Jazz musicians are trained to improvise. Classical musicians are taught to adjust to what is happening in the room. Church musicians do a great job of making do with what is available to them. And, rock musicians? Well, they just power on through.
Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised then that when a pandemic was looming, SAS music teacher, J.R. Ankney, was one of the first to come up with robust plans to adjust to changing conditions.
A graduate of the Berklee College of Music, J.R. has had a full career teaching, performing, and recording every genre of music. He and his wife, science teacher Dr. Peggy Ankney, joined SAS’s residential faculty three years ago when the couple decided that they were not quite ready for the retirement they had begun.
Having already logged a full and rewarding career, J.R. is someone who could have easily thrown in the towel when the pandemic made it clear that, this year, music instruction as we knew it was not going to be possible. Instead, when rising case numbers drove us online in the spring, J.R. taught himself all of the technology needed to create virtual performances. The music videos he created with his students enlivened our virtual chapels and our Commencement services. He even threw in a few extra songs now and then just to cheer us up.
Then he got really creative.
Understanding that choral performance was unlikely in the fall, J.R. gathered the school’s collection of half and three-quarter sized guitars and rebuilt the sixth-grade music curriculum around learning the concepts of note reading, rhythm, and ensemble performance through guitar. The seventh and eighth graders are exploring music and performance through change bell ringing. Gloves that have always been used to protect the bells, now have a dual purpose.
J.R. then took what originally had been intended as a storage room in McCrory Hall for the Performing Arts and, with some help, labored through the summer to turn it into a recording studio. Now, in addition to enjoying an Upper School course in guitar ensemble, students have the pleasure of both an academic course and an afternoon program in Music Production, Songwriting, and Recording.
A recent Saturday found J.R. in the recording studio welcoming faculty and staff to join him in a recording of Carole King’s You’ve Got a Friend for a future chapel service.
When you're down and troubled
And you need some love and care
And nothing, nothing is going right
Close your eyes and think of me
And soon I will be there
To brighten up even your darkest night
J.R.’s creativity, commitment, and resilience are, indeed, much-needed lights in these times of uncertainty and anxiety. And, that knocking you hear is a gentle reminder from the guy in the booth to start again from the top.