Develop a Love of Music in Lancer Singers


Before COVID closures, writer Bailey Gleason with fellow Lancer Singers and Mr. Hartsell gather at the National Zoo’s Zoo Lights in December 2019.

Bailey Gleason, Guest Writer

The John R. Lewis Choral Department (also known as Lancer Singers), led for the last six years by Justin Hartsell, is a treasure. Lancer Singers arrive with an interest in singing and develop a lifelong a passion for music.

You do not need to be great at singing to join–beginners are welcome, but you do need to try your best just like any other subject in school. Lewis’ chorus is separated into different vocal ranges: soprano at the highest, soprano 2 for medium ranges, and alto for lower ranges. And we can’t forget the men’s choir program. The vocal ranges are tenor (highest), baritone (second highest), and bass (the lowest).

Senior Nazmee Kamal has found a community in Lewis’ choir, her home for the last four years.

“The chorus program really helped me build friendships with a community of people who enjoy the same things as I do, and it is really fun to make music with your friends. I really appreciate the chorus as a whole, and I am always excited to come into class and learn new things about music,” Kamal said.

Senior Danielle Young was happy to join a welcoming group of singers. “The chorus program’s community has genuinely made me feel welcomed since freshman year and unafraid to be myself. It’s helped me connect with like- minded people who love music and have similar interests as myself,” Young said.

Mr. Hartsell is proud of his students’ accomplishments and the courage they display on stage, showing off their voices.

“I feel proud! I’m proud of all of the chorus students for how hard they work to sing and make music together. Singing is a very vulnerable activity, and you have to have a lot of courage to sing in front of and with your peers. I’m impressed each day with how kind, supportive, and welcoming the chorus students are with each other,” Hartsell said.

Kamal appreciated the growth she’s experienced in Hartsell’s choir program. “Mr. Hartsell continuously challenges us to perform pieces outside of our comfort zone and become better musicians. It has changed my perspective of music by introducing different styles and allowing me to become a more well rounded musician,’’ Kamal said.  

Young saw the hard work that goes into improving a song. “There’s always something new to learn, even when we’re just honing in on music we’ve been learning for a while [we learn] new techniques,” Young said.

Kamal agrees that her view on singing has changed through chorus. “I never realized how much really went into singing a song until this course. I gained a better sense of respect for musicians due to this,” Kamal said.

Mr. Hartsell has incorporated multiple languages into the music his choir performs. Kamal finds this introduction to new languages to be beneficial.

“I think learning a new language is cool because it is intellectually and musically beneficial,” Kamal said.

Young’s experience in Hartsell’s class sparked another interest in foreign languages.

“I really like learning new languages through music, and the program does make me want to learn the language sung in the songs we’re given. Whether It be in German, Latin, or any other language, I always get a rush of wanting to learn how to speak the language properly after practicing pieces of music in a different language,” Young said.

Hartsell sees the challenges and rewards of working with a small choir.

“I wish we had more singers so we could do more complicated music with more intricate parts and layers, but we just don’t have enough voices. I do, however, find the small size fun because it allows me more time to connect with each singer,” Hartsell said. 

One challenge that the Lancer Singers faced was COVID school closures, which delayed concerts and field trips. Reflecting on his time at Lewis, one highlight for Mr. Hartsell was the team-work the students displayed to achieve their field trip and performance goals. 

“I am proud of how hard we worked back in 2019 to be able to take our trip to NYC and perform at Carnegie Hall. The students were so focused on their fundraising efforts and reaching out to our community for support. It was an amazing experience for all of the chorus students, and I still have students talking about that trip!” Hartsell said.

Mr. Hartsell recognizes that students of all different musical levels with different plans for the future take his class, but he hopes that all students leave his class with a love of music.

“My goals for the chorus students are for them to continue music in some way for the rest of their lives. If they want to go on to college to study music, awesome! If they don’t want to study music, but want to join a local community choir once they are out of high school, that’s amazing, too. I hope that the chorus students have left my class with a deeper appreciation of many types of music and the skills we have learned,’’ Hartsell said.

Mr. Hartsell’s students may leave Lewis for a variety of different musical paths, which may include an adult choir or a college choir. Even if we don’t pursue music after high school, we can still appreciate music and how it is created and sung. The Lancer Singers can appreciate the arts even more because they help each other as a community in the arts. Lewis’ chorus program is a warm community that works a bit of magic and helps students develop a passion for singing.