Lower School

Beginning in preschool, children explore musical concepts through movement, classroom instruments, and singing. As they progress, they are introduced to the elements of music, including musical notation, literacy, and the form of musical compositions.They study different composers, orchestral instruments, and music in various cultures. Lessons are rich and exuberant, providing foundational learning for a lifelong appreciation of music. Students apply and demonstrate what they learn in the classroom through concerts and performances. The school also offers the opportunity to study piano, guitar, voice, drama, and dance in after-school programs.
In addition to concerts, children in preschool and kindergarten annually stage a production of The Nutcracker. Along with learning the music and choreography, children study various renditions of the tale and retell it in their own words.The Nutcracker is one of the most-anticipated events of the Lower School calendar. Students can also take part in two musical theater productions through extra-curricular programs.

Middle School

Coursework gives students a deeper understanding of the principles of music and helps develop their singing voices in a choral setting. Music history and theory are taught in tandem with sight-singing, rhythm development, proper vocal and breathing techniques, and harmonization skills. Student work is showcased during in winter and spring concerts and other school events. Music is a full-year required course in grades five and six, and it is a one-semester elective in grades seven and eight.The Middle School also offers an Honors Choir and various extracurricular singing groups.

The ability to communicate effectively is a vital skill that impacts every aspects of a student’s life. Coursework in drama builds confidence, dexterity, and versatility in the art of communication. Confidence, creativity, and the ability to work as a group form the building blocks for communication. In grades seven and eight, through various individual and group activities, drama students begin to create characters, tell stories, and understand and explore the actor’s instruments of mind, body, and voice. Such skills, essential in developing confident self-expression, also provide a solid foundation for students who want to pursue drama in the Upper School.
There are several opportunities for Middle School students to perform for an audience. Students in grades five and six may take part in the fall and spring musical productions. Past productions include The Lion King, Sleeping Beauty, Annie and High School Musical. Students in grades seven and eight can take part in a play and a musical each year. Recent productions include Honk, Eureka, Once On This Island, and Guys and Dolls. All Middle School productions are cast with a “no-cut” policy to ensure that any interested student can be part of the show and experience working together to stage a production and develop the tools for performing in Upper School, should they so desire. 

Sample Middle School Performing Arts Curriculum

List of 3 items.

  • Grades 5 – 6 Music

    This two-semester required class gives students a deeper understanding of music while engaging them in a choral setting. Throughout each semester, music history and theory are taught alongside sight-singing, rhythm development, proper vocal and breathing techniques, and harmonization skills. The choir works together as a team to prepare a diverse repertoire for a concert at the end of each semester.
  • Grades 7 – 8 Music

    This one‐semester elective class is designed to give students a deeper understanding of music while continuing to engage them in a choral setting. The class delves further into music history and theory. Sight‐singing, rhythm development, proper vocal and breathing techniques and harmonization skills continue to be refined as the choir works together as a team to prepare a diverse repertoire for a concert at the end of the semester.
  • Grades 7 – 8 Drama

    Drama class meets twice a week, and students study all facets of theater, from theater games and acting, to history and stagecraft. The class meets in the PACC, where students are given a firsthand look at the actual production of the Upper School play and musical. Each spring during the Middle School Unit, seventh and eighth grades mount a production. Interested students may participate on stage or behind the scenes. Past Middle School plays include HMS PinaforeThe Pirates of Penzance and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

Upper School

Upper School theater courses encourage active experimentation, fostering creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem solving. Course include experiential acting classes for students interested in learning about the acting process, as well as for students who are experienced performers. Courses are also available for students who wish to learn more about aspects of theater production, including direction and stagecraft.
The award-winning GSB Players stage two productions each year, a play in the fall and a musical in the spring. In addition, students taking coursework in directing showcase their craft by staging one-act plays each spring. The "S'PACCtacular" (formerly the "Joe Show"), a student-led talent show, provides further opportunities to performance. Recent performances include The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940 and Meet Me in St. Louis.
The Upper School offers choral music coursework and performance opportunities for a range of abilities and interests. Students enrolled in Concert Choir are invited to audition for extracurricular choirs, including the Knightingales and Blue in the Face. These groups meet evenings during the week and focus on more sophisticated musical works.

Music theory courses provide a deep understanding of how music works and the elements of construction. Students in music theory can arrange pieces for the choral concerts, giving them a chance to debut their work.

Blue in the Face

With the advent of the new Performing Arts & Community Center, Upper School Music Teacher David Southerland saw new possibilities. In the fall of 2018, he auditioned interested students in grades 10-12 for a new elite performance group: Blue in The Face, replacing the Ambassador Choir, which for years performed at admission open houses and other school events. “This is a more modern version of a choir,” Southerland explains, “modeled a bit after groups like Pentatonix and Toxic Audio.” He stresses that Blue in The Face is not exclusively a cappella music; the group also features students on vocals and instruments like violin, guitar, piano, and drums. Blue in The Face performances are choreographed, with each member wearing a body mic to allow for freedom of movement on stage.

