As the Dover-Sherborn High School vocal ensemble took the stage for Thursday’s spring concert, first-year director Christopher Keene mouthed silently to his students, “I love you guys.”

The concert marked the end of a year of tremendous growth for the DS choral program that saw the group double in size from last year. According to Keene, the program will grow again to include roughly 20 students next year. This time last year, there was no guarantee that future spring concerts would include a choral performance.

This story originally ran in the Dover-Sherborn Press in the week of May 28, 2012. You can see the story and photo gallery on Wicked Local Dover/Sherborn.

Last June, the DSHS Friends of the Performing Arts, led by president Gayle Murphy, successfully lobbied the Regional School Committee to reinstate the program. “Last year, we were uncertain about the future,” Murphy’s son, senior choir leader Nolan Murphy said. “This year, there’s a feeling of security.”

Murphy will be attending Berklee College of Music in the fall and he credits Keene as being influential in helping him successfully prepare for his college audition. He said that his musical horizons have expanded thanks to Keene. Murphy, who has been most successful at training by ear, learned more about music theory and note-reading from Keene that he believes helped push him over the top. “Mr. Keene knows exactly what he’s doing,” he said.

Keene’s focus in re-developing the program was on an inclusive attitude, according to DS senior Ted Eskey.

Eskey transferred to DS this year after singing in the school choir at his former school in Boston. Eskey said his former chorus focused heavily on solos, which wasn’t the case at DS. Keene said that the talent exists within the DS choral program to use more solos, and that each person could have one since the group is still a small one.

But, Keene prefers to focus on success of the group rather than highlight the talents of individuals above the rest. “The group’s success is as important as individual success, he said, adding that too many solos could lead to an overly competitive environment among his students.

“The goal,” Keene said, “is to help everyone reach their pinnacle.” According to Keene, his two primary goals in teaching music are to ensure that the students love singing and that they are able to become self-directed learners. In that vain, he said he attempts to foster an environment of love and support between himself and his students.

The vocal ensemble was the final act for a concert that included performances from the concert and jazz bands as well as D.S. Al Coda, the school’s A Cappella group. The concert band performed songs from “West Side Story” as well as selections from “Into the Woods.” The jazz band performed selections from Miles Davis and John Coltrane, which the latter called a love letter to his wife, according to band director Richard Martel.

The A Cappella group performed more contemporary songs, including Gotye’s “Somebody that I used to know,” and Robyn’s “Call your Girlfriend.” The vocal ensemble’s set included a gospel tune as well as the Mass. premiere of “A Child’s View,” which, according to Keene, celebrates the love of others’ imperfections while conveying the feelings of unrequited love.

The vocal ensemble also performed a sight-reading for the audience, in which they learned and performed a short piece of music they had never seen before. According to Keene, it’s a demonstration of the students’ abilities to understand their mistakes and work together to correct them.

Before the show, Keene delivered hand-written notes to each member of the ensemble in which he applauded their individual growth and improvement, and signed them, “Love, Mr. Keene.”  In many cases, he told them that they are better singers, and even better people, than he, and he thinks it’s important to remind students that the auditorium at DS will always be a place where they will feel loved.

Keene understands that people can get the wrong impression when he says that he loves his students, though that hasn’t been the case at DS. “We’re more scared of the teachers that love kids than the ones that hate kids,” he said. “Teaching doesn’t pay well enough to do it without loving kids.”