One “Lowly Alto” Gives the Gift of Song
Danny Stock
“Altos have distinctive traits beyond the low range of their voices. The altos’ job requires the most skill in the chorus; still, they are its least appreciated members.”  – Eliza Kravitz, 2015
 
In eighth grade, Eliza Kravitz ‘19 submitted a paper titled “Lowly Altos” in which she captured so perfectly––and humorously––the sacrifice of the inner register altos for the benefit of the ensemble. While the interesting, attention-grabbing melodies go to the sopranos, she explained, the altos often sing tedious, repetitive fragments that are ultimately essential to sustaining a piece of music.
 
“Altos sacrifice dramatic endings and melodies to preserve the depth of the chorus, sometimes singing monotonous lines that seem to dismiss their talent, and other times singing strangled, disjointed notes that seem mere appendages to the other parts.”
 
Eliza, a GDS lifer, has been a member of a GDS choir since it was first offered in fifth grade. Her beloved Middle School choral and musical theater teacher Keith Hudspeth recalled the “Lowly Altos” paper fondly but even more so the way Eliza embodied the role of ensemble member.
 
“What set Eliza apart was the way she approached every learning opportunity with incredible dedication. She was able to actually apply everything she was taught. She never saw herself as a soloist but rather as a member of the ensemble.”
 
“At the beginning of the musical theater elective in eighth grade, I told Keith I didn’t want to sing any solos,” Eliza recalled during a recent interview. “I had no qualms about singing loudly in a group performance or taking responsibility for a tricky harmony, but I had no idea how to perform individually. In many ways, I still don’t consider myself primarily a performer, and I focus much of my musical energy on ensemble work.”
 
Eliza went on through the various Middle and High School singing groups (GDS Singers and Chamber Choir), and she now captains one of GDS’s a cappella groups, Eat At Joe’s. “At the High School, I’ve had the opportunity to impact the performing arts without grabbing the center mic at every performance.”
 
The high school a cappella groups arrange their own music, which requires levels of musical theory and creativity that Eliza felt she lacked when she first joined Eat At Joe’s. “I spent hours working on arrangements, and they were all awful. But I was hooked!” she said.
 
Eliza counts herself lucky to have taken Honors A Cappella during her sophomore year to learn basic theory and stylistic skills. She spent hours listening to successful a cappella groups and toiled still more hours attempting her own arrangements. Her diligence as a student of music––already apparent in Middle School––appears to have paid off*. “Over the past two years, I’ve become more confident and intentional in my stylistic choices for Joe’s arrangements.”
 
This fall, Eliza has brought her considerable experience to the Middle School in the form of an afterschool a cappella class. Students looking for an opportunity to sing outside of the school day and the chance to work with a fellow student who went through the Lower and Middle School programs will find Eliza’s class a godsend.
 
“It will be a great way for students to get experience in an a cappella group that they can use when they audition in the High School,” Keith noted. The program promises to be a springboard for Middle School singers in an area of music that affords them autonomy and creative choice. “When I'm arranging a song, I break down the piece my group has chosen to sing and rearrange the parts to fit our vocal strengths,” Eliza explained.
 
Eliza has promised that students will learn harmonizing, vocal independence, familiarization with the a cappella genre, and general singing and performance techniques. In truth, Eliza has partnered with auxiliary programs in the Middle School to provide structured exposure to a type of musical engagement she herself did not find until High School. “If we start acclimating singers to small, instrument-less ensembles in Middle School,” she said, hopefully, “we will have an even stronger base of high schoolers with the vocal independence, performance skills, and arranging experience to make our program truly thrive.”
 
Eliza carries with her the institutional experience that will inform the way she guides her students. “Having known her since Kindergarten,” says Danielle Soto ’19, “I know she will do everything that she can to make the program a fun experience for the Middle School students. I remember I was hesitant about singing solos, but she helped me become more confident in my singing abilities.” Eliza and Danielle performed “What I Did for Love,” by invitation, during their eighth grade graduation.
 
“Coming up from the Middle School,” said Lucy Vogt ’20, “I would have loved to have a program like this. When I came in as a freshman, I was nervous about my ability to read music and thought I wouldn't be able to keep up with an a cappella group...I definitely think that if I had been exposed to a cappella earlier, I would have jumped right into the music program at the High School.”
 
This High School-to-Middle School program is just the sort of cross-divisional opportunity that a unified GDS campus will facilitate. Students––not only of music but also from all disciplines––will have the chance to learn from, teach, and mentor and provide feedback to their counterparts in other divisions.
 
"I'm thrilled that Eliza is offering an a cappella opportunity for our Middle School students,” said Head of School Russell Shaw. “We have such a robust a cappella culture in the High School (I don't know many high schools of our size with four a cappella groups!), and I'm eager for our Middle Schoolers to experience this form of music. What's even more exciting is that in two short years, this sort of opportunity, with High School students working with their younger schoolmates, will be made so much more doable. When a 12th grader just has to walk across the street to help coach a Middle School basketball team or design sets for a 5th grade play or read to a kindergartener, we'll be realizing one of the many exciting benefits of school unification."
 
“She’s a brilliant and talented young person,” Keith intoned. Even those of us who wish we could enroll Eliza’s class but are unable due to our somewhat more advanced age, can still plan to attend the student showcases that will be held during the final class meetings in the fall (October 25) and spring (May 2).
 
Back in eighth grade, Eliza had written, “[Altos] give songs another dimension, though the audience may not pick up on the intricate harmonies and dissonances and syncopation so discreetly woven into the music.” These singers create essential bridges between the various parts of the ensemble and thus elevate the music. In this respect––and perhaps figuratively, too––Eliza is the quintessential alto of the ensemble that is Georgetown Day School: she toils where we are divided, creating bridges that give our song “another dimension.”

Here, as we sing the praises of one of our brilliant, musical altos, we are reminded of all our other unsung GDS altos, musical and non-musical alike. To you, who give depth to our register, lend richness and coherence to the many melodies in our song, and––to borrow one final phrase from Eliza’s paper––“make our performance unforgettable,” we are grateful.
 
Staff writer Danny Stock tells the stories of teaching, learning, competing, creating, and performing at Georgetown Day School. He is a former GDS second grade teacher and current parent.
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