Curriculum Detail

SPL: Picker

Performing Arts


The Upper School music curriculum allows students the chance to further learn about the world of music from diverse historical, theoretical and performance perspectives. Exploring music from various thematic and social perspectives, this class explores global music practices and a wide variety of genres and time periods in New York City. Additional advanced classes in composition and history are offered as single-semester electives in Grades 11 and 12. Students interested in vocal or instrumental performance have the opportunity to join choral and orchestral ensembles and to take private instrumental lessons. Performance opportunities include the winter and spring concerts, orchestra concerts and instrumental musicales.

Semester Electives
Global Practices in Music, 9–12
Music in New York City, 9–12
The Complete Musician: Music Theory (Advanced), 9–12

Yearlong Electives
Glee Club, 9–12
Orchestra, 9–12
Instrumental Lessons, 9–12 (extracurricular)
Select Choir, 9–12 (extracurricular)


Upper School drama classes enable students to follow two paths of study: students who wish to explore drama through the rehearsal process and performances before an audience, and students who want to study the discipline but do not wish to perform publicly. Each of these groups will investigate theater as an event, in addition to considering the theater as a historical evolution of social, political and human psychological influences. Working theoretically and practically, students will investigate the elemental components of theatrical expression, the role of the actor, creative leadership in directing, playwriting and the evolution of drama from primitive ritualistic celebrations to what we now define as modern drama. Plays, written materials and the approach to all student engagement in drama exercises will be guided by consideration of global and cultural perspectives, expressive language, themes of the human experience and significance to the Spence community. Students in drama can expect to accomplish most of their work during class time, minimizing homework, with substantial peer review of their progress.

Semester Electives
Acting 101: Scene Study, 9–12
Advanced Performance Studies, 11–12
Acting Company, 9–12


Through a historical lens, students research prominent dance choreographers while simultaneously learning the fundamentals of dance composition. By studying examples of legendary dances, students are inspired and directed to create their own dance works. They research and share their creations within the class. The process and structure of the assignments introduces students to the craft of dance-making through teacher-led exploratory and improvisational-based exercises. In class discussions, videos and creative lab work help students develop the vocabulary and skills necessary to choreograph their own work. No prior choreographic experience is necessary. Students bring their own personal movement language and ideas to the table as they learn the fundamental tools of dance composition.

Semester Electives
Dance Composition: Exploring Self, 9–12
Dance Company, 9–12
Dance Ensemble, 9–12 (extracurricular)
  • Playmaking

    Focusing on the current, relevant, and personal, Playmaking is a communal student-driven course in which students develop and workshop scenes that derive from their own lives and imaginations. From deciding on core themes, writing scenes, workshopping moments, and detailed rehearsals, students will create their own full-length drama that speaks to an issue important to the students and meaningful to the present. In playmaking, students will develop skills related to collaboration, communication, listening, decision making, and respect, along with theatre skills such as stagecraft, improvisation, design, and public speaking.
  • Dance in American Culture

    Focused on three locations, the stage, the dance clubs, and the screen, this course aims to sharpen the focus on dance and the influence it holds within popular culture. Through class discussions, reading, visual assignments, and creative work, students will learn about different dance styles that have captured the attention and imagination of American people for the last century. From swing to vogueing, breakdancing to Broadway, how do these dance forms represent cultural history? What are the origins of such styles and how do they influence our perceptions of gender, age, ethnicity, and economic status? Creative movement will be part of the class but dance experience is not required.
  • Acting - Scene Study

    Focusing on the practice of acting via contemporary American acting methods that center on the theory that acting is “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” This course focuses on physical and vocal exercises that emphasize listening fully, responding honestly, and living moment to moment. Although the class features writing and note-taking, the majority of the course will take place on stage as students learn through doing, often in ensemble or in partnership. While this course trains the craft of acting, the skills learned are transferable to any course of study that one ultimately chooses to pursue.
  • Jazz and Social Justice

    This course explores the musical, historical, and cultural context of one of America's indigenous art forms: Jazz. We’ll explore how race, gender, identity, and politics have been reflected in the story of Black American Music, birthed from the musical traditions of enslaved people in the late nineteenth century and developed over decades--using popular songs, protest music, laments, and celebrations of culture--to the global sounds of today.

