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Dublin High School Choir Ushers in the Holiday Season

December 18, 2013
Jonathan Ulrich and Fawn Holman

Jonathan Ulrich and Fawn Holman

For some, the holiday season may have begun with Black Friday. Locally, the true kickoff of the holidays came in the form of the Dublin High School Winter Choral Concert on Tuesday night. This evening also featured both the Fallon Middle School Mustang Chorus and the Wells Middle School Roadrunner Chorus. A packed Student Union gathered to experience a tidy, yet very fulfilling performance.

The evening got off to an unexpected, yet very gracious start. Dublin Partners in Education (DPIE) Executive Director, Fawn Holman, presented the Dublin Unified School District with a check for $2,500. These funds are to be specifically earmarked in support of the Choral programs within the district. From there, new Choral Director Jonathan Ulrich took the reins and led an hour-long program filled with musical standards, popular music and holiday classics. In reality, this evening represented something much more significant. While the band programs at all three schools have been on the rise, there had been rising evidence that many students were interested in a choir program. As Wells Middle School Vice-Principal Mark Woy had noted to us, the program at that site had been largely dormant for over a decade. This was not out of indifference, but due to a lack of resources and the rapid growth of their own drum corps, marching and jazz bands. Recent student surveys had confirmed a desire to resurrect this important elective.

Prior to the Winter Concert performance, had the opportunity to sit down with the new Director of Secondary Choirs and A Music Theory, Mr. Jonathan Ulrich. Jonathan is a native of Wisconsin. Upon completing a Bachelors of Music Education from Saint Norbert College, he determined that he had spent his “last frigid winter in Wisconsin.” With his eyes to the west and some family that resided in Salinas, Jon came to California. During this time, he completed his Masters of Arts in Education from San Francisco State University and embarked upon his professional career. Mr. Ulrich shared his thoughts on his background and his vision for choral arts in DUSD. By achieving an undergraduate degree in Music Education, this might imply that music was not simply a hobby of yours. Were you musically inclined in your youth?

Dublin High School Choir Director Jonathan UlrichJonathan Ulrich: “As far back as I can remember, I have always had music in my life. Neither of my parents have any history in the musical arts. I am grateful to my parents for my love of music and singing, because they supported and encouraged they supported this passion even though they had no background to draw from. I was fortunate enough to graduate from a public school system that not only had a strong arts education program, but also became a model district for the state of Wisconsin’s music standards. In High School, I was able to be involved in choir and band for all for years while still being able to complete all of my requirements and college prerequisites and still graduate with honors. I was involved in 6 musical theater productions, as well as 4 years of competitive show choir and 2 years of summer marching band, all while being a Varsity athlete in Football, Wrestling and Cheer-leading.” Particularly after completing your M.A. in Education, what were your professional ambitions? Was your desire to be in a classroom with students the primary goal?

Ulrich: “Unlike many music teachers, my ambition from the very beginning was to be an educator; meaning I did not pursue a teaching license as a “fallback” if a career in performance did not pan out. My professional goals did not change as a result of finishing my M.A.E., as my reasons for entering the Master’s program at San Francisco State where more personal than they were professional. I was teaching a very successful choral program at a high school in Wisconsin, and in the time that I was there I built a program that was recognized throughout the Midwest for quality, and one out of four students in the entire high school were enrolled. The move to the Bay Area and enrollment at San Francisco State offered me the opportunity to work with and learn from Dr. Carolyn Lindemann, a fantastic educator who had just finished her term as the president of MENC (now NAfME), the national professional organization for music teachers. These experiences in graduate school were meant to help me improve my teaching skills and become a more effective educator.” Your arrival to DUSD comes at an auspicious time. The choir programs at the middle schools have been reinvigorated and the new DHS Performing Arts Center will open in 2014. Please explain your vision for the choral arts throughout the district.

Ulrich: “I work very hard to give my students a sequential, standards-based education in music. As a classroom teacher, an initial measure of my success would be the number of students that are achieving proficiency in the standards as they are addressed. As a musician, I want to instill in them the same love and passion for the art form that I have. It is my firm belief that if you instill that passion, the academia of music will follow. My ultimate goal is to instill that love and passion in every student in my classroom, and I work very hard to that end. However, I consider every individual student in my classroom a success story in some way. To make sure that all of my students are meeting the standards proficiently, my lesson plans have regular, systematic assessment built into the daily routine. This assessment can include written, oral and other demonstration of the foundational elements of the lesson, which can happen individually, in a small group-learning environment, or in a full class setting. More importantly, I take the time to listen to my students, because by opening a line of communication I am better able to informally assess a student’s progress in my classroom.” Anything else that you would like to add?

Ulrich: “My ultimate goal as a teacher is to make a difference in the life of every young adult that has chosen to be a student in my classroom. I am committed to not only provide them best education in music theory, music history and singing techniques, but also to their advancement and development as a well-rounded human being who can make a positive difference in any and every community of which they are a member. At the end of their tenure as my student, I want them to leave with as much knowledge of my subject area as they are capable of taking with them, as well as the empowerment to do anything that they put their mind and effort to do and the skills to do it.”

Clearly the enhancement of any program not only impacts its students, but it also has a profound impact on the site administrator. The affect is a new elective that can breathe added life into an existing curriculum. To cement this sentiment, we sought out feedback from the sites directly affected – Fallon & Wells Middle School and Dublin High. What positive impact has Jon brought to your site and to its students?

Sheri Sweeney – Principal at Fallon Middle School: “Mr. Ulrich is a highly-skilled choral instructor who regularly reminds both students and staff about the importance of music education in a comprehensive middle school program. He is passionate about his subject matter, and he has worked diligently to lay the foundation for a strong choral music program at Fallon. We look forward to building on this foundation in coming years.”

Kevin Grier – Principal at Wells Middle School: “Jon has brought back to Wells the choral program that was at Wells several years ago and has added his unique high energy level to it. The students have truly embraced the new program and love going to choir. We thought that we would maybe be able to find 25 students that would want choir for a semester and instead we now have nearly 60 students in the one class section at our site! Furthermore, the students have asked to remain in the program for the entire year rather than exit the course at the semester. I am so happy to have this element of choral music to our school experience as it continues to grow our visual and performing arts program (instrumental music elective, theater electives, art electives, and now choir electives) and gives our students yet another opportunity/outlet in which to express themselves and embrace their talents.”

Carol Shimizu – Principal at Dublin High School: “Jon Ulrich is a talented, creative, humorous and patient choral teacher. He comes to DUSD with a high degree of personal expertise, in addition to first-hand experiences from former teaching positions. He is passionate about music education and the many opportunities it presents for students. From AP Music Theory to Show Choir, Jon has the expertise to do it all. Jon has a openness that makes all students feel welcomed in his classroom, and this translates into students feeling valued. The choir program is certain to grow under his leadership. During the fall semester, Jon willingly facilitated evening marching band practices, weekend competitions and Honor Band applications among several other duties. Jon Ulrich is a terrific asset to our district!”

So, a successful Winter Concert was conducted at Dublin High School on Tuesday night. Based upon the turnout, alone, this promises to be a very successful program in the future. A future that looks bright, thanks to the immediate contributions by Mr. Jonathan Ulrich.

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