Described as “inspiring students to soar” by the Alexandria Times, Theodore Thorpe III, the Director of Choral Activities at Alexandria City High School (formerly TC Williams). in Virginia, is known to empower students by instilling discipline and work ethic. According to parents, Thorpe allows students to struggle instead of always coming in and fixing everything, which builds essential musical skills as well as tangible and transferrable life skills that ultimately prepares students to be contributors to society.
When Thorpe arrived at Alexandria 13 years ago, the choral program had 30 students. “I needed to hit the ground running to recruit,” he admits. “From creating barbershop quartet jingles that students would perform over the loudspeaker during announcements, to walking the hallways and listening for low-speaking voices for potential basses, to going to basketball and football games, I did it all.”
Thorpe says the biggest recruitment tool was the choir’s first few performances, which gave the middle schoolers a program to look forward to joining. In two years, the choir grew to 100 students. “Ultimately, the students sold the program much better than I could have,” he says.
His choir now has a long list of impressive performances, including an invitation to perform at the opening ceremony of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in September 2016, being the showcase choir at the Virginia Music Educators Association Conference in November 2017, and the televised performances at the Kennedy Center Honors and Christmas in Washington.
In addition to his roles a conductor, educator and musical director, Thorpe is also a vocalist, composer, arranger and pianist, which he says helps him in both the rehearsal and performance space. “I don’t have an accompanist for my classes, so I’m pretty much playing while teaching class,” he says. “I’m consistently teaching vocal technique within the ensemble setting, and my background in composition and arranging allow me to make musical choices that fit my ensemble, especially when it comes to melody, countermelody, harmony and the division of that harmony for balance and blend purposes.”