A Musical Step, 28 Years and Counting
A Musical Step, 28 Years and Counting

Walking into the band room on the second floor at UNIS requires a bit of balance and fine-tuned maneuvering: Every nook seems to be taken up by an instrument. There's the edge of a flute there, the top of a trombone here, and even the vibrations of a just-snared symbol nearby. Suffice to say, when the whole band is at play, observers may be blown away. And not by the mere volume, but in the catchy and rhythmic tunes the young musicians are mastering, all following the lead of Gary Capetandes.

Having walked UNIS' halls for the past 28 years, Capetandes has an acute sense of the evolution of this international school—particularly the music program. "The department has grown a lot," says the brass instructor and band director, "and I'm not only speaking of sheer numbers, but in the quality and depth of the musicians and ensembles. Now, I think these go hand in hand—as the quality of the music increases, more students become interested in pursuing lessons and in joining the ensembles." But much of this, he says, is a reflection of the unique private lessons program, which houses some of NYC's stellar musicians as instructors.

All middle school students at UNIS spend four years mastering a musical instrument (which may include their own voice), but the key component of the requirement is the private lessons. "We've always had great teachers," says Capetandes, "but the development of the program is such that now our students are able to work with some of the best musicians the world has to offer, allowing them to truly dig down deeper into the discipline, master their instruments and learn the finer nuances of expression."

There's also a lot to be said of the socio-emotional learning that comes along with the program. "Because the program is so hands on, the students are aware that they are held accountable for their progress, and have to struggle to achieve excellence. This builds not only confidence, but also vital life skills."

A testament to the success of the program is its continuation into the high school. Even as the music requirement ebbs after eight grade, roughly 80% continue their studies and lessons, adding further emphasis to UNIS' focus on folding the arts into the educational experience. "Music teaches perseverance and patience, collaboration and relationship-building," says Capetandes.

As for why, after nearly three decades, Capetandes continues to call UNIS his home, he reflects: "I love imparting something that I have such a passion for, that I've seen leave such on an impact on people, on a group of students who are not only so willing to receive such mentoring and instruction, but also, because of their diverse backgrounds, bring so much cultural understanding and a unique musical perspective."

In step with the international music curriculum from the Junior School, the playing of arrangements such as music derived from Korean folksongs in the middle school instrumental and choral ensembles gives UNIS students a compelling spring board into the high school music program. Here, students continue to push the boundaries of classical music instruction, further crafting an international dialogue through sound in the performing ensembles and composition primarily through the IB music program.

Capetandes' next musical hurdle is helping the Middle School Honor Band master James Swearingen's "Grand Canyon Overture," a particularly challenging piece that features difficult solos for all major instruments. The students will premiere the overture during their end of year concerts. Learn more about the music program by visiting the main webpage.