Interview with Mr. Boles

Meredith Swanson, Staff Writer

After the retirement of our beloved Ms. Cetto, the WHPS music department was hard pressed to find a new teacher that would be up to the task that she so wonderfully fulfilled. Fortunately, they were able to find Brett Boles, from whom I was able to get an inside look at what’s coming to Hall’s choir program. Mr. Boles grew up in Sandy Hook, Connecticut and is a graduate of Newtown High. He and Tony/Grammy winner Van Dean created From Broadway With Love: A Benefit Concert for Sandy Hook, which was featured on PBS. He was also a co-founder of the Sandy Hook theater club and directed three of its productions. Mr. Boles has incredibly performed on Broadway, and his work has been brought to life on the same stages by Tony nominees Jeremy Jordan and Josh Young. During his time here at Hall, he hopes to integrate the use of kinesthetic learning and modern technology into our choir program, moving it forward to a fantastic new era.


Questions and Answers:


What kind of first impression do you think you give people?


Mr. Boles: When meeting someone for the first time, I hope I give the impression that I have a somewhat silly sense of humor and that I don’t take myself too seriously, though I do take my work seriously.


You have said that your background is in music composition. What was the transition to teaching like, and what challenges does it present?


Mr. Boles: Although my primary focus for the past decade or so has been my on my writing career, I’ve been teaching parallel to that for a long time. I get an equal amount of joy from teaching and working with students, so the teaching aspect doesn’t even feel like a transition, but more like a continuation and a deepening of what I had been doing already. The largest challenge by far has been accepting responsibility for an enormous program and taking on something that already has a life of its own. The time in the classroom is precious and inspiring; it’s the time outside the classroom where it sometimes feels as though I’m wrestling a giant! I just need a year to get used to it all!


What about Hall High drew you to work here?


Mr. Boles: As… [my teaching] job search began, [I] started doing some research on the West Hartford School District and watching every YouTube video I could find to get a sense of the choral program. I was floored by the scope of the program and by the sound of the students. I knew there was no place I’d rather be… the talent seemed tremendous and I knew it would be rewarding for me as a musician to be able to work on challenging repertoire with the students. Then I actually had the opportunity to meet the students when I came to do my demo lesson, and it just felt like the right fit. We’re only a month into the year and I already feel so attached to my students…most of the time it doesn’t even feel like work.


Obviously, your predecessor, Ms. Cetto, has a huge legacy, and a lot of people wonder what Hall’s choral program will be without her. How has the pressure of this legacy affected you?


Mr. Boles: This is a GREAT question, and I’m going to answer this with complete honesty. [Ms. Cetto] built and maintained a choral program to rival most in the state. I know that, and I embrace that. One of my thoughts when I applied for this position was, “What can I offer this program to make it grow beyond even what Lorri has been able to accomplish?” It didn’t feel right to apply for the job without knowing that I could bring something to the program. I’m used to high pressure jobs, and I’m used to standing in the spotlight, exposed and vulnerable, both as an actor and as a writer. I have an enormous amount of respect for what Lorri Cetto has built here at Hall, and I have every confidence that I’ll be able to take the torch from her and continue her legacy into the future. She deserves it, the community deserves it, and the students deserve it!


If you had to be something other than a musician, what would you be?


Mr. Boles: If I had to be something other than a musician, I would either be a novelist or an historian. Perhaps both!


This question is difficult for a lot of musicians, but what is your favorite song/musical genre?


Mr. Boles: I have a couple of favorite songs, and they’re both from musicals, and both by Stephen Sondheim. “Finishing the Hat” from Sunday in the Park with George is a favorite because it is the truest metaphor for the way an artist sees the world that I’ve ever come across. The other is “Children Will Listen” from Into the Woods. Having a three-year-old at home (and a 6 month old) the lyric “children may not obey / but children will listen” rings particularly true these days! Kids may not do what you ask them to, but you can be sure that they’re hearing everything you say and absorbing it into their deepest selves.


Tell us about your new show that just premiered in London. What was that experience like?


Mr. Boles: My writing partner Natalie Tenenbaum and I wrote a musical adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which just had a showcase premiere in London at the Southwark Playhouse. To give you a sense of just how long it takes to get a musical produced in this business, we completed the first draft of the show in January 2013. Several staged readings and drafts later, we had an amazing opportunity to take the show overseas. I had never been to London, so in the five days I was there I tried to see everything I could, but that’s a tall order! With rehearsals and performances, there wasn’t nearly enough time to do everything I wanted to do… so hopefully I’ll have a chance to go back if the show is picked up for a full production across the pond!


What was it like to work on Broadway?


Mr. Boles: Broadway is awesome and there’s nothing like it in the world — everything you think it is as kid is really what it is. It’s magical and wonderful and thrilling and scary (in the best possible way). Stepping out onto a Broadway stage and feeling the orchestra swelling underneath you is something you just can’t replicate anywhere else. But I will say that stepping out in front of a class of 65 high school students is also wonderful and thrilling and scary (in the best possible way), and it’s a feeling you can’t replicate anywhere else. When I’m making beautiful music with students I care about… life is pretty darn swell.


Thank you very much to Mr. Boles for his wonderful and detailed responses! Welcome to Hall, we are so excited to have you here!