| Choir offers more than music
at St. Leo the Great School
When prospective members of the gospel choir at St. Leo the Great School in Oakland auditioned last month, it wasn't just the fine arts director listening to them.
In addition to Kevan Peabody, the school's fine arts director, pupils who had been in the choir for two years also had a voice in deciding who would join the group, which performs at concerts and sings at Masses at the Oakland school.
Principal Sonya Simril saw it as a lesson in inclusion.
The pupils were given strict guidelines, and they took notes on each auditioning person's merits. It was a lesson, at times, in being both compassionate and empathetic.
Simril, who sat in on the auditions, said she was "so impressed" and found it "courageous" for the students, especially those third-graders to audition for the choir, which can have as many as 30 voices.
When Peabody arrived at the school, only pupils in middle school were eligible to sing in the gospel choir. That changed. Pupils third through eighth grade are in the choir.
As fine arts director, Peabody is at school three days a week, teaching children from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. Peabody, a professional pianist, teaches music, directs the choir and instructs students in music theory and history.
"He's only been here three years," said Simril, "but he's made such a big difference."
As a professional musician, Peabody has traveled the globe, and closer to home, has performed at Yoshi's. "He's so modest about what he does," Simril said.
Peabody is bringing an African American liturgist to school, Simril said, one in a long line of professional artists who have come to speak to the students.
Simril said each has stressed the importance of getting an education.
The fine arts program, she said, has "helped kids find talent they didn't know they had," as well as "helps to fulfill the school mission to educate the whole child."
Peabody is among 14 recipients of the Changemaker Fellowship at the Pacific School of Religion. The fellows receive one year of full tuition for the school's certificate of theological studies program.
"Our faculty, staff and students are thrilled by the talents, energy, and enthusiasm that these Changemakers are bringing to our campus this year," Dean Bernard Schlager, vice president of Academic Affairs, said in a statement. "We hope to learn from them and with them as we work together to build upon PSR's rich legacy of educating leaders for creating positive change in communities of faith and our wider society."
As far as St. Leo the Great School is concerned, Peabody is already making change in the world. "We love him dearly," Simril said. "He comes every day with a big smile on his face."
back to top