In his first address to students, Head of School Matt Levinson P '21 shares his perspective on what it means to "hit the brakes."
"I love tech and I knew I wanted it to be a part of my Yale experience. But, having done photography and filmmaking at Pingry, I also love the visual arts. I really felt like I'd be missing a liberal arts experience if I didn't get my hands on some of that, too" he explains.
In addition to his immersion in visual arts through his major, TanTan just finished his third and final year with the Yale Spizzwinks(?), the world’s oldest underclassman a cappella group, entirely student-run and self-funded. He recalls feeling somewhat star-struck when, during his sophomore year at Pingry, he watched Spizzwink Ryan Campbell '12 return to campus to perform for students (getting to perform on all six inhabited continents as well as in your own hometown/school during your tenure is one of the group's heralded traditions). "I didn't know a cappella was a thing in college until then," he says. "I didn't realize you could see the world and sing professionally in college!"
Then, he was accepted to Yale and "rushed" the university's a cappella scene, trying out for a whopping eight different groups. After a two-week long audition process, he earned a spot with the vaulted Spizzwinks(?). His freshman year, he redesigned their website; the following two years he served as a "rush manager" as well as the group's associate business manager. In the last three years, among many memorable road trips with the group, he has performed for John Kerry's final Statement Department lunch, bungee jumped in New Zealand, and introduced his fellow singers to the city where he spent many summers as a child, Beijing. It was the first time his grandparents heard him sing.
"A lot of what I did at Pingry really shaped what I did at Yale," he says. "You have a camp of people who go into college trying to reinvent themselves. For me, I didn't feel like I was doing anything different. The path I took at Pingry really helped to pave the way for me in college."
It all began in Middle School, when, in the car en route to a drum lesson, his brother introduced him to Kap Slap, a well-known DJ in the Electronic Dance Music (EDM) scene. Never having heard the style before, he was intrigued and began downloading music production software to teach himself. The rest, he says, is history.
"My career mostly started just by uploading my tracks on SoundCloud, gaining some buzz, and ultimately having my music and brand spread throughout the online community of artists, producers, and managers," he explains. Through networking and the power of the Internet, he has worked in music production with several big names in the industry, including artists on the Billboard Top 40. He has worked with the likes of Davis Mallory, Jenaux, Ian Van Dahl, as well as labels such as Capitol, Warner, and Universal Music Group. Oh, and he recently signed with Kobalt Music Group as a producer.
A four-year member of Upper School Jazz Band, he credits Pingry's Music Department—starting with Mrs. Finn in the Lower School—for instilling in him a work ethic that he draws on in both his studies and his burgeoning career. His advice for future Pingry musicians: "Go. For. It. College is the time to experiment, try new things, figure out what you like and what you don't like. . . As long as you believe in yourself and want it enough, the sky is the limit."
Many may also not know that, between graduating from Pingry in 1964 and returning to his alma mater in 2003, he's had some pretty unforgettable photography experiences: observing wales in the Gulf of Alaska, capturing grizzlies in Katmai National Park, and savoring the epic view of half a million migrating sandhill cranes passing over the cornfields of central Nebraska, to name but a few.
Nature photography is Mr. Morrison’s first love, as he will tell you. Shortly after earning a degree in Business Administration from Monmouth College, and as an antidote to city living during the two decades he worked on Wall Street, he turned to birdwatching. He began taking his camera with him, and before long, he found he was spending more time photographing than observing. Landscapes, mammals, birds, flowers, trees—they all captured his interest. When he moved out West in 1990 to earn a master's degree in Environmental Science at the University of Montana, he was perfectly positioned to hone his craft. A self-taught artist, he visited as many national parks as he could, including Glacier, Yellowstone, Banff, Jasper, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the Grand Tetons, which remain his all-time favorite.
Family called Mr. Morrison back East a few years later, but not before he saw his work in print in the National Geographic Traveler and The National Geographic Guide to Birdwatching Sites, Western U.S. (a two-page spread!), to name but a few publications. The Greater Yellowstone Coalition and other non-profits have also published his work. His departure from big sky country was Pingry's gain. A chance meeting with Head Coach of the Boys' Varsity Soccer Team, Miller Bugliari, who happened to be Mr. Morrison's old biology teacher, landed him what would end up being a long-term gig as Pingry's very own sports photographer. Completing his return as a treasured Pingry alumnus, his photography has been on display at two group exhibits and one solo show in recent years at the Hostetter Art Center Gallery (the latter coincided, appropriately, with his 50th reunion). What does Mr. Morrison enjoy most about working for his alma mater? "The best thing is getting to know the kids," he says. Sentiments from "the kids" are mutual: In 2016, they dedicated the yearbook to him. Mr. Morrison smiles as he recalls it. "I was quite honored to receive the dedication and will always cherish the award."
