Academic Program
Middle School

Performing Arts

Performing Arts


The Middle School music curriculum emphasizes the belief that the study of music develops the intellect, the personality, and the emotions. A genuine appreciation for music must be supported by an understanding of the active making of music (singing, playing, composing), by the skill of listening and by a knowledge of a variety of musical forms and historical periods. The department also offers students opportunities to take private instrumental lessons, join the Spence Orchestra (by audition), join choral groups and to perform in musicales, ensembles, and concerts.

List of 7 items.

  • Grade 5: Chorus and General Music

    Yearlong Course
    In Grade 5 music, the sequence of skill development based on singing, solfège and Orf instrument playing continues. At the same time students are introduced to a sophisticated repertoire of world folk music and the music of master composers. Grade 5 also performs as a chorus, thus providing the foundation for the chorus electives in the Middle and Upper Schools.
  • Grade 6 Chorus

    This is a non-auditioned chorus open to all students in Grade 6. Work begun in Grade 5 on unison, two-part singing and canons continues. Students sing with other Spence choral groups at the Winter and Spring Choral Concerts as well as the Interschool Choral Festival.
  • Grade 6: Introduction to Composition and Music Theory

    Semester Course
    In Grade 6 music, students begin by reviewing the basic elements of music theory and then use these skills to write original compositions. Students start by creating compositions written for a single instrument; as they become more adept in their use of musical language, their work becomes increasingly complex. In performing and listening to their original works, students strengthen and refine their skills. The instruments of the orchestra are also discussed, as are the lives and works of many Classical composers.
  • Grade 7: Music in the Baroque and Classical Periods

    Semester Course
    The Baroque and Classical periods are studied and compared in this course, which includes study of the lives and music of Handel, Vivaldi, Bach, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Emphasis is placed on the specific compositions and techniques of each period and students compose some of the forms they study.
  • Grade 8: Music in the Romantic Period and the 20th Century

    Semester Course
    The Romantic period and the 20th century are studied and compared in this course. The curriculum includes the study of the lives and music of Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Brahms, Liszt, Verdi, Puccini, Tchaikovsky, Gershwin, Copland and Bernstein. Emphasis is placed on specific compositions and techniques of each period and students compose some of the forms they study.
  • Middle School Chorus

    The Middle School Chorus is open to all students in Grades 7-8 without audition. Unison, two-part and three-part harmonies are sung. Students sing with other Spence choral groups at the Winter and Spring Choral Concerts and the Interschool Choral Festival.
  • Orchestra

    Orchestra meets before school two mornings per week and is open to instrumental music students in Grades 5–12 by audition. Smaller chamber ensembles are offered by audition to students in Grades 6–12 who have the same free periods in their daily schedules. In all ensembles, students concentrate on learning how to perfect a few pieces over time, not only by learning individual parts but also by putting them together and knowing the entire scoring of the pieces. Students learn to work together and to make musical suggestions without being critical of each other. Repertoire may range from Baroque through the 21st century. Private study either at Spence or outside on the instrument played is required for participation in the orchestra.


The Middle School dance curriculum aims to develop students’ dance skills and kinesthetic awareness in terms of dynamic alignment, balance, articulation, isolation, efficiency, weight transfer, and the initiation of movement in the body. Classes are taught in a supportive environment in which students are encouraged to express themselves creatively, take individual initiative and experiment with dance forms. The art of choreography is emphasized as students progress through the program. Students in Grades 6 through 8 can join performance ensembles that participate in the annual Dance Concert.

List of 5 items.

