Vera Brittain as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse, 1915. Photograph: courtesy of VB Estate/McMaster University Library, Hamilton, Canada

The Favorite Books, Plays, Music, And More of CA’s New Arts Director

Colorado Academy welcomes Dr. Jan De Sal as the new Director of Fine and Performing Arts. De Sal comes to CA from her position as Director of Arts at the Viewpoint School in Calabasas, CA, where she worked for 15 years. She held a similar position at Mayfield Senior School in Pasadena and also taught at the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay and at California State University in Los Angeles. She holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Rhode Island, a Master of Arts in Theater from Catholic University in America, with specialization in American Theater, and a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in English and Theater Art, also from Catholic University. We wanted to go beyond the resume to get to know this experienced arts educator with these questions:

Dr. Jan De Sal - Colorado Academy Fine and Performing Arts DirectorQ:If you were to turn on your cell phone right now, what are the last five artists or songs you listened to?

Jan De Sal: You give me too much credit assuming I listen to all music on my iPhone. I am most likely playing a CD or XM at home, or frantically switching stations from classical to jazz to pop to country while driving to work. My five might be George Winston’s Forest, some jazz by Keiko Matsui and Esperanza Spalding, anything by Bach, Vivaldi or Archangel Corelli (must love anyone with a first name like that), some Garth Brooks or Lady Antebellum, the vocal genius of the Libera Boys’ Choir and Chanticleer, and definitely Walk the Moon’s Shut Up and Dance. Okay so that’s more than five. Sorry!

Q:If you see any stage performance in any theatre in the world, what would the production be, and where would you be watching it?

Jan De Sal: I would be watching Irish Theater—perhaps Yeats or Brian Friel—at The Abbey in Dublin followed by a cup of proper tea.

Q: What books are on your nightstand right now?

Jan De Sal: There are an embarrassing number so I will list a few. I am re-reading Middlemarch now with far greater insight than had at age 16 when I first read it. There is also Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, Elena Ferrante’s The Story of a New Name, Antoine Laurain’s The Red Notebook, W.G. Sebald’s A Place in the Country, Sebastian Barry’s The Temporary Gentleman, Fredrik Backman’s A Man Called Ove, and I will admit, I purchased the newly released Harper Lee novel—had to do it. I’ll stop there.

Q: What are some of the things you are most looking forward to at CA?

Jan De Sal: I am looking forward to the collaboration of life, art and education and having CA be recognized as the national model for how the arts should be taught in a balanced liberal arts education.

Q: Denver has an exciting art and music scene. What is the first place you want to go for cultural entertainment?

Jan De Sal: I am already a member of the Denver Art Museum and Botanic Gardens and have visited both. I am hoping to tap into the Denver spoken word poetry scene.

Q: What is your favorite moment in teaching?

Jan De Sal: My favorite moments in teaching are often the ones that go unnoticed— the exalted discussion led by students far more impressive than any lecture I could muster, opening night of a production when I talk about the theater being a sacred place, and the end of every class when I go through the ritual of having us bow to each other and I say, “Thank you for your work today,” and they answer, “Thank you for this class.” Education is, at its best, a few precious moments in time and it is always a two way street of respect and appreciation.

Q:When you are not teaching/directing/producing, what’s your favorite thing to do?

Jan De Sal: When I am not teaching I write, read, hike, run, swim and socialize with family and the great people around me—generally over good food and scintillating conversation.

Q:Do you have a favorite quotation, story, or anecdote about the arts or art education?

Jan De Sal: When I was a little girl growing up in a mill town on the east coast, winters at our worn-out elementary school were fairly dismal, except for Tuesday afternoons at 2:00 p.m. That was music day when wonderful Mr. Prentice, a diminutive man to be sure, came on his rounds to Willis School to enchant us children for one solid hour with nothing but music. I loved every part of that 60 minutes, especially his contraption which held five pieces of chalk and enabled him to draw a staff on the blackboard with one smooth sweep. We learned the value of each note, mastered some fairly sophisticated sight reading, and discovered that Jake G., who annoyed every girl in the class, actually had a voice like an angel. Who knew?

Most important of all, Mr. Prentice transformed that room of ragamuffins of which I was a part into a humble chorus, and together, one glorious day a week, we made music. We ended every class with a simple song that he taught us which continues to live in my mind’s eye as a metaphor for the way I feel about all the arts. It goes like this—

All things shall perish

from under the sky.

Music alone shall live;

music alone shall live;

music alone shall live,

never to die.

Such a snatch of grace beyond the realm of art. I shall never forget him.