Castleton brings the music to WCDS

The Castleton Festival visited Wakefield Country Day School students Friday morning (April 25) for a musically focused seminar — part of the festival’s continued attempts to reach out to, and interact with, the community at-large.

Castleton Festival general manager Nancy Gustafson (right) teaches a singing workshop at Wakefield County Day School last Friday (April 25).
Castleton Festival general manager Nancy Gustafson (right) teaches a singing workshop at Wakefield County Day School last Friday (April 25). Matt Wingfield | Rappahannock News

It’s all a part of the Castleton Educational Coalition’s attempt to reach out to Rappahannock youth — and to students in Orange, Culpeper and Fauquier counties, among others nearby — and, in the words of Maestro Lorin Maazel, “bring music to the young people . . . [and] fill the seats with [them].”

WCDS was the first school that Castleton Festival general manager Nancy Gustafson visited this year, though she said there are also plans by Hearthstone and Belle Meade schools to pool their students in June for a trip to Castleton Farms.

Friday, Gustafson brought two Castleton Artists Training Seminar (CATS) graduates with her to demonstrate different styles of music, as well as help the 20 or so WCDS students work on aspects of their own performance.

Gustafson, who received her undergraduate degree in musical education, said the two-hour seminar began by highlighting the many possibilities available to a singer. “You can be a folk singer, a rock singer, a pop singer, you can sing in advertisements or movies,” Gustafson explained. “There are all kinds of possibilities.”

Gustafson then walked the class through warm-ups — both physical and vocal — before having them sing. The two CATS singers, Emily Becker and Sarah Heisler, sang selections from Disney’s “Frozen” and the opera “La Boheme,” respectively, and solicited criticisms — and participation — from the students.

“The goal was to teach them how they could do better,” Gustafson said.

After acting in several scenes from “La Boheme,” the students got the chance to get up on stage and sing themselves. “They were spectacular as a chorus,” Gustafson gushed.

Founded last fall in cooperation with area schools, Gustafson said the outreach program is designed to help take year-round advantage of Castleton’s facilities and help students interested in music in any way they can. “We reached out to basically anyone we could,” Gustafson said, “and said either you can bring them to us, or we can come to you.

“Our staff is so varied, we can offer anything they need and gear a program accordingly,” Gustafson continued. Vocal coaching, going behind-the-scenes at operas, costuming and more are all on the table as long as a school is interested.

“We were asked [by the schools] to create a menu of activity,” Gustafson said. The full list — available under the “For Educators” tab at — includes activities during the school year and the summer at schools and Castleton Farms.

Wakefield head of school Jessica Lindstrom reached out to Castleton, Gustafson said, and wanted to participate in a “Theater Games” session with Dietlinde Turban Maazel (which focuses on acting improvisation) and singing-oriented class with Gustafson and CATS members. The theater class was postponed, Gustafson said, but is still scheduled for later in the year.

“This is exactly what we’re wanting to do,” Gustafson said, “and we realized quickly we could easily do this with no cost to us.”

The Castleton Educational Coalition is an extension of Castleton’s pre-existing community interactions, Gustafson said, though it hasn’t been a year-round opportunity until now.

Gustafson added she’s “trying to organize” with Rappahannock County Public Schools, which oftens allows Castleton members to use its rooms as a training ground. “We only go where we’re asked,” Gustafson said, adding that they haven’t heard from the high school possibly because its music department is already quite sophisticated (and boasts two award-winning bands).

Plans are also well underway to utilize much of the talent the programs have helped foster, as Gustafson is forming a 200-student chorus to perform at Castleton’s July 4 concert. “I only got clearance for 200,” Gustafson laughed, “but I’d gladly take more.”

And while the outreach program will continue to evolve in years to come, Gustafson is already pleased with the results.

“We got to hear a lot of music [Friday at WCDS] . . . One girl came up to me afterward and asked, ‘Can I sing for you and can you just tell me if I have talent?’ I was walking on air when I left.”