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Hawthorne reshaping choir program at the high school

Education — NHS leader named choir manager for the 2015 All-State Choir at the Oregon Music Educators Association conference


In each of Newberg High School’s five choir classes, you’ll find one student wearing a distinctive knit scarf.

At the end of each rehearsal, that student will stand up, say something nice about another member of the group, who will then keep the scarf until the next rehearsal and then pass it along in the same fashion.by: GARY ALLEN - Flexing their vocal chords -- Choir director Robert Hawthorne works with students Friday afternoon at Newberg High School.

It’s a tradition choir director Robert Hawthorne borrowed from a colleague and brought with him from Southridge High School when he came to Newberg in fall 2012.

Just 18 months into his tenure, the popular exercise demonstrates how quickly NHS students have taken to Hawthorne’s teaching style and embodies the kind of inclusive and cooperative learning environment that he hopes will be one of the hallmarks of the program he is beginning to shape.

“It shows that the value they place on it, to be able to find ways to build each other up,” Hawthorne said. “That builds that sense of safety and camaraderie, which becomes the foundation for us to be able to explore and risk in our music making.”

Hawthorne came highly recommended and well respected, according to Yellow School principal Stafford Boyd. That was reiterated at the Oregon Music Educators Association conference, where Hawthorne was named choir manager for the 2015 All-State Choir.

“I think we were actually lucky to hire him,” Boyd said. “At the time, Beaverton was in the midst of slashing staff and Robert made the choice to come be a part of Newberg, I think for good reason because he clearly identified the support in the community for performing arts, especially at the high school.”

Boyd compared the transition the program is making under Hawthorne to that of a new football coach taking over for a successful longtime coach, much like current Tigers football coach T.J. Tomlin did in replacing Eric Carlson in 2010.

In his experience, Boyd said it usually takes a minimum of three years for people in such positions to really establish themselves and put their own stamp on a program, but Hawthorne said he believes a lot of progress has been made in just half that time.

On Saturday, all three NHS choirs that competed — men’s, women’s and the 16-member top group, VocalPoint — were rated “superior” at the District Solo and Ensemble Contest at Wilsonville High School.

In addition, Garrett Gibbs won the tenor voice competition and Haley Harn placed third in mezzo soprano. Gibbs advanced to the OSAA State Solo Competition May 3, while Harn will be a first alternate.

One of his major objectives for the program is to establish that there will be no barriers, financial or otherwise, that will keep interested students from joining choir. If a student likes to sing or just wants to learn or give it a try, that’s enough for Hawthorne.

“So it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, experienced or inexperienced, we’re going to find a place for you in the choir program,” Hawthorne said. “That goes also to whether you are able bodied or not able bodied. We’ve seen students who have a variety of different disabilities find their way into the choir program and they know that they’re welcome.”

In an effort to defray costs for students, he reached out to his own friends on Facebook last fall, raising $6,800 to purchase new robes for the girl’s choir.

Hawthorne said he could take on that project because the program is otherwise so well supported by the administration and the community.

“A lot of my colleagues around the state are so challenged in trying to keep their programs going because they don’t have the support of an administration or a community,” Hawthorne said. “Here in Newberg everybody’s on the same page, so it just makes it really easy to push a program forward.”



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