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.

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Kennedy Catholic Musicians Blend Styles in a Christmas Concert Master Class

Everyone in the Kennedy Catholic community needed a little Christmas, and the combined forces of Kennedy’s Chorus, String Ensemble and Concert Band delivered it last night in spades.

An aerial view of the concert band

An aerial view of the concert band

…better make that “diamonds,” as glittering stage sculptures crafted by the junior class’s Advanced Visual Arts Collaborative Project filled the stage of the auditorium and provided a perfect setting for the incandescent performances that followed.

The chorus, under the direction of Kennedy Arts Department Chair Mrs. Ines Wilhelm-Boston, and accompanied by Mrs. Lorraine Bernitt, performed first, and would return throughout the evening. Their first performance, “These Alone Are Enough,” based on a prayer by St. Ignatius of Loyola, featured a vocal solo by Rosario Grasso and instrumental solo by percussionist Katelyn Wegener.

Mrs. Boston directs the Chorus

In Charge: Kennedy Catholic Arts Department Chair Mrs. Boston directs the Chorus

The choristers next swung into high gear with the beloved Harry Simeone classic, “The Little Drummer Boy,” featuring Brendan Earl pa-rum-pa-pum-pumming on the snare drum. Lexi Vespucci followed with a powerful solo performance of “O Holy Night.”

Kennedy Catholic Chorus Christmas Concert

Need A Little Christmas, right this very minute? The Kennedy Catholic Chorus are the people to see…

Taking the audience from the traditional to about twenty minutes into the future, pianist Tingya Zhang gave a jaw-dropping, virtuoso instrumental performance of “Senbonzakura” (“Thousand Cherry Blossoms”). The song is from the voice synthesizer software “Vocaloid,” which crowd-sources new musical compositions that are often later performed in arenas “live” by holographic singers. If Ms. Zhang is not filling arenas of her own in 10-15 years, we’ll be very surprised.

pianist Tingya Zhang

The staggeringly talented pianist Tingya Zhang performs “Senbonzakura”

Every Christmas concert should introduce listeners to a less well-known carol that sends them home to flip through old CD collections to see if they own it, and Kennedy’s 2016 concert delivered with “Mary, Did You Know?” The ringing and heart-felt solo vocal performance by Ava Gallo turned a “C” tier carol into a top-of-the-playlist nuevo classic for everyone in the audience.

Before yielding the stage to the String Ensemble, the Kennedy choristers delivered a rousing “Panis Angelicus,” which included solos by Kiely Beltran and Megan Collina. The chorus would return later to perform Mame’s “We Need a Little Christmas,” which pretty much signaled the start of the season for everyone in attendance.

Under the baton of Mr. Frederick Ostrofsky, the 15-member String Ensemble opened with Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto No. 5,” which they followed with a pin-perfect performance of Mozart’s “Flute Quartet in D.”

The Brass Section in the Kennedy Catholic Concert Band

The Brass Section in the Kennedy Catholic Concert Band

The Kennedy Concert Band, which shares members with the String Ensemble, took the stage next, under the leadership of Mrs. Martha Belardo. Their raucous renditions of Yuletide perennials “Sleigh Ride” and “Christmas Fantasy” blew through the auditorium like a bracing blast of arctic air.

The String Ensemble returned to take listeners from the North Pole to the waters off Barbados with their instantly-recognizable medley of music from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” soundtracks, featuring percussionist Christian Pitaccio.

The Kennedy Catholic String Ensemble Performs at the 2016 Christmas Concert

The Kennedy Catholic String Ensemble Performs at the 2016 Christmas Concert

It’s always tough for any artist to follow a good rendition of “Carol of the Bells,” with its famously reverberating and ominous 4-note motif. It’s a special challenge when that rendition is as electrically charged as the one rendered by the Kennedy Concert Band this evening. But follow it the String Ensemble did, with a beautiful “String a Song of Christmas.”

The Kennedy Catholic Concert Band

“Carol of the Bells” was another Triumph for the Kennedy Catholic Concert Band

If you’re planning a concert like this, one that brings together an entire community of students, family, educators and friends there is really only one way to end it (if it really must end…). Of course, that’s with a sing-a-long of “White Christmas.” Sure, not everyone in the audience may have been on key (or even anywhere near the same keyhole), but the enthusiasm — and the rare delight of hearing Kennedy Chorus, String Ensemble, and Concert Band all play together — more than compensated for your cousin’s and grandmother’s imperfect pitch problems.

Fr. Vaillancourt and the Chorus at the 2016 Kennedy Catholic Christmas Concert

Fr. Vaillancourt provided the narration for “The Christmas Tree,” a short film which closed the 2016 Christmas Concert

But although we had reached the end of the scheduled program, we weren’t done quite yet. Instead, the audience was treated to the premiere of “The Christmas Tree,” a claymation short video produced in a collaboration between Kennedy Catholic’s Fine Arts Studio and Media Lab students. Looking like an episode of “Davey & Goliath” but hitting much, much closer to home, the movie was a tale of loss and redemption – and it was all true. It told of the death of the father of Kennedy Principal Fr. Vaillancourt while still a high school student, and how the young Vaillancourt used Faith and Tradition to return Joy and Light to what should have been his family’s darkest Christmas. The short was met with thunderous applause.