Katharine (pictured right), who began at Pingry as a freshman and pursued the full repertory of drama classes available to her, had an influence on her sister, who, as a Middle Schooler, asked Mrs. Wheeler if she could get involved in The Secret Garden, from behind the scenes. “I never felt comfortable acting, it wasn’t my cup of tea,” Allie says. “But from Katharine’s experience, I knew I wanted to be part of the drama community at Pingry. Being part of the shows but not having to go on the stage—still being a leader and pushing the show forward—is so much fun.” Like Katharine, and despite her affinity for remaining inconspicuous, Allie has taken drama classes every year at Pingry, and is eager to try out the school’s new course offering her senior year—Theater Tech.
The sisters fondly recall their two overlapping years in the Upper School, when an underclassmen Allie served as stage manager for Cabaret and Curtains, both of which Katharine—a junior and senior, at the time—had leading roles in. “The fact that Katharine was part of the shows and I was in a leadership role as stage manager really gave me the confidence to talk to the older kids. They weren’t daunting upperclassmen,” she recalls. “We would talk about what happened during rehearsals or tryouts on our car rides home, who was going to get cast for the show, and all the drama and little things that are part of every show.”
For her part, Katharine, who says that Mr. Romano and Mrs. Romankow taught her the value of human connection and risk-taking, wasn’t sure if or how she wanted to pursue drama when she got to Princeton. Thus far, the comparative literature major has taken playwriting and lighting design classes, and is on course to receive a certificate in theater (Princeton doesn’t have a drama major). And, naturally, she auditioned for the department’s annual show the spring of her freshman year, a three-and-a-half-hour, avant garde, commissioned play in which she played both a dying woman and, yes, an alligator.
A string of Pingry faculty members, including Mrs. Romankow and Mr. Romano, attended. This time, her sister wasn’t behind the scenes; she was a proud member of the audience.
Recipient of the 2011 Award for Outstanding Achievement in 3D Media-Sculpture and the 2012 Brendan J. Donahue ’79 Memorial Prize for Pottery, he was pretty sure sculpture was his thing. But then he realized, thanks to another class with Mr. Freiwald, that he really liked making jewelry as well, and the idea of making sculpture on the body. After many long days in Pingry’s studio and numerous conversations with his mentor, he was on a path to becoming a fashion designer.
“I didn’t think I could pursue art as a career, but Mr. Freiwald really helped to show me the ways in which I could,” says Ned. “He suggested I try a precollege design program at RISD [the Rhode Island School of Design] the summer of my junior year. That’s what ultimately led me to fashion. He was so supportive and a major part of my design school applications, helping me with the creation of my portfolio. Mrs. Markenson [former Upper School Dean of Students] also helped me get an interview with the women's design team at Rugby Ralph Lauren, which is ultimately what I was able to do for my senior year ISP at Pingry. That experience definitely helped kick start my career. "
After four intense years at Parsons School of Design, and coveted internships with many high-end, ready-to-wear labels, including Proenza Schouler, Cole Haan, and continued work at Ralph Lauren, Ned is now a women’s assistant designer at Lands’ End.
In what ways did Pingry challenge him to get there? “All of my literature classes in high school greatly influenced my work at Parsons, and almost all of the collections I designed had some sort of literary reference point,” he remarks. “For my senior thesis at Parsons, Heart of Darkness was a major influence. But fashion is an amalgamation of so many different disciplines, so all of my classes informed the way in which I work now. I do a lot of pattern-making, so even my Pingry geometry class with Mr. Hedengren became relevant."
“He was just so knowledgeable, showing me different artists, showing me all the different things I could do in the studio space, challenging me to think outside the box and really be creative. I had never really done that before,” she recalls.
Thanks to Mr. Boyd’s mentoring, Evy soon discovered a passion for graphic design, which, she says, perfectly combines her interests in both photography and editorial work, or graphic art. At Pingry’s annual student photography exhibition her senior year, she showcased her skill. “I wasn’t going to enter. I don’t know why. I guess I didn’t have anything ready at the time. Then I decided to take a photograph of my friend one day. It was a staged photo that I took in maybe 15 minutes. She is looking down, half her face has makeup on it and half doesn’t. I drew a dotted line with facepaint down her face; I titled it Beauty. It’s one of my favorite pieces, and it was a real turning point for me, where my art started to become more mature, where I felt like I was really getting my stride and groove as an artist.” Her entry earned her the show’s Judge’s Award, and, not long after, she was the recipient of Pingry’s Michael E. Popp Photography Prize.
An experimental artist, in her words, Evy incorporates multimedia, mixed media, installation art, and more in her creations. She is considering pursuing a master’s degree in photography to solidify her skills, and envisions one day working for a nature magazine, like National Geographic.
