South Orangetown Central School District

Last August, Tappan Zee High School Choral Director Russell Wagoner earned his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Boston University. His dissertation topic? The use of tap dance movement to help students recognize rhythms and patterns in choral music. Through his research, Dr. Wagoner found that movements that were too simple or too complex didn’t help–but the “Goldilocks” movements in between were effective.

While his students do use their bodies as part of the learning process, Dr. Wagoner says that the bigger takeaway from his research was the importance of listening to students. “We as teachers need to make sure that we’re really listening to what students tell us about how they connect to material and how they learn,” he reflects. “For me, teaching doesn’t get stale because courses are constantly evolving. Every class is different; what worked for one group last year isn’t going to necessarily be effective for a new group this year. It requires a lot of prep, but it’s rewarding work.”

In fact, students’ voices inspired the development of Interactive Music, a new course introduced at the high school last year. “We weren’t reaching kids who were interested in learning piano or guitar or how to write music,” Dr. Wagoner explains. “I found that there were students who may have taken private lesson in the past, but had stopped because they didn’t have the resources or time. So we reworked our music theory class and and designed the course for these students with built-in time for practice.”

In addition to Interactive Music, Dr. Wagoner teaches two concert ensembles (Chorale and Concert Choir) and The Singing Actor. “I try to incorporate as much hands-on and real world experience as possible,” he notes, adding that students attend the Metropolitan Opera and Broadway musicals and have performed at Radio City Music Hall for the past five years.

To learn more about Interactive Music and other TZHS Music Department courses, click here for the 2018-19 Curriculum Guide.

TZHS Choral Director Russell Wagoner seated at piano