Posted on 31 May 2012.
By CHRISTINA RITCHIE ROGERS
Jazz musician Noel Freidline, 45, just accepted his first ever full-time job. A pianist, vocalist, writer and arranger, he has had as many as seven part-time jobs at one time – big ones, like performing with the Charlotte Symphony, at jazzfests and on Broadway – but never a full-time “9-to-5” kind of gig.
All that will change in August, when he joins Davidson Day School faculty as Upper School Music Director. He plans to develop a unique, contemporary curriculum that combines live performance with contemporary musical study and skills.
“We need to do for the instrumental program what Glee has done for choral music,” he said. And he is just the man for the job, Head of School Bonnie Cotter said.
“We’ve been on the lookout for someone like him for a few years,” she said. He has “robust capabilities” and an “offbeat approach” that will reach all students, even those that might be on the fringes of a typical ensemble, she said.
Mr. Freidline was named Best Jazz Musician by Charlotte Magazine in 2006 and 2009 and Best Musical Director by the Metrolina Theatre Association of the Carolinas. He has taught music at the college level, and is the leader of the Noel Freidline Quintet (NFQ), established in 1992, whose 2002 recording “Four Nights at the Slammer” landed them on the national jazz radio charts for 12 weeks. Mr. Freidline has written and recorded music for ESPN, ABC and the Walt Disney Co., with his most recent work being featured on Monday Night Football, the NBA All-Star Game, and SportCenter. In 2011 he received the Blumenthal Performing Arts Association Center Stage award in recognition of his excellence in service to the arts.
So with such success in the world of part-time playing and performing, what was it about the Davidson Day job that piqued his interest?
The job appeals to him for two reasons, Mr. Freidline said: first, his three children attend Davidson Day, and he wants them to have the best music program possible. And second, “it’s a wide open opportunity,” he said – one where he can develop a nontraditional program that is “hip,” “cool,” and attracts students.
A few years ago while in Huntington Beach, Calif., for a gig, Mr. Freidline witnessed first-hand a cutting edge music program at a public high school. He saw students working at recording kiosks and making videos – real-world skills needed to succeed in the contemporary music scene, he said. He also met Jamie Knight, the music director responsible for the innovative music program.
So when presented with the opportunity to develop a music program at Davidson Day, Mr. Freidline reached out to Mr. Knight, who agreed to partner with him.
“Hopefully we can build something that will attract students,” Mr. Freidline said, and one of the best ways to attract students to music is to make it relevant for them.
“I think it’s like anything else – once you can find something that they like, you show them the secrets of it,” he said. For example, once they learn how chords work, teach them a song they already know and like.
“Bach used the same 12 notes that Led Zeppelin did,” he said.
The school will continue to offer its band program, under the direction of Jessica Phipps, and Mr. Freidline looks forward to working with her. But “there’s a lot of talent that doesn’t necessarily fit into the traditional band music scene,” he said, such as guitar. And he wants to develop a program with options for musicians of all kinds.
“Music is in everybody’s soul, and we want to give all students an outlet for it,” Ms. Cotter said.
Mr. Freidline describes his concept as “School of Rock meets Glee,” with an emphasis on performance as well as musical aptitude. He has wanted to be a musician ever since he was 10, and hopes to foster the same passion in the students at Davidson Day.
“It is an absolute privilege to be able to participate in the world of music,” Mr. Freidline said, “and I’m so lucky to be doing it.”