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Upper School Fine Arts Curriculum

The Durham Academy Upper School Fine Arts Department strives to empower each student to create original art in their personal and/or professional life, finding confidence and joy in performing or presenting their work. In the creation of their own art, students problem-solve and collaborate with other artists and learn the value of ongoing reflection and revision in the creative process.

Equally important, our students approach others' art with respect and empathy, and they engage with art using learned skills, habits and vocabulary. A major focus of the Upper School arts curriculum is approaching art with curiosity to understand the context in which it was created. Students incorporate historical and cultural knowledge as inspiration to express their unique voice and vision. 

We believe that the learning and practice of art encourages the growth of the whole student and deepens the understanding of the human experience. Research shows that making art (in visual or performing arts) transforms our brains and our bodies*; we see this benefit especially in those making art each year. Fine Arts courses are studio classes, where students develop their skills by actively engaging in their chosen discipline, working independently and collaboratively. Through this process, students conceive and express their artistic ideas through experimentation and risk-taking across one or more disciplines, both inside the classroom and through extracurricular offerings.

*Johns Hopkins University and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences

Students will be able to independently use their learning to:

  • Actively engage in the arts.

  • Solve problems independently and collaboratively.

  • Experiment and take risks to conceive, develop, and express artistic ideas.

  • Communicate ideas about and respond authentically to art in an informed manner.

  • Connect artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural and/or historical contexts to deepen understanding of the human experience.

Upper School Fine Arts Course Offerings

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Novice Dance

This full-year course will develop the beginning dancer in terms of knowledge of dance history, vocabulary, technique, choreography and performance skills. Students will explore aspects of movement, improvisation and choreography on an individual and group basis.

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Intermediate Dance

This full-year, multi-level course will focus strongly on technical development, choreography and performance skills. This course will highlight various dance styles including Ballet, Jazz, Modern, Broadway, Hip-Hop, Tap and Contemporary.

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Dance Composition, Choreography & Community

This full-year course will challenge the upper-level dancer in terms of technique, choreographic principles and performance skills. This course will develop the dancer’s choreographic voice through project-based learning and performance.

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Instrumental Ensemble

The Upper School Instrumental Ensemble studies music and musicianship through the rehearsal and performance of many different styles of music, in both the full ensemble and in smaller combinations.

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Vocal Ensemble

The Upper School Vocal Ensemble studies music and musicianship through the rehearsal and performance of many different styles of music, both a cappella and accompanied.

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Auditioned Musical Ensemble: In The Pocket

In The Pocket is an auditioned music ensemble focused on playing all genres of commercial/popular music of the 20th and 21st centuries. The ensemble is a collaborative effort between students and adult members.

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Fundamentals of Music Theory

Do you find yourself listening to music and wondering why it works the way it does? Or why that one moment in that particular song always makes you feel so emotional? Or are you a budding songwriter looking to craft the perfect ear candy?

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Songwriting & Composition

Are you a budding singer-songwriter? Do you enjoy beat-making on your laptop? Are you midway through composing your opera or symphony? In Songwriting & Composition, you can bring your ideas to life!

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Acting Studio

Want to improve your skills as an actor on stage or in front of a camera? Want to feel more confident speaking in public, making oral presentations in class, or interviewing for a job or college? Want to use your imagination and have fun?

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Scene Study

In this class, students will continue to develop their acting skills by applying and extending what they learned in Acting Studio to both on-stage and on-camera scenes. This is a project-based class, so students have the opportunity to collaborate with their peers as they dig more deeply into the rehearsal process.

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Dramatic Writing for the Stage and Screen

Are you interested in the stories and characters you watch on television, in movies or on stage? Do you think about writing creatively but don’t give yourself time to sit down and write? Well, this course might be for you.

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Technical Theatre: Design & Production I

This course will explore the fundamentals of technical theatre with an emphasis on safety protocols, equipment and design concepts. Students will demonstrate their learning through different facets of the class: department productions, class projects, design concepts, and class discussions.

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Technical Theatre: Design & Production II

This course will expand on the knowledge gained in the first section. Students will strengthen their skills by exploring more advanced techniques in scenic construction, advanced lighting design, 3D drafting techniques, and beyond.

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Intermediate Art

This course is for students who know they enjoy art and are serious about developing their skills and visual ability. Only students with discipline and a strong desire to learn more sophisticated techniques should take this course.

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Studio Praxis for Experienced Art Students

Are you driven to make art? Are you possibly interested in applying to art programs? This course follows Intermediate Art and is for students who have the skill, independence and problem-solving ability to conceive of and produce work in response to conceptual prompts and ideas.

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Photography I 

This full-year course is process oriented and will explore the technical and creative aspects of both digital and film photography. This class moves beyond simply documenting what is in front of us, challenging students to develop a way of seeing and creating that reflects their own vision and voice.

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Photography II

In this full-year or semester course, students will be challenged to expand on the skills acquired in Photography I by visually exploring ideas that are independently meaningful through long-term projects.

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Digital Art & Design I

This full-year course teaches the foundational principles, techniques, creative practices and digital workflow of using the computer to make art. Students will learn the process of developing original concepts by using a digital sketchbook for written reflection, researching art movements and artists for context and inspiration, sketching compositions and planning their workflow.

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Digital Art & Design II

In this full-year or semester course, students will build on the technical and foundational skills acquired in Digital Art & Design I. We will continue to use Adobe programs, learning advanced techniques in the execution of more complex projects.

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Video Production I 

This course will offer students a hands-on overview of the vocabulary, camera gear and editing workflows associated with video storytelling. The goal of the course will be to introduce students to the building blocks of documentary video production in order to produce a short video that will inform, entertain or inspire an audience.

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Video Production II 

This class will explore the many forms of filmed media from the perspective of video producers. Students will investigate how meaning is created and communicated through video, discuss how the style of video influences the content, and familiarize themselves with different modes of filming and editing through hands-on production experience.

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