For eight weeks this spring, second- and fourth-grade students took part in an exciting global learning program.
For the next three years, she threw herself into the arts at Pingry, performing in all the Upper School plays and musicals (as a senior she recently wrapped up her final Pingry musical, Curtains, in which she had her biggest role yet, as Lucille Shapiro), taking studio art classes with Mr. Delman, and loving art history with Mr. Paton. Her junior year, she even became a Balladeer. Juggling all her artistic pursuits is a balancing act, she admits. But it’s a balancing act that she feels is well worth the effort.
She speaks fondly about Mr. Delman, who, she says, gives her the freedom to develop as an artist (during free periods, she steals away to a quiet art studio to work, with his permission). Mr. Romano and Mrs. Romankow, who have guided her in each Pingry production, are also beloved. “I’m in rehearsal with them both and I’m just thinking, wow, I am so lucky to be working with these two people. They are so brilliant and loving, a joy to be with and work with,” she says.
For Emma Claire, all her artistic interests share a single, common denominator. “Whether I’m drawing in a sketchbook, painting, practicing a scene on stage, or rehearsing an a cappella song—it’s all about telling a story,” she reflects. “Art at Pingry is all about collaboration; it’s this balance between collaboration and individualism. In many ways, you can’t be successful in one without the other.”
“I never thought I could be this deeply involved in music, but being part of the Balladeers has shaped every aspect of my life at Pingry,” she says. By her account, the experience has made her more creative, more confident, and less averse to taking risks. Her freshman year, wanting to get comfortable singing in front of large groups of people, she made a pact with a fellow newbie Balladeer to audition for every single solo opportunity. By her sophomore year, she nailed the solo for Bohemian Rhapsody. She also sees her newfound risk-taking playing out in the classroom. Says the science-minded alto, “I’m an analytical paper kind of gal. I don’t take many risks in English class, but now I find myself experimenting more. Now I think: ‘If I can get excited about this song, I can get excited about the other things I’m doing.’”
A member of the Project 80 science club, in which students develop podcasts and videos on a variety of compelling scientific stories, she has further honed her ability to hear carefully, to listen thoughtfully. Last year, she did a Journal Club presentation on how listening to music affects neurons in the brain.
Having never before considered pursuing music in college, now she does. “The Balladeers have been a stronghold for me, a group of people I can fall back on. Even during a solo, I know they’re always there behind me, no matter what.” She laughs as she tells about their annual holiday gift exchange, when one Balladeer asked for a boyfriend. What did she receive? A cardboard cut-out of Zac Ephron, on which the group practices their serenades. “Yeah, we’re all here to do music because we love it,” she says, “but we’re also here to have fun, to be the best versions of ourselves.”
Back at Pingry, when he reached Grade 9, he took a year of Art Fundamentals—a required course for all art students—so that he could pursue Intro to Photography his sophomore year. That was followed by Photo 1, and now, fully immersed in the art form, he is a student in Photo 2, continuing to learn and hone his craft. His teacher, Chair of the Fine Arts Department Mr. Miles Boyd, is instructing him on the use of a 35 mm camera, with film.
“It’s a really interesting process,” says Tyler. “Unlike digital photography, film really makes you slow down and pay attention to what you’re shooting. You have to be more precise and make sure your settings are correct. It gives you a real appreciation for composition.”
Photography in general, he says, gives him an opportunity to rest his mind from traditional academic classes, refocus, and challenge it in a different way. He finds it rejuvenating. People are his favorite subject, especially crowds, where he can capture one or two unsuspecting individuals in the midst of many, going about their day. Back in the classroom, English and Spanish are his favorite subjects. “I enjoy being able to explore the limits of my creativity and my ability to illustrate what I am thinking,” he adds.
Tyler, a student government representative and three-year member of Pingry’s track & field team (a sprinter, he races the 100, 200, and 400 meters), doesn’t think that he will pursue photography exclusively when he gets to college. That said, he doesn’t envision abandoning a hobby about which he’s so passionate anytime soon.
