Music to Our Ears: The Impact of the Choir Program


In a world that spends its precious focus on STEM or sports, it’s often difficult for arts students — particularly those interested in music — to feel heard or to find opportunities to flourish. At Smithtown High School East, the choir program is built to give each and every student the chance to grow and perform in a healthy and academic environment.

Mark Hegreness, head of the choir department, teaches both Concert Choir and Treble Choir, leads Chamber Choir, oversees student-run choirs, assists students interested in exploring NYSSMA, and directs the annual spring musical. Hegreness has seen firsthand how the choir program can change people for the better, as modeled by the quote painted on the choir room’s wall: Music can change the world, because music can change people. During our interview, Hegreness shared, “I do know that, for whatever reason, there’s been enough students that felt enough of a connection through what we do here that I’ve maintained relationships with students. [Some of which] invited me to their wedding, or to perform at their wedding. I once [even] got ordained and married a student and her husband.” He continued, “A number of former students have gone on into the profession so that’s kind of cool to see that, to a lot of people, it’s made an impact.”

One current senior at Smithtown East shared her experience in the choir program in her college essay: “My insecurities highly project onto my comfort with music, especially when it comes to singing in front of people…The [treble choir] mentor assigned to me took the extra time to know me…got me comfortable in an environment that had me so tense. Since then, I’ve been slowly building my singing confidence.” Later in the essay, the student cites this experience as one of the reasons she chose to continue with a career in education following high school, holding a desire to inspire others the way mentors in the choir program inspired her.

Personally, being a part of the choir program has given me the opportunity to further pursue what I love. Through this experience, I’ve gotten to sing alongside others that love performing as much as I do, and I’ve improved through the constant encouragement to strive higher and achieve greatness in my passion. I’ve had the chance to take part in a music competition at Six Flags Great Adventure, and this year I will have the opportunity to sing at both Radio City Music Hall and Carnegie Hall. 

But most importantly, beyond myself, I’ve seen how the choir program can bring people out of their comfort zones and into a place of confidence, where they can not only grow as a musician, but as a person.