It was another fabulous night for the Arts in Northern Westchester, and an unforgettable one for the Kennedy community.

To see more of our Christmas Concert images, visit our Gallery of Images.


“Art Can Really Slay You,” and Other Musings on The Muse, with Ms. Glembotzky

When prospective parents take the tour of Kennedy Catholic during Open House, many are surprised to learn from their tour guides that the school is one of only a few in the area that offers a four-year Fine Arts program. Katie Glembotzky has been teaching at Kennedy for the past two and a half years, and is the axle around which that four year curriculum spins.

Oil Paintings on Display at the Kennedy Catholic Studio

Oil Paintings on Display at the Kennedy Catholic Studio

KCHS offers several electives to fulfill the NYS graduation fine art requirement. Studio Art, a freshmen level class, focuses on technique and various drawing media. Afterwards, it becomes an elective – Studio Art II – primarily an Introduction to Oil Painting, followed by Advanced Visual Arts for the upperclassmen; Students work on collaborative projects as well as independently.

We will work in a ceramic segment, and maybe a papier-mâché segment to allow for a sculptural or 3-dimensional component,” Ms. Glembotzky explained. “The Advanced Visual Arts students work more independently and have an option to continue painting while focusing on portfolio development.”

A native of Newburgh, NY, Ms. Glembotzky graduated from Pratt Institute in New York City. Classically trained in Fine Art, when she is not up to her elbows in pottery clay at Kennedy, you might find her collaborating with other objects conservators working on collections across the country including the sculpture garden at PepsiCo in Purchase, NY.

But Kennedy is known for all of it’s STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics initiatives. All the students walk around with IPads, the curriculum is paperless, it treats it’s robotics team like rock stars…. How do you reconcile all that with easels and oil paints?

Yes, sometimes that’s a challenge,” she concedes. “The students are very comfortable with the Ipad – it’s so easy and incredible to have your drawing corrected by an app! I am a little old school in that regard, because I do believe – especially at the Freshmen level – that refining drawing skills provides a solid foundation for many other disciplines; ever more so especially because of all the technology. I would rather see them really learn how to draw, learn how to paint, mix color by hand, and hopefully, through what I teach them, they can realize their own potential and talents.”

Pencil Sketches Line the Walls in the Kennedy Catholic Fine Art Studio

Pencil Sketches Line the Walls in the Kennedy Catholic Fine Art Studio

Ms. Glembotzky allows for what she calls “exploration” on the mid-terms and finals, where students are welcome to experiment a little more with technology. For many students, she notes, tech is “their expression, their mode.”

Expression and inspiration and Old School technique are all well and good, but we know that’s only one percent of any masterpiece. Yet how do you teach the other 99 – perseverance – to a 15 year-old?

Some think that because you are artistic you can just turn it on and it flows out like water,” she explained. “But not necessarily. Many of our projects are long term and sometimes it is hard to draw or paint, especially after a long night of homework. Right now, the freshmen students are doing perspective drawings. They are learning one- and two-point perspective, which is very difficult actually, learning how to see things. We proceed slowly and I just have them keep correcting and adjusting it! When they become frustrated, we do something else. Then they can go back to it with a fresh eye and almost always have great success.”

That kind of personalized calendar-tweaking requires more than a little outside-of-the-box scheduling. Ms. Glembotzky makes use of what she calls “soft deadlines:” some students are ahead, some are behind, some “get it” immediately, others not as quickly. But a studio is not a lecture hall, she is quick to point out, and the clocks and yardsticks that work in one don’t translate across to the other.

Students Take Their Inspirations from Sketch to Completed Painting in the Kennedy Catholic Fine Art Studio

Students Take Their Inspirations from Sketch to Completed Painting in the Kennedy Catholic Fine Art Studio

For me, everything is always one-on-one,” she points out. “I take a look at what they’re doing, see what their skill level is, what their ability is, what their desire is, and I try to tailor what I’m teaching to each child – that’s how I like to work. Each one is an individual project.”

Those individual projects culminate in the annual Kennedy Art Show which takes over The Commons each year during the week of the musical.

It’s kind of a Big Deal.

Everybody participates,” Ms. Glembotzky enthuses. “Each student is putting up two to three pieces of artwork. The seniors generally have their own boards because they have been in the program for four years, they have a lot of work.”

Each year shows off a new artistic medium, explored and conquered. Last year it was linoleum block prints with an Aesop’s Fables theme. This year? A stop-motion claymation movie.

Claymation you’ll remember from ‘Davey and Goliath,’ or that new movie, ‘Trolls.’ Our project was inspired by one of Fr. Vaillancourt’s homilies, which I can’t say too much about, except that it is a Christmas themed collaborative project between the Advanced Visual Arts senior students and the KCHS Media Lab. My students are creating the characters, building sets and other visual imagery, the Media Lab students will shoot and edit the piece.

