Performing Arts Teachers Hope to Change the World With Wolf Trap Grants

Performing Arts Teachers Hope to Change the World With Wolf Trap Grants

Can a musical composition save the oceans? Can a local performing arts teacher help develop the final script for an original production that will be used by all future high school presentations of that work in the nation? Can a dramatic performance raise awareness of the importance of inclusion and accessibility for students with autism and other learning disabilities?

Three teachers in Loudoun County Public Schools believe the answer to those questions is ‘Yes,’ and they are in the process of testing that theory as recipients of the 2018/2019 Wolf Trap Grants Program for High School Performing Arts Teachers.

  • Park View High School music and guitar instructor Miroslav Lončar is using his grant to commission two new compositions written specifically for Park View guitar students about the problem of pollution in the Earth’s oceans. Those pieces will be performed for the first time at a special concert on March 12 in the Park View auditorium.
  • Rock Ridge High School performing arts instructor Anthony Cimino-Johnson will help develop the final script and then will produce and direct his students in the national premiere of “Bright Star” at the Virginia Thespian Festival in February.
  • Tuscarora High School theater instructor Justin Daniel and his students will use the grant to produce the school’s first “relaxed” performance geared towards students with autism, learning disabilities, and sensory/communication needs to bring awareness to the importance of inclusion and accessibility within the performing arts. The final production of “Seussical “will be performed in May 2019.

Wolf Trap Grants are awarded annually to individual public high school teachers in the performing arts for instruction leading to student performance. The program is designed to reward teachers in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Northern Virginia who give many young performing artists their first on-stage opportunities, particularly those creating innovative new programs.

Seven teachers were selected for the 2018-19 school year and each received a grant of $5,000.

For Lončar, it was the second time he had been chosen to receive a Wolf Trap grant. He said serendipity was involved in his selection of water pollution for his application, because he received a reminder from LCPS Music Supervisor Michael Pierson while he was in his native Croatia conducting guitar instruction camps.

“At that time I was in Croatia and I had been watching some videos on YouTube about the problems with the ocean pollution,” Lončar said. “About the same time the email came and I started looking at the categories for this grant and one of the categories is called ‘Going Green.’ It is about celebrating the relationship between art and nature, and using the arts to protect the environment. Viewing this video about ocean pollution, it gave me something concrete in mind of what I would like to do related to this project.”

When he was notified that he would receive the grant, Lončar reached out to two colleagues to write original compositions for the project.

“I approached two excellent, up-and-coming composers who have written very successfully for guitar ensembles,” Lončar said. “Both were very happy to accept my invitation and my offer to write a piece for this project.”

Lončar wanted the two compositions written for various levels of playing abilities, which gives all the guitar students an opportunity to be a part of the performance. Lončar also wanted the compositions to be a collaboration between several areas of the music department at Park View and requested that the composers add another performance medium to the guitar ensemble.

Javier Farías, a native of Chile who lives in Maryland, composed a work titled “response restoration.” Farias’ piece draws on South American musical styles and on traditional playing techniques. The piece will also incorporate flutes.

Olga Amelkina Vera, a native of Belarus who lives in Texas, composed a work titled “Ode to Thalassa.” Her piece includes a female vocal ensemble.

”Also, I decided to collaborate with other parts of the music department here, so we have the choral department involved as well as the band,” Lončar said. “One of the pieces will have a female chorus and the other will have a solo flute.”

“I’m also collaborating with the environmental sciences section of the science department, spreading this out between many areas of the school and thus getting more people involved,” Lončar said.

Anna Nuñez (Environmental sciences instructor) found a connection with what Lončar is doing because she said her classes are working on creating artwork from trash. Nuñez said they could definitely tie those things in and her students are already working on something to present.

Lončar said Farias and Vera both plan to attend the special debut of their compositions on March 12 in the Park View auditorium. “My main goal is raise awareness of this problem,” Lončar said. “Doing it through music, I’m hoping to reach people who wouldn’t usually be exposed to this problem.”At Rock Ridge, Cimino-Johnson was asked by Theatrical Rights Worldwide to produce the National Premiere of a work titled “Bright Star.” He will work with Steve Martin and Jim Hoare to develop the final script that will be used by all future high school productions in the nation. The project goal is to provide a unique opportunity for his students to work with both the licensing company and the playwright to bring the work to the stage. The script that is developed, as well as staging notes, annotations, and a letter from the production team will be used as a resource for high school productions throughout the country. Rock Ridge performed for the local community in January and will perform it at the Virginia Thespian Festival in February.At Tuscarora, Daniel and his students will use the grant to produce the school’s first “relaxed” performance geared towards students with autism, learning disabilities, and sensory/communication needs. Guest artists trained in special education and inclusion will work with Daniel’s classes to plan and implement strategies within the performance and also discuss the importance of accessibility for all audiences.“Sensory-friendly performances include accommodations for audiences with disabilities, including adjusting the volume of speakers or offering fidget spinners,” Daniel said. “Through Wolf Trap we received funding to for an Inclusion Specialist from Imagination Stage (in Maryland) to work with our students on creating and implementing accommodations.We have also used the funds to attend productions at Imagination Stage to see these accommodations first hand. The remaining monies are being used to purchase equipment for accommodations in Tuscarora’s first sensory-free performance, ‘Seussical,’ at 11 a.m. on May 4.”

Joseph Dill