“Pingry definitely helped me strengthen my ability and curiosity to learn about art,” she says. “I think I was really lucky with the art program. Compared to other schools, Pingry gives you access and exposure to a lot. It really introduced me to the art world.”
For the next three years, she threw herself into the arts at Pingry, performing in all the Upper School plays and musicals (in her final Pingry musical, Curtains, her senior year, 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 was a balancing act, she admits. But it was a balancing act that she feels was well worth the effort.
She speaks fondly about Mr. Delman, who, she says, gave her the freedom to develop as an artist (during free periods, she stole away to a quiet art studio to work, with his permission). Mr. Romano and Mrs. Romankow, who guided her in each Pingry production, are also beloved. “When I was in rehearsal with them both I just kept 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.”
Clearly, Emily was already a busy student musician. She simply wanted to share her passion for music with the Pingry community. So, she put down her prized violin, picked up—and learned!—the viola (the quartet was in need of a player), and formed the group.
Rewind to her sophomore year, however, when she juggled commitments to Pingry’s swim team, which she also enjoyed, in addition to music, and she questioned her musical ambitions altogether, wondering if perhaps she should give them up. But that summer, after participating in a trip with the International Youth Music Festival to Vienna, Prague, and Austria, and losing herself in the experience, she decided to commit herself anew to her passion.
“I feel blessed to have had such a supportive community in Pingry. And I’m proud of the fact that the school community knows me as a violinist, and know that I’m passionate about music,” she says. “That was my goal throughout my Pingry career—advocating classical music. That’s the legacy I wanted to leave at Pingry.”
In particular, Drama Department Chair, Mr. Al Romano, was an influential figure in her development, and not simply on the stage. “He was like a dad to me throughout high school,” said Jazmin. “He emphasized the role that drama skills play in life overall. As a result, my acting self and my school self always felt very integrated.” She recalled a particularly tough day early in high school, when she had a lot on her plate. She sought him out for comfort. “He sat down with me and helped me map out a schedule for the rest of the week to get organized. That’s the kind of teacher he is.”
Jazmin’s other memorable roles while at Pingry: In eighth grade, she stretched herself as an actor to play the crooked old miser Fagin in Oliver Twist. She surprised her mom with a solo show-opener, singing All That Jazz in an end-of-summer concert for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center Young Artist Summer Intensive, a prestigious program to which she was twice accepted. And, her senior year, she played Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret, a show that will forever stand out in her mind.
“Realizing that that was the last time I would perform on Pingry’s stage was hard,” she recalls. “Macrae Theater had been my home since sixth grade. All my memories—fall plays, musicals, drama classes, set work—were in that space. That was home for me.”
But, when he arrived, he took a dance class with Mrs. Wheeler and discovered an interest in movement (later, in high school, he even started a dance group with three of his friends called “The Pingry Academiks”). A drama class with Mrs. Romankow and performances with friends during Multicultural Day Assemblies sparked a love for performing. Then, he took a poetry class with Dr. Dineen and developed an interest in performance poetry. And conversations with his track coach and English teacher, Mr. Shilts, led to a curiosity in film. By the time he graduated, his passions were numerous.
“I was a definitely all over the place at Pingry, and even in college,” he says (he graduated from Trinity College in 2014 with a degree in fine arts, focused on illustration and film studies). “But the freedom to explore, to experiment, is really what Pingry afforded me. I didn’t want to do just one thing; I wanted to bring together different styles and types of art and find a way to make it all work in harmony.”
Now, as a multimedia artist pursuing an MFA in graphic novels and comics at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, he is doing just that.
His advice to current Pingry artists? “Be hungry—make the most of the faculty and resources while you're at Pingry, because you won't find their quality and personal investment even at many colleges and universities. It's a top-tier institution; the space and freedom is there for you to not simply create an opportunity, but blaze new paths. The sky is your limit."
Fast forward to her senior year and she had fulfilled her high school dream—landing the lead, Sally Bowles, in Cabaret. But in those intervening years, she faced her fair share of rejection from roles she pined for and other endeavors (like Student Body President). They were all tough experiences, she says, but prepared her well for the college application process, and life. “I really learned to take rejection as a means to work harder, congratulate the winner, and move on. Other peoples’ successes are not your failures. That lesson has helped me a lot,” she says.
A four-year member of the Balladeers and co-president of Pingry’s Student Activity Council (SAC) her senior year (a club that presents sketches and performances during Morning Meetings), Erin is now immersed in her craft on a much larger stage. “I want to be a Tina Fey, a Stephen Colbert, a Jimmy Fallon,” she muses. “I want to hold a clipboard on the Saturday Night Live set. There are so many moving parts to a good performance, and that’s what I loved on a smaller scale about SAC at Pingry—people working together, coming together, sometimes last-minute, to create something really terrific."