  • Grade 5: An Introduction

    Yearlong Course
    Dance 5 focuses on the individual strengths of each student utilizing ballet vocabulary and introductory concepts of modern dance. With an emphasis on composition and choreography, students explore choreographic structure and phrase development through vehicles including theme and variation, retrograde, symmetry and counterpoint. Students are encouraged to improvise, create and perform movement phrases based on their own or assigned ideas. They learn to assess the aesthetic and thematic qualities of a dance and how to communicate them in a constructive, objective manner.
  • Grade 6: An Introduction to Composition and Choreography

    Yearlong Course
    Dance 6 is a first-year modern dance class with an emphasis on technique and choreography. Students learn to connect new movement concepts to an existent knowledge of the ballet syllabus. The class focuses on the development of a common movement vocabulary in which students can demonstrate technical skill with stylistic nuance. The class reinforces a fundamental dance vocabulary focusing on the individual strengths of each student. More advanced concepts of movement and technique are introduced, allowing students to explore the varying degrees of dynamic movement.
  • Grade 6 Dance Company

    This group is open to all Grade 6 students interested in dance. The dance company meets   once a week after school to explore new movement vocabulary and composition. Attention is focused on the development of a choreographic work and the elements of the rehearsal process are established. Students in this group perform the finished choreographic work in the annual Dance Concert.
  • Middle School Dance Company

    This group is open to all Grade 7 and Grade 8 students interested in dance. Students are offered the experience of rehearsing and performing the works of resident and guest choreographers in the annual Dance Concert. Ballet-based modern vocabulary comprises the repertoire of work for the students in these groups. These works explore broad social and cultural themes while continuing to build individual dance and performance skills. Cooperation among students is encouraged and a sense of ensemble is formed.
  • Middle School Dance Ensemble

    Grade 7 and Grade 8 members of this group are selected by audition and must also be members of the Middle School Dance Company. More advanced technical and conceptual themes are explored in the ensemble choreography, and students in this group have the opportunity to contribute to the development of choreographic works.


The Middle School drama curriculum helps students establish and develop a foundation of techniques in classroom exercises and presentations that carry them toward performance before an audience in the annual Grade 8 play. These concepts are the basis for all acting and drama presentation, and they include working with relaxed, focused energy and concentration; developing group cohesion and trust; cultivation of spontaneity and pantomime capability; aptitude for creating character and structuring good dramatic narrative; and ongoing engagement in imaginative problem-solving.

List of 5 items.

  • Grade 5: An Introduction

    Semester Course
    In this course, students are introduced to the fundamental concepts of creative theatrical play. Classwork aims to strengthen each student’s ability to make the imaginative choices that lead to creating character and setting. Basic pantomime and techniques for physical and vocal expression are addressed in improvisational games and exercises. Group cohesion, trust, and respect for one’s peers are emphasized as each student develops her skills in creating characters and scenes that will form the basis for more sophisticated work in theater.
  • Grade 6: The Actor in an Ensemble

    Semester Course
    This course focuses on the growth of the individual as the primary source of drama while developing in that student a strong sense of how to be a productive member of a theater ensemble. Improvisational skills are polished in exercises that promote spontaneity, concentration, mime and expressive movement, vocal projection, character and scenic development, and good storytelling. Students learn staging and theater vocabulary. Coursework culminates in the rehearsal and performance of a vintage radio drama.
  • Grade 7: Scene Study

    Semester Course
    This class emphasizes the use of text to inspire and guide students in their work as actors. Coursework strengthens the student’s essential skills in acting: more detailed development of characters and environments, defining and articulating the character’s objectives and obstacles, techniques for translating a character’s desires into dramatic action, and fortifying physical and vocal projection. Exercises include work with scripted scenes about the adolescent experience, classic dramatic literature for young people, and original scenes by class members on the challenges of being a teenager.
  • Grade 8: Performance Studies

    Semester Course
    Scripts by established playwrights provide students with monologues and scenes that move students from improvisational work to rehearsed performances. Students analyze, develop and memorize scenes to be presented before the class. A variety of techniques and methods are used to develop each piece. Working together, students serve as actors, directors and critics to evolve their knowledge and increase appreciation of the various aspects of theater production.
  • Grade 8 Play

    The annual Grade 8 Play is presented during the second semester and is open by audition to all interested Grade 8 students, who are encouraged to work as members of the technical crew and to assist with costumes, scenery and publicity. Examples of recent productions include The Love of Three Oranges, Sarah Plain and Tall, Bridge to Terabithia, and A Fairy Tale Life: The Story of Young Hans Christian Andersen.

Explore Our Curriculum

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