String Ensemble

The performing arts are not for every child, but the arts program at Kennedy Catholic most assuredly is. Those not enrolled in chorus, string ensemble, concert band/jazz ensemble, or theater/acting in their freshman year find themselves in an Art/Music Appreciation course.

But make no mistake, the emphasis is on performance. As the ex-diva explained, “You can appreciate music in your home and living room, but going up there and performing for other people? That builds up personality. It takes courage to do that, trust in yourself, belief in yourself. It takes a lot of effort, discipline and willpower to be a performer.”

“It’s not simply about talent,” Mrs. Boston said, echoing Bach’s – her favorite composer’s – sentiment. “There are a lot of talented people out there. They will never make it because they are not disciplined enough or they do not put enough work into their field.”

For Mrs. Boston, that means a good decade of dedication. “It takes about 10 years to develop a strong competency on a musical instrument, with daily practice of 3 hours,” she explained.

For Kennedy students, 40 of those 180 minutes daily are covered by focused instruction in the classroom. But the remaining time is at home, and there is a lot of competition for it. “It is becoming harder for everyone to focus because the distractions – phones, iPads – have become bigger,” Mrs. Boston said.

Of course, if you can’t beat ’em, you join ’em, and the Arts Chair has a strategy for that as well. The music program at Kennedy Catholic is one of the very few among local schools to be using the SmartMusic app. The iPad-based software allows instructors to listen in on, and grade, their students’ music homework.

Mrs. Katie Glembotzky preparing for the Annual Kennedy Catholic Art Show

Mrs. Katie Glembotzky preparing for the Annual Kennedy Catholic Art Show

Here’s how it works: Students are assigned a section of music as homework, and the app allows them to record their work and submit it to their music teachers as if it were just another page of trigonometry problems. The program also provides its own evaluation, letting the students know if they failed to hit the correct notes. Teachers decide, lesson by lesson, how many tries their students are allowed for each assignment to get it right.

The technology has been liberating for Kennedy music teachers because, as Mrs. Boston explained, there is never enough time within one class to teach all the music parts. Every group of instruments in the band, every range of voices in the chorus, has its own drill. By planting the SmartMusic app into their pedagogy, educators can spend more time teaching sight reading, introducing music theory and just building better musicians.

Earlier this year the work of Kennedy’s Advanced Visual Arts students went on tour locally, exhibited at the Katonah Arts Museum and Garrison Art Center. Now Mrs. Boston has plans to enter the school’s music arts groups into competitions, both domestically and internationally. After all, no rock star worthy of the name is happy until she has taken her show on the road, and Kennedy’s own Meistersinger is no different.

“We want to go where the music was composed,” she said with a twinkle, assuring for perhaps the first time in American high school history that a chorus would be thankful for its predominantly classical European repertoire.

But before any plane tickets are purchased, there is more work to be done, Ines Boston told us, to ensure the students have met the “right standards.” The gold standards.

Her standards.