In many towns, the selection of the next high school choral director would be about as newsworthy as the purchase of new choir robes.
In Westport, it is Big News.
Since George Weigle moved from Bedford Junior High to Staples in 1959, only 3 others have wielded the baton: Alice Lipson (1988-2010), Justin Miller (2010-12), and Luke Rosenberg (2012-2023).
When Rosenberg resigned last spring to accept a similar position at Greenwich High School, townwide arts coordinator Steve Zimmerman had enormous shoes to fill.
Staples’ choral program is a town jewels. From Candlelight and Pops to many smaller concerts, Orphenians and other groups entertain, inspire and mesmerize audiences. Talented vocalists help make Staples Players a nationally renowned theater troupe.
Singing at Staples is a Very Big Deal.
This week, Lauren Pine takes over from Rosenberg. She’ll continues the school’s storied musical tradition.
Zimmerman did not have to look far. Pine spent the past 6 years at Fairfield Ludlowe High School.
She knew Rosenberg well. “High school choral directors are a small world,” she says. He offered his full support.
She knew the Staples program well too. She’s seen choral and Players performances in the auditorium that is now her new home.
Pine’s road to Westport began in Syracuse where she was born, and continued in North Carolina, where her parents worked in medicine.
She studied opera and musical theater at Northwestern University. (Meghan Markle was a classmate, though their paths did not cross.)
Pine’s first job was with a New York software company. She taught voice and piano on the side, and loved it much more.
“The teaching bug bit me,” she says. After earning a master’s in education at Hunter College, and student teaching at a performing arts magnet school, Pine realized she wanted to return to the field.
That led to 10 years as a “starving artist” — and barista, bartender, nanny, you name it — in New York.
Six years ago, she and her husband Will — who works in finance for UBS — had their second child. It was time for the suburbs.
They had been in Darien just a few days; their youngest was just 6 months old — and school was opening 2 days later — when the Fairfield Ludlowe job suddenly opened up.
Pine was hired as the choral, musical theater and a cappella director.
It was an excellent fit.
Her decision this summer to leave Ludlowe for Staples was difficult. She did not have a chance to say goodbye, and thank, a great senior class that she loved.
But she was excited by the talent and resources at Staples, and ready for the next step in her career.
She’ll “pick up where Luke left off,” she says. After COVID, there is room to grow the number of singers. She looks forward to building on her a cappella background.
Lauren Pine, with a wall hanging in her new Staples High School choral room.
Rosenberg, she says, “is on speed dial.” He recently showed her “all the hidden treasures” of the choral room, and is only a phone call away if she has questions.
But although she and he share “the same mannerisms and repertory choices,” she will make her own mark, in her own way.
“I don’t develop singers. I develop musicians,” Pine says of her teaching style.
“It’s a lot of theory, a lot of ear training, rather than ‘teaching to the concert.
“At they end of the day, they’ll go off to college, and careers. Maybe later, they’ll pick up music again. I want them to be able to problem-solve, and do something with that music, so they can have it for life.”
The first time most Westporters will see Pine is at the Candlelight Concert. Fairfield Ludlowe produced a similar show.
Lauren Pine will conduct her first “Sing We Noel” processional at this year’s Candlelight Concert. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
Staples’ 82-year tradition is “coveted by the community,” Pine knows. “The scope is huge.”
Her first impressions of Staples are good ones. “They rolled out the red carpet,” she says. “Steve (Zimmerman), the whole staff, the admins have been amazing. This is a well-oiled machine.”
She reached out to current students during the summer. And — in a baptism by fire — the Orphenians she’d never led sang the national anthem before 800 staff members at last week’s opening convocation.
Last week — even before she officially met her students — Lauren Pine led Staples singers in the national anthem, at the Westport Public Schools’ opening convocation. (Photo/DanWoog)
On Lipson’s first day in 1988, she conducted an early run-through of the “Hallelujah Chorus.”
Pine’s first day includes singing, and ice-breakers.
“Singers are vulnerable,” she notes. “I want them to not only trust me, but the feel a comfort level. It’s all about building a community, a safe place to express yourself, and have a social and emotional outlet you might not get in other parts of the day.”
Lauren Pine joins a short list of legendary Staples High School choral directors. From left: Alice Lipson, George Weigle, Luke Rosenberg.
Pine’s husband is also a singer. They met at the New York Choral Society — “it really was ‘eyes across the room'” — and both are now on the board of the Stamford Chorale. (Rosenberg sings there too.)
Her daughter is a dancer. Her son does karate. Both are also musicians.
In their free time, Pine and her family (including a golden retriever) enjoy the outdoors: biking, camping, kayaking and “exploring Connecticut.”
For her own musical interests, she lists 4: opera, musical theater, jazz and pop.
And her favorite artists? “It’s a tie between Ella Fitzgerald, who I named my daughter after, and Kelli O’Hara, who I have seen in almost every Broadway show of hers.”
She first saw O’Hara — now a Westport resident — in “The Light In The Piazza” at Lincoln Center, and fell in love with her voice.
“She gave me hope that someone like me, with a similarly and classically trained voice, could also be a Broadway star.”
Now — following in Staples’ grand, decades-long tradition — Lauren Pine will train the next generation of voices.
Some may become Broadway stars.
All will cherish their Staples vocal experience.
(“06880” covers the “4 A’s” of the Staples High School experience: academics, arts, athletics and activities. If you enjoy our work, please click here to support this blog. Thank you!)