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December 11, 2019
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Though Rachael Allen is new to town, the new director of choral ensembles at Guilford High School has long been familiar with the program’s reputation. 

Photo by Jesse Williams/The Courier

Though Rachael Allen is new to town, the new director of choral ensembles at Guilford High School has long been familiar with the program’s reputation. (Photo by Jesse Williams/The Courier | Buy This Photo)

Rachael Allen: Hitting the Ground Singing

Published Oct. 30, 2019

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Rachael Allen is no stranger to fast starts. She began her first music teaching job 48 hours after graduating college, she says, and has never looked back.

This year, Rachael is once again diving into a new position on short notice, this time as director of choral ensembles at Guilford High School (GHS), taking over a storied and prestigious program two months into the year.

“The kids have been super warm and welcoming; they’re so sweet,” says Rachael. “They say, ‘Thank you’ when they leave class every day, they say hi...You can tell they’re really making an effort to make me feel welcome.”

A graduate of Ithaca College, Rachael later earned her master’s degree from UConn. She has been deeply involved in various school and community music programs across the state, including launching the very first music program at a Connecticut technical school. Rachael also served as state president of the American Choral Directors’ Association.

Her first teaching job, at her high school alma mater Ledyard High School, was entirely unplanned and unexpected. She was actually offered that first job before she even had technically graduated.

“My high school director was in touch with me, he emailed me—I was in finals—and he was like, ‘When can you get here, we need you?’ I was like, ‘Uh, Monday?’ So I showed up Monday morning after graduating and started teaching a full load of choirs,” Rachael says, laughing.

From there, Rachael says she knew should be a choral teacher. She spent five years at Ledyard before landing a job as choir director in 2008 at Westbrook High School, where she began getting more involved in the shoreline music scene.

One of Rachael’s colleagues at Westbrook was a former Guilford music teacher, and introduced her to the GHS band director, she says. Through these two contacts, she began playing in the Guilford Town Band—somewhat informally, though always enthusiastically.

“My colleague was like, ‘Hey, you should come play in the Guilford Town Band, come play percussion or something...so I played the piano with the town band, and when the pieces didn’t have piano, I went in the back and pretended like I knew how to play the triangle. So that was super fun.”

But Rachael says she had “always” known of GHS music and choral program by way of its state-wide reputation for excellence.

“It was the model, back in the day...as told to me by my former choir director...He was like, ‘I want my program to be like [Guilford’s],” she says.

Within the Guilford community, GHS’s choral program is well known for its December tree lighting concert, as well as regular collaborations with the Shoreline Chorale—a community choir that Rachael once directed herself—and an annual concert at Woolsey Hall at Yale University, of which Rachael says she is particularly excited to be a part.

The kind of resources and talent that a school like GHS offers is a dream from her standpoint, Rachael says, with established talent, massive participation, and plenty of support from parents and other community members.

“You have the forces to do pretty much anything you want,” Rachael says.

Rachael says being able to foster healthy competition was a great boon, and that the numbers and level of talent allow her and the program to contribute to the school in many ways, providing singers for the national anthem for sporting events, for example. She says she has also been impressed by the student’s level of confidence and motivation.

When Rachael started, the GHS choral had a concert scheduled in just a little over a week, and administrators left it up to Rachael to decide whether she thought the choir would be ready. After a couple days, Rachael sat down with her students and they talked it out.

“Ultimately the consensus was, ‘We feel like it would be good for us to get out there.’ And that speaks to the kids’ efforts...They’re just itching to perform.” Rachael says.

Leading such an established program, Rachael says she understands that her job isn’t to upend or revamp GHS’s choral curriculum or traditions. She says she actually reached out to Kevin Buno, the departing choral director, before her first day at GHS to ask what the most important, most beloved aspects of the program that she could preserve.

“What things make you want to be here, what things are you going to remember after you leave that you hope that we’ll keep...but I think it’s important to keep some, and create new ones as well,” Rachael says.

Rachael will next lead a select group of GHS’ choir members at a Sunday, Nov. 17 concert, joining members of the Shoreline Chorale at First Congregational Church of Madison, 26 Meeting House Lane, at 4 p.m. For more information, visit www.shorelinechorale.org.


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