Students in graduation

Intensive music program seeks motivated music students to join The Hive

January 2020

Speaking at his induction into the St. Benedict’s Prep Hall of Fame in October of 2018, renowned jazz pianist Garry Dial ’72 wondered what it would take to have a music program as successful and well known as the Gray Bee soccer team. As someone whose illustrious musical career started in Conlin Auditorium, he wondered how such a program could get off the ground. “Why,” he asked, “wasn’t music as great as athletics here?”

Mr. Dial’s Benedict’s pedigree is deep; his father, two uncles and brother graduated from The Hive; he spent high school years playing piano for Drama Guild productions and credits the monks as important supporters of his musical education. Fast forward to twelve years ago when St. Benedict’s was looking for a new head of the Music Department after the departure of Peter Holsberg. Jeremy Fletcher, Mr. Dial’s doctoral student at Manhattan School of Music and an accomplished jazz musician himself, seemed a perfect fit. Since 2009, Dr. Fletcher has been essentially the lone music teacher here, handling general music classes, concert band, pep band, drum line, jazz band and instrument lessons for the middle school. Jazz has remained his personal passion.

So, when Mr. Dial brought up the idea of a nationally recognized jazz program at Benedict’s, Dr. Fletcher was all in. Meanwhile, William Doan, a relatively recent Benedict’s donor to the scholarship fund who was introduced to the school through the 60 Minutes broadcast, was asking the same questions Mr. Dial brought up.

“I loved the story of the success of the crew team and thought, why not music?” Mr. Doan said.

For Mr. Doan, who grew up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, music was central to his early education and remains an important part of his life. A frequent visitor here, he wondered why the music program seemed limited, unlike the School’s athletic programs. He talked to Fr. Ed and said he wanted to do something. And he knew that with financial support and the right people, something great could happen with music.

Last summer, with Mr. Doan’s encouragement, Dr. Fletcher and Mr. Dial came up with a business plan for Jazz@SBP. Mr. Doan provided half of the annual budget for the first year and another significant donor, coupled with other donors to the music program, have raised the other half. Mr. Doan has committed to continue his support into the future.

Mr. Doan’s generosity and enthusiasm, along with Mr. Dial’s knowledge and connections in the jazz world and Dr. Fletcher’s teaching and performing experience have gotten Jazz@SBP off to a strong start. A new teacher, pianist Josh Mauldin, is teaching general music, pull-out piano lessons for the Middle Division and chorus for the Prep Division, freeing Dr. Fletcher to also give small group private instrument lessons to elementary students, thus creating a feeder program for the Prep Division. And the program, thanks to the donations, will provide scholarships to talented music students who want to attend SBP and study jazz.

What will Jazz@SBP look like? A work in progress now, it has started with a Prep jazz curriculum designed by Dr. Fletcher and Mr. Dial. Students in the program will also have private lessons and private weekly lessons with outside professionals. Just like the athletes practice daily for two hours after school, the Jazz@SBP kids will practice five days a week for two hours after school. They will take a core group of classes, with four or five different electives including jazz history, jazz theory, jazz arranging, improvisation, piano skills and computer music skills. Dr. Fletcher said he expects the program to “morph in unexpected ways until it is something that is an institutional point of pride.”

Dr. Fletcher and Mr. Dial have been networking with their many contacts in the jazz world to publicize and gain support for their effort. Opportunities to work with Montclair’s Jazz House Kids program are being explored and Dr. Fletcher has recently attended the Jazz Education Network’s Annual conference in New Orleans. He is also a member of the New Jersey Association for Jazz Education. They are looking for talented young men, passionate about music, to be the inaugural members of what promises to be another Gray Bee championship team.

Channeling St. Benedict’s competitive drive, Mr. Doan said, “I am not going to be happy until we are in the finals of a national Jazz competition.” And he noted that the jazz students here can be extraordinary, whether they become professional musicians or not. They will take the music they learn here into the future. “For the rest of their lives, they will have this.” Dr. Fletcher agreed, “Excelling at this music will always bring them tremendous joy.”

Interested students should contact Dr. Fletcher by email at Scholarships are available. Pre-screening is required and audition is by invitation only.