Music of the Cougars


1970 Kennedy Yearbook

Former Kennedy Orchestral members pose for a photo.

Jersey Bilyeu, Writer

Music programs have always been part of high school culture. As Kennedy celebrates its 55th anniversary, so does its music department. Directors of the Kennedy Music Department discussed how it’s evolved and what its future may look like.

“The biggest change has just been show choir as a genre, it has changed dramatically from what it was in the late ’90s,” Choir Director and Music Department Chair Storm Ziegler said. “The number of kids, the scope of productions, the difficulty of the choreography and the whole industry that’s grown up around it.”

Show choir first started in the 1930s, but didn’t become popular until the early 2000s when hit TV series Glee was first released.

“I would say culturally there’s been a shift from ‘we are a chorale program’ to being viewed as a show choir program,” Ziegler said. “Many [younger directors] are doing these jobs because of show choir. It’s kind of moving in that direction as younger directors take over.”

The show choir program has experienced a shift since its start, but aspects of it have remained the same.

“[Happiness] evolved with the whole show choir genre, but how we approach a show and how we perform and how we prepare, there’s sort of an ethos around that that has not changed,” Ziegler said. “Happiness isn’t just important to Kennedy, it’s sort of important to the genre nationally, it’s one of the first ones. I’ve enjoyed my time and I’m starting to think about handing it off to the next person.”

Along with show choir, the band program has seen its fair share of change within Kennedy.

“The first five years when I was here when I started, we were a grammy school,” Band Director Lesley Fleer said. “A grammy school is similar to the class system of 3A, 4A and so on, but as a grammy school Kennedy was able to go up against schools nationwide.”

In the past, the program had upwards of 200 musicians, whereas this year the band is only 130. Since Fleer’s start, the band program has added things like winter guard, started taking trips with the other metro area bands and expanded the jazz program.

Over the years, Fleer said she’s seen an increase in stress among students in the program.

“I don’t think living in their basement for a year and a half helped that at all,” said Fleer, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Right now, all they can see is stress, stress, stress and their ability to deal with that…is harder now for them than I ever remember being in the past.”

Music programs all experience ups and downs in their department. Some years are focused on growth and recruiting students while other years the department experiences great success in their performances. Often, these changes are led by students themselves.

“I think with the help of the leadership team this past year, the culture’s starting the shift and I appreciate that so much,” Fleer said. “That’s something that [the students] can do, I can, but it’s better coming from inside.”

1972 Kennedy Yearbook
1980 Kennedy Yearbook

The Kennedy Orchestra program has also changed and evolved throughout the years. Orchestra Director John Hall noticed student involvement this year is greater than in the past. He credits this growth to the program’s last director, Elizabeth Driskell. Hall looks to try new things while also including pieces from the past.

“Maybe there’s some new literature I haven’t done yet that we’ll play, but there are some old favorites I’m wanting to pull back in,” said Hall.

Looking into the future, both band and choir programs are looking into getting more involved with the younger students, getting them more excited about the change from middle to high school.

“We learned some things over COVID-19 about how we operate and how we reach kids and this year that has resulted in more kids in our programs,” Ziegler said. “So if we can translate that into our middle schools, I think the future looks bright. I think we’re gonna grow and we’re going to have more interest.”

Fleer is working toward a mentor program in which the band’s upperclassmen will go to the middle schools to work with the younger students. Looking into the near future, Fleer has plans to push the band’s Wind Symphony back into IBA, the annual concert band competition. She also wants to begin participating in activities such as winter drumline and indoor winds in the spring.

“I would like to see that band get bigger,” Fleer said. “I think that’s gonna take a little bit because as much as we struggle with the COVID-19 stuff you gotta think about the beginners in the middle schools. There are kids now in the middle school program who started online. It’s hard to make it productive and fun and rewarding.”

The Kennedy Music Department has grown and changed over the 55 years Kennedy has been open. It will continue to evolve for the next 55 years and Kennedy will continue to grow with the coming generations.

“I just think that the performing arts segment of Kennedy is outstanding overall,” Hall said. “Everything with show choir, marching band, jazz band, the drama department, all this stuff we have at this end of the building is super.”