Baltimore City College, the third oldest high school in the United States, has always been a school of music excellence with wonderful performance opportunities. However, in 2021, the school’s choir received an unbelievable opportunity to perform with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and award-winning Broadway star André De Shields, an alumnus of City.
“We were invited in March 2021 and received the music a few months before the December performance at the Joseph Myerhoff Symphony Hall. We immediately began preparing measure by measure, song by song,” says City’s Choral Director Marcus D. Smith. “Mr. De Shields made this an unforgettable experience — he walked through our halls, inspiring the choir during rehearsal. He filled the room with his voice singing, ‘Believe in yourself as I believe in you!’”
This opportunity came at a time when students were just returning to in-class instruction and were required to wear masks during rehearsals and performances. “We tried our best to navigate through our new normal while keeping everyone healthy and maintaining a standard of excellence in music,” Smith says.
Another way Smith ensured that his music students have more opportunities is when the International Baccalaureate (IB) Music Performance course was brought back to City. “It was a team effort,” he says. “We believed it was necessary to include the music students in the holistic vision of the school. It was important that music students were afforded the same opportunities as students in the other IB disciplines.”
Smith also worked on a faculty recital series with colleague and the choir’s accompanist, Patrick Alston. “At City, we have faculty members who have professionally studied voice and instrumental music and they perform recitals and put on masterclasses for the students,” Smith explains. “As the school year progresses, more students participate in the masterclasses and recitals, which helps them with college auditions, life-long learning, and gives them a taste of various careers in music.”
Smith credits his work as the minister of music at Ark Church in Baltimore (a position he has held since he was a teenager) for helping him be a better music educator. “Being a church musician has taught me to be compassionate, patient, organized and to work hard,” he says.