Described as an “empire builder,” Dr. Nathan Dame says it’s all about inspiring and enabling those around you to find musical success and to become empowered stakeholders throughout the building process. “When I accepted the position at Wylie East High School, my co-director — I am blessed to teach with my wife and better half every day! — and I built a strategic plan grounded in the musical, social and interpersonal values of what we wanted our program to look like, how we wanted our students to sing, how they would hold themselves in the school and community, and how we wanted to involve others in the process,” he says
They revisit the strategic plan each year and make necessary changes as the program grows — which it has! The program now includes 300 students in 10 choral ensembles. A third full-time choral director has been hired at Wylie, and a staff member was added to the feeder programs at the middle schools.
A key to the growth of the choral program is Dame’s recruitment and retention efforts, which are grounded in three main areas: 1) musical success, 2) visibility and 3) strong relationships with students. “I have been fortunate to work in three different schools where enrollment has tripled,” he says. “Our goal is to create an inclusive environment for all students where we create outstanding music, share it with others frequently and purposefully, and care about our students as people before musicians.”
Each year, Dame creates a theme for the choral program. The first year’s theme was “Elevate,” which focused on the development and expectations of exemplary musicianship. Subsequent themes have been “Ignite” to spark the fuel within each student, and “Odyssey” as everyone navigated the unknown challenges of the pandemic. “Breaking Ground” is this year’s theme as the choral program opens a new facility and will travel internationally for the first time.
The fine arts building expansion was supported by a bond proposal and the district administration. “Our superintendent of schools was quick to say, ‘students don’t come to school for algebra … they come to school for fine arts and other programs,’ and he put his money and actions where his mouth was,” Dame says.
The new facility has a large choir room with skylights, new computers and sound technology, recording equipment, seated risers, equipment and uniform storage, two offices and six practice rooms. Additionally, there is a specific ensemble room where three sections of classes can overlap, which are outfitted with portable risers, and pedagogical and technological tools.
“I am inspired daily with our program and what it has become,” Dame says. “After our recent winter concert, a staff member came up to our team and said, ‘You promote excellence from every student and it is so neat to see.’ This makes me so proud, and I feel that our expectation of excellence at all levels is evident in our program’s results at contests and in concert.”