During his senior year at Pingry, he was tapped to perform as Keith Urban’s keyboardist during the American Country Music Awards. Just after graduation, he joined guitar virtuoso Steve Vai on an international concert tour that took him to Australia, Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, China, Taiwan, and Thailand, all before he turned 19. And, during his sophomore year at USC’s Thornton School of Music, where he has been taught by music masters Patrice Rushen, Smokey Robinson, and John Fogerty, he appeared as a student musician on two episodes of the hit show Glee.
A classically trained pianist since the first grade, Michael’s attention turned to the keyboard during his freshman year at Pingry. It didn’t take him long to scout out a local mentor, who happened to be Billy Joel’s band member. By some standards, he has already lived a lifetime of success since his Pingry graduation, but that hasn’t clouded his high school memories.
“Mr. McAnally [Middle and Upper School music teacher and Director of the Jazz Band] played a big part in fostering my overall curiosity, introducing me to new kinds of music and playing that I hadn’t yet explored,” he says. “I remember jazz band my freshman year he introduced us to Pat Metheny and Keith Jarrett. We had to play a couple of pieces by Pat—I remember Five-Five-Seven being particularly challenging. But it was a lot of fun.”
Music education aside, Michael also recalls the impact of Mrs. Grant’s creative writing class his junior year, where he dove into various forms of written art, including short stories and poetry. “It was a very eye-opening and inspirational class,” he remembers. “Lyrics play an enormous role in music, and that class really got me thinking about the ways in which people communicate and how emotion is conveyed. It opened the door for me in terms of my ability to write lyrics.”
With plans to graduate a semester early in order to join another world tour, his music career is really just beginning.
His advice for Pingry students? “Work hard at what you’re doing but don’t be afraid to take in everything, even classes that don’t seem immediately relevant to your interests. There’s just so much to learn.”
The decision was a wrenching one. A talented runner, who competed for Big Blue cross country and track all four years (except track her senior year), she assumed college recruitment was in the cards, even speaking to NYU’s coach, who was interested in her. She also happens to come from a family of runners. Both of her parents are former professional distance runners (her father, Gerry Vanasse, is Pingry Middle School’s Director of Athletics).
But, as the injuries piled up, she realized, “Mentally, running just wasn’t fun anymore. I was spending more and more time away from the team recovering, and always participated in the musicals to fill the gap. Until my freshman year, when I first tried out, I really didn’t know what musical theater was.” Slowly but surely, her interests evolved. By her senior year, she had decided: ‘”I don’t think I want to run; I want to try something different,’” she recalls saying to herself.
What happened when she told Mr. Winston—vocal director of Pingry’s a cappella group, the Balladeers, and Glee Club, both of which Camille was involved in—of her decision to pursue her musical interests in college? “His immediate response was, ‘Let me help you with your audition tapes.’ He played such a pivotal role in my decision to follow this route. He pushed and supported me the perfect amount, and helped me to believe that I could go further.”
The recipient of Pingry’s top music honor, the Madeline Bristol Wild Music Prize, Camille is now happily immersed in the New Studio on Broadway program at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Still, she returns to campus on occasion to ask Mr. Winston for his feedback on new pieces. “Without him, I wouldn’t have had the courage to break boundaries and immerse myself in the unknown.”
In 2014, Brian auditioned and was selected to the competitive Paper Mill Playhouse Broadway Show Choir. Just a year earlier, however, as a freshman, when he tried out for Pingry’s a cappella group, the Buttondowns (which he knew he wanted to be part of ever since he heard them perform on Accepted Students Day), he didn’t make the cut. He wasn’t deterred. “I was disappointed, but I knew that I had to improve,” he recalls. “I began vocal lessons, I practiced constantly, and by my sophomore year I made it, which gave me courage to try out for the musical. With Dr. Moore’s guidance in music theory, and Mrs. Romankow and Mr. Romano’s dramatic teaching, I have really grown as an artist at Pingry.”
A "graduate" of three Pingry musicals and three plays, he has told many stories to many different audiences. Now, a performer at Franklin & Marshall College, where he is planning to double major in music and physics, he continues to pursue both his artistic and academic passions. Perhaps not obvious to most, but he sees a poetic parallel between the two disciplines. “Outside of music, [physics teacher] Mr. Burns was one of my closest teachers,” he says. “He really helped me to consider the “why” of physics problems—the underlying math—which is similar to understanding why my character is doing what it’s doing when I perform.”
Physics and music might be on opposite sides of the academic spectrum, but for Brian, thanks to lessons learned at Pingry, they are perfectly, harmoniously, aligned.
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 was 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 was able to try a number of different things. My main sport was water polo, and I was also really involved in Pingry’s research programs [he was co-head of The Journal Club]—very few schools even offer these opportunities. I was able to have all these different identities at the same time, without being labeled.”