    No prior musical training is required. Students will develop a basic understanding of musical elements including rhythm, beat, melody, harmony, and timbre in order to contextualize the aural and programmatic elements of jazz. Upon completion of this course, students will gain an understanding of the musical concepts of jazz and develop a connection to the social and cultural circumstances of the music within American history.
  • Dance Company

    The members of this group are selected by audition. With a focus on contemporary and modern dance, more complex concepts in movement, technique, music and performance are introduced. More sophisticated and cultural themes are explored emphasizing the individual and group interdependence of dance. Company members are offered the experience of rehearsing and performing works of resident and guest choreographers in the annual Dance Concert. Company members can also audition their own choreographic works for inclusion in the yearly Symphony Space performances. This course can be taken for either Performing Arts or Physical Education credit.
  • Theatre Company

    Students in Theatre Production learn first-hand how to develop a performance and present a final product to an audience of peers, parents, and friends. Theatre Production is offered twice during the year, once during the fall and once during the spring. Whether as an actor, a designer, or a crew-member (or a combination of the above), students will develop skills relevant to their role along while learning how to work effectively with a large ensemble. Although we place focus on a high-quality final performance, Theatre Production students will also learn various theatre techniques and practices relevant to the specific production. As each semester focuses on a different play, students can repeat this course to continue their growth as theatre-makers. Although plays are chosen from a mix of classic and contemporary sources, all productions emphasize the present while seeking to answer the question: ‘What can this play say and offer NOW?”
  • Glee Club

    Glee Club is the general chorus for students in Grades 9-12. Our repetoire reflects the diversity of our community; we perform sacred and secular music of all styles and periods, including world folk, gospel, and classical music. Major performances include the Winter and Spring Concerts and Commencement. In addition, special projects in recent years have included performances at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, collaborations with international visiting choirs, and workshops with gospel music specialists. This course does not fulfill a Performing Arts requirement.
  • Select Choir

    The Select Choir is open by audition to 14-20 students in Grades 9-12 who must be members of the Glee Club. This group rehearses three times per week, preparing to perform pieces of a more challenging nature than those presented by the Glee Club. The Select Choir performs at the Winter and Spring Concerts as well as at Reunion Day and other special school functions and assemblies. This group tours throughout the United States and internationally.
  • Orchestra

    Orchestra 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. Repetoire ranges from Baroque through the 21st century. Ensembles perform in the Spring Instrumental Recital. Required for participation in all ensembles: private study either at Spence or outside on the instrument played in the ensemble.

Our Faculty

  • Photo of Carrie Lewis
    Carrie Lewis
    Head of the Performing Arts Department and Music Teacher
    Extension 344
    University of Kansas - B.M.
    Manhattan School of Music - M.M.
    New York University - M.A.
  • Photo of Gregory Harrington
    Gregory Harrington
    Instrumental Music Teacher
    University College Dublin - B.A.
  • Photo of Esther Liu Harris
    Esther Liu Harris
    Choral Director
    Extension 353
    Teachers College, Columbia University - Doctor of Education
    Holy Names University - Master of Music
    San Francisco State University - Bachelor of Music
  • Photo of Lisa  Holsberg
    Lisa Holsberg
    Choral Director
    Columbia University - Ed.M.
    Fordham University - Ph.D.
    The Union Theological Seminary in - M.A.
  • Photo of Rem Myers
    Rem Myers
    Theater Teacher and Upper School Grade Dean
    Extension 312
    Hamilton College - BA
    Emerson College - MA
  • Photo of Julie Tice-Bubolz
    Julie Tice-Bubolz
    Dance Teacher
    Extension 346
    University of Wisconsin - M.F.A.
    University of Michigan - B.D.A.
A K-12 independent school in New York city, The Spence School prepares a diverse community of girls and young women for the demands of academic excellence and responsible citizenship.


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