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Music, Theatre Programs Hit High Notes with Students at Montgomery College

Shakespeare’s fabled saying, “All the world’s a stage,” has taken on a new meaning at Montgomery College, where unprecedented growth in its music and drama programs has led the college to offer classes in increasingly unusual settings.

Indeed, enrollment in both the theatre and music programs, with 49 and 19 percent growth respectively over last fall, has forced the college to creatively carve out space throughout the campus--as well as employ the use of temporary buildings--to meet student needs.

While no one is complaining about such increases, college officials have scrambled to meet the needs of its burgeoning music and theatre student population.

“You wouldn’t normally want to offer voice lessons in a renovated storage trailer, but we’ve done our best to decorate it so that it feels like a normal learning environment,” said Dr. Earl Holt, chair of performing arts at the college. “Students, faculty and staff are all responding in creative ways to our space challenge. There’s a great deal of excitement about the direction theatre and music are headed. Students clearly want to be here, and it’s great that we’re attracting them.” 

The college has acted quickly and efficiently to accommodate the new students. A triple-wide trailer serves as a black box theatre, choir rehearsal space, and classroom for courses in music and drama. Students share space with textbooks and radiology equipment in a storage trailer that was converted for use as a small music classroom. Two small soundproof rooms for music lessons and practicing were installed in a student lounge overlooking the college’s cafeteria.

The growth in performing arts has outpaced even the exceptional collegewide rise in enrollment, which topped 9,200 students—a nine percent increase over last fall.

When asked to explain this, Deborah Ellington, instructional dean, responded, “We have innovative and creative teachers who know how to communicate this passion to the students.”

Chase Waites, associate professor of theatre, added, “We’ve worked to broaden our theatre offerings, and to include more experience behind the scenes as well as on stage.  We offer such a wide variety of theatre classes, and I’m sure that’s largely what is attracting our students.”

Last fall, Waites adapted the Texas Monthly article “96 Minutes”--a recollection of the U.T. Tower tragedy--for the Montgomery College stage. Area theatre critic David Dow Bentley III labeled the work as “stunning” and a “brilliant piece of theatre.”

The theatre department is broadening to introduce a new audio visual systems specialist certificate and degree program, which is set to debut in early 2008. The program will prepare students to work in the increasingly technical and complex world of live multimedia productions.

According to Ellington, “When we surveyed employers in the area, we were amazed at the demand for these sorts of jobs. Nobody is training people to work in these high-paying careers. Montgomery College will be the first school in Texas to offer this program.”

The music department has also been providing technology in the classroom. Last year, faculty introduced an innovative iPod program for music majors, with students using iPods throughout their coursework--both as listening tools and creative devices. The college provides microphones that allow students to record on the iPods as well.

This fall, the college hired Dr. Thomas Smith to serve as its first-ever band director. In just a few short weeks, Dr. Smith has recruited a solid core for what he hopes will become an enormous band program.

“The high school band programs in this area are the best in the country,” said Dr. Smith. “This is the ideal location in which to build a community college band program.”

Additionally, the music department continues to reach out to local schools. Last December it partnered with Willis High School to present a benefit concert for the Memorial Hermann Cancer Center. In May, the department hosted a competition for The Woodlands High School band students. More collaborations are planned for this year.
“It’s great to have all these students,” concluded Dr. Holt, “and now the real work of educating them begins.”

The college’s bands, choirs, and string ensemble are already rehearsing and preparing for upcoming concerts. Rehearsals and set construction have begun for the first theatre production, Home Front, which opens October 11. The music department will present a dozen different performances this fall, beginning October 17 at noon with a student recital, and October 21 at 7:30 p.m. with a Jazz Ensemble concert. More information on upcoming music events is available at montgomery.lonestar.edu/music, while theatre events can be accessed at montgomery.lonestar.edu/theatre.

Montgomery College is located at 3200 College Park Drive, one-half mile west of Interstate 45, between Conroe and The Woodlands. For more information about the college, call (936) 273-7000.

North Harris Montgomery Community College District, among the largest and fastest-growing community colleges in Texas, comprises North Harris College, Kingwood College, Tomball College, Montgomery College, Cy-Fair College, six satellite centers and The University Center.