List of 7 items.

  • Concert Choir

    Concert Choir can be taken as a one-semester or yearlong course to develop musical skills, broaden students’ familiarity with musical genres and deepen students’ musical and aesthetic sensibilities. Students learn and develop a vocal music vocabulary and learn musical concepts – including harmony, melody, notation, rhythm, and tone color – across the music genres. Concert Choir meets as a class throughout the week. Prior to choral concerts, the class holds additional meetings during the day, and in the evening for group rehearsals. As a performance-based class, each semester culminates in evening performances. The choir performs at additional events, including Commencement and admission open houses. Students are also eligible to audition for an advanced vocal ensemble, The Gillharmonics.
  • Acting I

    This semester-long course introduces students to drama through theater games and activities that stimulate the imagination, sharpen sensory awareness, and develop skills in public speaking, movement, and improvisation. Students  create characters that are fresh, unique and believable. Goals of the beginning class include the development of self-discipline and a sense of responsibility toward others, a stronger interest in the theater and a basic battery of acting skills. Course content includes the following topics: emotion and emotional recall, silent performance, goals and obstacles, and working with props and physical attachments.
  • Acting II

    Students in this semester-long course work toward a more advanced set of goals, including a broader mastery of character development, the ability to effectively critique the performance of another student and the ability to identify the individual goals and the overall theme of the plays being studied. Advanced scene and character study, and independent classroom activity with a concentration on specific material of the student’s choice is provided. Students in the course select a one-act play or a single act from a play for public performance.
  • Advanced Acting

    Building on the concepts of Acting I and Acting II, this semester-long course offers more in-depth training in the areas of emotion, character development, and motivation. Largely based on the Meisner technique, the Advanced Acting class develops more thoughtful actors who can portray multidimensional characters. Students explore such Meisner-based concepts as the “independent activity,” the “moment before” and the “character backstory.” The final exam is the performance of a one-act play before members of the Upper School.
  • Directing

    In this semester-long course, students learn how to create an artistic vision of an existing play, how to serve as the coordinator of a cast of performers, how to manage the schedule of a production, and how to be the single director of a staged performance. Students discover the many nuances of leadership and time management, learn how to distinguish between the wants and needs of performers, and realize the importance of flexibility when working with a variety of personalities. Students experiment with spatial awareness, with areas of strength, with architectural and artistic requirements, with body positioning on stage and with forging a relationship between the actor and the audience.
  • Stagecraft

    This semester-long course gives students the opportunity to participate in the construction of costumes, sets and props for the Upper School fall play and the spring musical productions. Students are taught basic safety and the proper use of the equipment found in the scene shop, costume shop and prop shop, including, but not limited to, sewing machine, serger, table saw, circular saw, drill and pneumatic nailer. In addition, students are given instruction in proper painting technique, understanding clothing patterns, and reading ground plans and elevations.
  • Theater History & Dramatic Texts

    This yearlong course examines the history of Western theater from ancient Greece through the 21st century. Throughout the course, students read various major works of the Western theatrical canon, including Euripides’ Medea, Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. Through these works, students gain a fuller understanding of the period in which they were written. In addition, students develop the ability to make connections from one historical period to another, noting the social, political and religious influences that defined the drama of a particular era, and how it affected the works that followed.

Meet the Team

List of 9 members.

  • Photo of Paul Canada

    Paul Canada 

    Chair, Performing Arts Department
    908-234-1611, Ext. 239
  • Photo of Margery Schiesswohl

    Margery Schiesswohl 

    9th Grade Seminar; 9th Grade Dean
    908-234-1611, Ext. 463
  • Photo of Todd Ross

    Todd Ross 

    Drama, Grades 7-8
    908-234-1611, Ext. 432
  • Photo of David Southerland

    David Southerland 

    908-234-1611, Ext. 427
  • Photo of Amy Southerland

    Amy Southerland 

    Grades 5-8
    908-234-1611, Ext. 381
  • Photo of Jill Fedon

    Jill Fedon 

    Lower School Dean of Student Life, Early Childhood Music Teacher
    908-234-1611, Ext. 382
  • Photo of Elizabeth Carney

    Elizabeth Carney 

  • Photo of Kathleen Burke

    Kathleen Burke 

    908-234-1611, Ext. 351
  • Photo of Sheri Alexander

    Sheri Alexander 

    908-234-1611, Ext. 361
Gill St. Bernard’s is a private, coeducational day school for students age three through grade 12, located in suburban New Jersey. Each of the three school divisions provides a rigorous, meaningful, and age-appropriate curriculum, and all students benefit from the environmental learning opportunities that exist on our 208-acre campus.