Actually, both groups are working all of it together – so they are all learning new concepts and exploring different avenues of the Visual Arts. It’s exciting! Also, being pragmatic, it introduces the students to working on long term, team projects -with just a little bit of stress. They get enough of that already!”

(All of which sounds pretty darn New School-ish to us, but we digress…)

Sculpted Clay Figures on their way to being Animated as Part of a Kennedy Catholic Claymation Project

Sculpted Clay Figures on their way to being Animated as Part of a Kennedy Catholic Claymation Project

At the end of the term, those STEM teachers have it pretty easy. They are working in clear tangibles, test problems are either right or wrong answers, examinations that have clear grades, zero to one hundred. A Math teacher who has helped a student get a better grade can count herself successful. What, then, is the measure of success for an Art teacher?

Good skills are important, the foundation; equally so is the development of confidence,” Ms. Glembotzky told us. “Art can really slay you. If you’re ‘Not Good at Art,’ but have an interest, and you happen to be in a class with a group that has a lot of natural ability, it can be terrible for your self-esteem if you become intimidated. What I consider successful is the young person who does not have the natural ease but perseveres through it, and feels good about what they are doing. That’s more important. I think Art is empowering, a great way to express yourself, and if you feel confident doing it, that enthusiasm and determination will carry over into so many other areas throughout your life. It’s so much more important than trying to actually produce a Mona Lisa every time.

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Kennedy Players Perform Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella: By Hannah Langley ‘17

Cinderella-2I have been in Kennedy’s theater program for three years now, and I must say that this year was an extremely challenging, yet truly rewarding experience. There were some good times, there were some bad times and there were a lot of stressful times. However, we all came together – cast, crew, costumes, orchestra – to put on a successful Cinderella.

The show was double cast this year, which proved to be somewhat difficult at times. However, it also made rehearsals more enjoyable since there were more people to share the experience with. Also, as one of the leads, it was entertaining to watch the other cast perform and to see my character portrayed on stage by someone else. The show brought many of us together, created many friendships, and made everyone grow a lot closer. This was especially true for the girls who joined the musical from Good Counsel Academy. Monica McStay, who played Madame on the Thursday and Saturday shows, said that switching schools her senior year was hard, but she is glad that she did the show at Kennedy. She said, “Joining the drama club introduced me to so many friendly and talented people. I am grateful for the experience and the friends I have made!”

As many of the cast members can attest to, the show was not always fun and games. It was actually extremely stressful most of the time, and we all had to work hard to put on a show we could be proud of. Monica Gayanelo, who played Marie (the fairy godmother) on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, stated, “This show taught me that anything really is possible. Making dreams come true with the wave of a magic wand taught me… any dream can become a reality with a little faith in yourself.” I think this show really did teach us all that when we work together, we can make anything happen.

“Hearing the news… was very difficult for our cast, but it was really beautiful to see everyone come together, be there for each other, and remember her like they did.”

Cinderella-1This year’s show was more than just a performance. It was a tribute. Sister Barbara passed away on the same day as our Friday performance. Hearing the news after the show as a community was tragic. Everyone in that auditorium felt the heartbreak and loss. The Saturday and Sunday shows were in tribute to her, being as she dedicated so much of her life to all of us, especially last year in The Sound of Music. As hard as the news was, it brought us all closer together and created an inseparable bond among everyone involved in the show. Genny Glembotzky, who not only performed in a number of roles but also filled the responsibility of assistant director, gave a remark regarding Sister Barbara’s passing, “Hearing the news… was very difficult for our cast, but it was really beautiful to see everyone come together, be there for each other, and remember her like they did.” As Genny said, we all came together to remember Sister Barbara as the amazing woman she was and to honor the amazing legacy she has set for our community. We all know that she was with us during the shows, watching from the best seat in the house.

Cinderella-3I would not have traded my Cinderella experience for anything else. I have made friendships and bonds with so many people that I hope to never lose. Performing as Charlotte, the annoying, mean stepsister (on Thursday and Saturday nights) was a lot of fun, and gave me the freedom to be someone completely different from myself. As a quick remark, I want to thank my cast – Kelsey Baron, Joe Gullotta, Jillian Flynn, Monica McStay, Dominic Basilone, Dylan Berry and Rose Grosskopf – for being absolutely amazing and for making me feel so comfortable performing on stage with all of you. I also want to give a shout out to the other cast – Kayla Campise, Nicholas DiGrandi, Amanda Astrologo, Meghan Reilly, Monica Gayanelo, and Caroline King. Rehearsals with everyone were so much fun, and I’m so glad we all became such good friends. I’ll never forget this experience and the good times we enjoyed (when we weren’t suffering from illness or stressing out). We will all miss the seniors from this year, but we know that they will go on to do even greater things.

Just when the show seemed “impossible,” we pushed on, and in the end, it was a success. The show took a lot of hard work, dedication, and perseverance from all, but it was all worth it. I am proud to say I was a part of Cinderella. Hopefully, the audience had “a lovely night” at our performances.