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2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Christopher Lape

Christopher Lape

Orchestra Director
Upper Arlington High School
Upper Arlington, Ohio

At Upper Arlington High School, Orchestra Director Christopher Lape took the lead in adapting the curriculum from every other day to everyday instruction. “It’s been a collaborative and continuing effort with my colleagues,” he explains. “There’s significantly more room for growth with the consistency of daily instruction. The bulk of the transition has been updating our curriculum map and choosing method/technique books that correlate the best. It’s honestly a reflective process and I want to do what’s best for our students because we place a lot of value on our students and their musical journey.”

In addition to adapting the curriculum, Lape has brought some innovation activities to the orchestra, including the rock band project, an idea that he borrowed from a string teacher in a neighboring district. Students divide into groups to form rock bands and choose a song (a verse and/or chorus), chart the chord structure using keyboard/guitar tablature, and figure out the melody. Once students have the basics mapped out, they choose their roles in the band (melody, root, 3rd, 5th). They have freedom to use different instruments and their voice to experiment with a variety rhythms and movement. “By the end of the project, they’ve created their own arrangements. I love this project because it gives students autonomy in something that is relevant to them,” Lape says.

Another popular project, especially with middle schoolers, is the string sound FX story, which Lape usually schedules around Halloween. “Students step into the role of a Foley artist and experiment with different kinds of sounds that they can make on their instruments. They then incorporate those sound effects into a story that they’ve composed and perform for the class. I put a crackling campfire on the tv, turn out the lights and let their creativity shine,” he says.

Lape co-chairs the Central Ohio String Festival, a large-group adjudicated festival that Upper Arlington High School hosts for middle school and high school orchestras. Each group performs for three adjudicators who provide written/audio-recorded feedback and a rating. Following each performance, a fourth clinician gives the group a clinic where they provide and apply feedback in real time. Last year, 30 orchestras (~1000 students) participated in the event. The goal for the annual festival is to provide growth opportunities for both students and teachers through authentic feedback from a rotating team of highly qualified string educators.

According to parents and students, Lape’s “superpower” is developing rapport with students. He acknowledges and appreciates students for who they are in hopes that they feel seen. “I’m intentional in how I interact with students to help them build confidence in themselves as musicians,” he says. “I value their opinions and give them a voice in musical decisions and repertoire choice. If you take the time to build rapport with your students, you’ll see that they have a lot to offer. We celebrate successes and provide a safe space for struggles and mistakes. That’s how we build resilience and grow!”