A comment that Mr. Boyd made to him rings true. “He told me that once you discover photography, you will never see the world the same way again. Now, whenever I look around and see something interesting or pretty, like a sunset, I see it as if I’m looking through a frame.”
Shortly, the junior will join his fellow fine arts classmates on a field trip to the Whitney Museum to view a photography exhibit. His camera will be close by.
Entropy—a short, no-dialogue narrative told through flashbacks, or, as Adam describes it, “an intentionally ambiguous story that can be interpreted in multiple ways, with no right answer”— took the grand prize in the festival’s “experimental” category for emerging filmmakers. It’s a fitting comparison to what he most appreciates about Pingry.
“I wouldn’t say I’m an “art kid;” it’s definitely not the only thing I do,” he says. “At Pingry, I’ve been able to try a number of different things. My main sport is water polo, and I’m also really involved in Pingry’s research programs [he’s co-head of The Journal Club]—very few schools even offer these opportunities. I’ve been able to have all these different identities at the same time, without being labeled.”
He will attend a film program this summer, and is even considering film school for college, where he may also play water polo and pursue his interest in science. Like his prize-winning short, there is no single path, no right answer.
The following year, he landed the role of television-obsessed Mike Teavee in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (“I enjoy video games, so it was a natural part for me,” Ram jokes). Last year, as a sixth grader, he played Francis Flute in Midsummer Night’s Dream, a role that required him to also portray Thisbe, a female, in the play within the play that takes place. “At first I thought, ‘Oh, gosh, do I really have to do this? But everyone was very supportive, and it was really fun.”
Now, a seventh grader, he is transforming himself into The Tempest’s Caliban, “a misunderstood demon child,” as Ram characterizes him. Indeed, every year since his first show in the third grade, he has performed in a Pingry musical or play. Not a bad repertoire for a soon-to-be 13-year-old, whose self-drive and work ethic are evident. “You really have to work for something if you want to get it,” he says.
Ram also sings in the Middle School boys’ chorus and credits his teacher, Pingry’s Music Department Chair, Dr. Andrew Moore, with teaching him a lot—and with allowing him and his fellow choir members to have a good deal of fun. He hopes to become a Buttondown himself when he reaches the Upper School (he will be a freshman when his brother is a senior, making the prospect of performing together exciting).
For now, he is focused on his upcoming performance in The Tempest. What does he love most about acting? “The fact that you can do it with others. I love that you’re on stage with so many other people, combining your talents, and making friends along the way.”
Ajuné has been drawing since preschool, and fully intends to continue to pursue visual arts through the Upper School. Like many Pingry students, she is multi-faceted, however. Her other main interest: chemistry.
Middle School art teacher Jane Kunzman is one of Ajuné’s greatest admirers and promoters, agreeing to her creative mandala project even though it didn’t meet the assignment’s exact requirements. In turn, Ajuné often shares even her private sketches with her teacher. “Mrs. Kunzman always keeps an open mind about our ideas and lets us bend the rules a bit,” she says. “She encourages me to follow my ideas, suggesting that maybe the result will turn out to be better than what I originally imagined.”
Ask him to compare his Juilliard experience to his life at Pingry, and he will respond: “Juilliard is an extraordinary place to go. However, I feel right at home at Pingry, and home is where you belong.” As he sees it, one day a week he experiences the Juilliard community, and five days a week he is able to pursue his music in a different way, among many other interests, in the Pingry community. “It’s such a great community, and I am so proud of it.”A member of the Pingry’s Glee Club and the Buttondowns a cappella group, his singing complements his playing, he says. He gives special thanks to Dr. Andrew Moore, Music Department Chair and Director of the Buttondowns, for supporting his interests, both vocal and instrumental. (When he needs a quiet place to do homework, Dr. Moore’s office is always open to him.) Jon has even arranged popular renditions of Ed Sherran’s Photograph and Boys II Men songs for the group. Although he doesn’t envision becoming a professional singer or musician, wanting instead to explore different options, his experiences at Pingry and beyond have equipped him well. “Practice time with the Buttondowns is the class I most look forward to,” he says. “It’s chaos, and it’s pure fun.”