Director of the arts for Reading schools

Fine and Performing Arts Director Anna Wentlent

Ms. Anna Wentlent began directing RMHS’ choral students this fall right after the retirement of her predecessor last spring, Ms. Kristin Killian, a 35-year veteran teacher of music and chorus.

Anna is loving the job of working at an advanced level with high schoolers, shaping their skills and making the effort as musical as possible in the process. At the same time, Anna is also the Fine and Performing Arts Director, coordinating Music, Art and Drama for grades PK-12 from her office at our Performing Arts Center. She gets the opportunity of being an eyewitness in observing students coming together in music, art and drama to be the best version of themselves they want to be.

Since Anna was in middle school, growing up in upstate New York (Greene), she imagined herself to be in a job and career involving music. As part of a seventh-grade project, she interviewed her middle school choral director to get the information needed to validate her interests.

At that early age, the music teaching career decision was made and is continually reinforced today, some 14 years later, watching students grow with music, coming into their own, and wanting to be there. They come to rehearsals prepared and ready to work. It’s particularly gratifying at the high school level seeing the students act as leaders of their learning by taking on leadership roles, selecting music, and even directing rehearsals.

In looking for continued improvement, Anna would like to grow the RMHS choral program with more options during the school day, as she believes that making music is an essential human experience that makes students more empathetic and emotionally intelligent, while reducing anxiety. She is initiating an a cappella group singing pop music that’s unaccompanied by background instruments at the high school.

She had previously started an a cappella group at Coolidge Middle School where she headed their choral program for 4 years before coming to RMHS. She was sad to leave Coolidge but was ready for the next move upward. Serving as both an administrator and classroom teacher, she believes is helping her to maintain perspective and keep students’ interests at the forefront of her work. With the two schools being right across the street from each other, she has a better opportunity to support her successor at Coolidge, Lisa Wistrom, who came from the Boston Public Schools.

Anna started her music teaching career in upstate New York where she taught K-12 for her first 4 years before joining a music publisher to work on choral and classroom music for 5 years. Wanting to get back into the classroom, Anna then came to Coolidge where she was very impressed with the culture and enjoyed being part of the collaborative team of faculty members.

The team she works with now encompasses so many talented music teachers beginning with Joe Mulligan, RMHS’ Band Director; Natalie Cunha, RMHS’ Drama Director; Jenny DiMuzio, Parker Middle Schools’ Choral Director; Lisa Wistrom, Coolidge Middle Schools’ Choral Director; Andrew Norton, the Band Director at Parker; Cheryl Webster, the Band Director at Coolidge, and many others. She is very appreciative of the help offered by RMHS Band Director Joe Mulligan, describing him as “a very helpful and supportive colleague in every way”.

The major Choral Presentations of the academic year are Winter Songfest in December, Artfest in April, which this year will feature a medley of songs from “Les Miserables” performed by the combined Coolidge, Parker, and RMHS choruses, and the Spring into Song Concert in May. Additionally, the Select Choir often performs for the community, including the Festival of Trees at Parker Middle School, Dickens Craft Fair on “Main Street” at RMHS, the MLK Jr. Day Celebration, Baccalaureate, and, at the invitation of our School Superintendent, Dr. John Doherty, at the November Town Meeting, where they sang “Make Them Hear You” from the musical “Ragtime”.

There are 5 distinct groupings that make up Anna’s choral program, which are the Mixed Choir (numbering over 40 students), the Select Choir (22 students), the RMHS Singers (35 students), the Crescendudes (9 boys), and Fermata Nowhere (13 girls). The Crescendudes and Fermata Nowhere are both partially student-directed and add their own distinctive flavor to pop and musical theater songs. Collectively, all the groups deliver variety in entertaining a broad audience. Next year, the a cappella pop group will be added to RMHS’ choral offerings.

Anna would like to grow RMHS’ choral program to 10% of the student body from 6.7% now, or about an additional 45 new members. She believes that part of the way to accomplish this is to increase retention when students come to the high school from Parker and Coolidge. She and the other high school fine and performing art teachers have been working on this by visiting the middle schools and hosting an arts orientation event for incoming freshman.

“An effective arts education doesn’t isolate students in one classroom, instead it fosters connections with other students, the community, and other content areas. Music, art, and drama are interwoven subject areas, and they attract many of the same students. By working as a team, we can build all of our programs”, says Wentlent.

Anna wants to encourage everyone to use their singing voice, whether that’s by joining a choir, singing along with the National Anthem at sporting events, or just making up silly songs with their kids at home. She says, “Human beings have been using their voices to sing since the beginning of civilization. In fact, it is believed that our ancestors sang before they developed spoken language. From the Arctic Circle to the Sahara Desert, there is no human culture that does not sing”.

Anna earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education from the Crane School of Music in upstate New York and a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from Boston University. She also studied Community Music at York St. John’s College in England and has several music education books in print through Alfred Music. Her most recent publication is titled The Women of Western Music: Hildegard to Ella.

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