Analyzing the arts: A look into the history of chorus and theater at KO


The award-winning performing arts programs at Kingswood Oxford make it extremely attractive to prospective students. Whether you are a singer, musician, dancer, actor, or actress, KO has a program for anyone interested in the performing arts. However, the performing arts programs at KO did not just appear overnight. Rather, each of these programs has a deep history. 

We were able to have a conversation with Brenda Semmelrock, the school archivist, who was able to provide us with various articles and books that contained historical information about the arts at KO. 


Musical performances and groups played a key role at both Kingswood and Oxford. Mary Martin, the founder of Oxford, advocated for the arts to be included in the core curriculum. The girls had music lessons towards the end of the school day, and many students participated in a day-long production. This production included various musical offerings, dance, and acting. 

In 1955, Oxford collaborated with Watkinson School and produced an operetta to add to their love of singing. Additionally, those interested in dance performed with eight other schools in a dance symposium. All-in-all, Glee Clubs were highly successful at both Kingswood and Oxford. 

In 1960, at the Kingswood School, a visiting committee urged the school to include some form of music in the curriculum. However, this was a struggle to get started. The school library was equipped with a record player and shelves of classical records for student use, and the school offered both full-year and elective courses in music. They also had various visits from musicians from the Hartford Symphony. 

Since 1922, students have had weekly classes in music theory, and choir was available. Kingswood also had a successful Glee Club, where they were invited to perform at the Spring Choral Festival at the Bushnell Memorial. Interestingly, the Oxford School’s Glee Club was invited to this festival. Despite this, major schedule conflicts and the size of Kingswood prevented the Glee Club from performing frequently. 

Eight seniors formed a group called Octopipers at Oxford in 1958. They sang popular songs of the day and ended up recording an album in 1959. They frequently performed, from general Oxford events to formal dances at the Hartford Golf Club. Thus, it is clear that musical groups and performances impacted the Oxford community. These programs continued to grow as the schools joined together.

One of the most prominent performing arts programs at KO is the choral music program. Starting as an Upper Prep student in the Middle School, students have the opportunity to join the Upper Prep Choraliers to satisfy their music credit requirements. Most Middle School students then continue to become members of Cantabile, the Form 1 and 2 choirs in the Middle School. 

As students enter Forms 1 and 2, they can audition for the select a cappella groups that the Middle School offers. Octopipers is the oldest select choir group on campus and is an all-female group that rehearses after school and sports. 

The all-male select choir for Middle School students, F2B, was formed in the mid-2000s. The goal of creating this group was to establish a complement to Octopipers that was for the boys in the Middle School. Both groups perform for their classmates and families at various points throughout the year, showing off the hard work and dedication of putting together a piece of vocal music. 

Once students enter the Upper School, they are no longer required to take a music course, but many choose to do so. The only choir group that does not require an audition in the Upper School is the Concert Choir. This ensemble is open to students in all forms and is mainly composed of underclassmen before they become members of the select choirs. 

The two select choirs on campus are Voce Novissma and Outlook. Voce Novissma is a select women’s ensemble open to students in all forms. It was founded in the mid-2000s since several talented treble voices were not getting the select experience offered by Outlook.  

The history of Outlook, the co-ed ensemble open to students in Forms Four through Six, is more complex. The group was initially founded in the 1970s under the name “The Sweet Sixteen,” as it had 16 members. Then in the 1980s, current orchestra director Richard Chiarappa took over the group and rebranded it as “Graffiti.” During this period, the group was mainly a vocal jazz ensemble. 

In 2009, current History Department Chair and Choir Director David Baker took over the group, and instead of just making jazz or chamber music, the group performed a variety of music genres. “[The group] actually named itself after the road that leads directly to Alumni Hall,” said Mr. Baker. 

In addition to these ensembles offered as classes throughout the school day, the KO music department also offers two select a cappella groups that meet after school: Crimson 7 and Oxfordians. Crimson 7 is an all-male ensemble, whereas Oxfordians is a female group. Crimson 7 was founded in 2003 by Mr. Baker and a fellow senior when he was a student at KO. They gathered a group of seven students: two freshmen, three juniors, and two seniors, all of whom wanted to sing a capella. 

Even when Mr. Baker went to college, the group remained, and when he returned to teach in 2008, he asked to take over as director. Since then, the group has grown to have more than seven members but decided to keep the name Crimson 7 because of its history. 

In 2009, Oxfordians was formed to complement Crimson 7, but with treble voices, and has stuck around since then. These groups perform at various school functions and a cappella festivals, including the annual Wyvern Invitation Acapella Festival, more commonly known as WIAF. 

It is so amazing that KO can offer such a range of options for choral music because these groups enable students to take risks and become involved in the community. “When we’re learning a new piece of music, we’re asking them to fail because they’re learning something new,” Mr. Baker said as he reflected on the significance of choral singing. “They’re not going to get perfect on the first try.”


In the most recent years at KO, the theater program has significantly advanced as they continue producing entertaining, high-quality shows. The award-winning program is putting on “Sweet Charity” this February. Those involved have been working tirelessly for the past months to prepare, especially Theater Director and Choreographer Kyle Reynolds, Musical Director Steve Mitchell, and Technical Director Michael Bane.

Like choral groups, there is a long, complex history of theatrical performances at KO. In the 1920s, the Oxford girls created the dramatic club called Paint & Putty. Various faculty and drama coaches helped the students to produce Christmas plays, eventually developing an impressive future of general musicals and plays. 

To join Paint & Putty, you needed to be invited. The club worked hard on its projects while maintaining an excellent academic record. The productions showcased intricate scenery, props, and costumes. The Oxford girls’ dedication to their craft has most definitely carried on to the fierce commitments KO students have for their interests.

At Kingswood, the dramatic arts also played an important role. The boys formed the Kingswood Dramatic Club. During classes, the students would put on various skits and small plays; however, in 1927, the boys put on “The Rivals.” The students would perform the play in any space available, showcasing their love of performing. 

The boys initially performed at Seaverns Hall. However, it could not accommodate the growth of their production. Thus, the venue changed to Avery Theater, but with the construction of the Merritt A. Hewett building in the 1960s, the club moved its performances back to campus. 

One of the most successful or significant performances produced by KO was in 1972. The school put on the first musical: “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown.” The elaborate set, costumes, lighting, and choreography were designed solely by students. This was the first musical put on by KO, but it truly showcased the creativity and passion of the students. 

Today, the KO Theatre Department has won the best musical in Connecticut at the Halo Awards for the past two years. This not only showcases their massive successes but their commitment to the program. Currently, students are working hard on the production of “Sweet Charity.” 

The students are focused on learning the dances in the style of Bob Fosse. The Broadway at KO program enabled the group to meet with legendary Broadway performer Stephanie Pope. She worked with KO students to perfect the Fosse moves for various dances in “Sweet Charity.” The Broadway at KO program showcases the remarkable growth the program has experienced. 

Additionally, there was an opportunity this year for students to go to New York City to watch the Broadway show, “1776,” and attend a Q&A session with the cast afterward. Once again, this shows Mr. Reynold’s dedication to the program’s continued success and the general commitment of each student involved in the arts. 

Junior Audrey Karasik is currently in “Sweet Charity” and has been thrilled with the opportunities KO has given her. “It was fantastic getting to work with Stephanie Pope,” she said. “Dance is really a crucial part of our show and we strive to improve our skills everyday. I can’t wait for everyone to see the show.” 

Each student truly does work hard in the musical, attending long rehearsals on weekends and after school to perfect their show. KO musical theater and chorus are constantly taking it to the next level, providing students with special opportunities and unforgettable experiences. 

Knowing the history of choral groups and theatrical performances helps to inform why students still participate in these activities. The committed faculty and the various students participating in these activities should be appreciated. As a community, KO should continue supporting them by attending their unique, impactful, and entertaining performances!