When Will You Light the Fire?

Recently the Gahanna Lincoln High School Orchestra and Chorale collaborated on a meaningful performance that raised thousands of dollars for those in need. This was the second year of the event and both years the audience walked away feeling proud, overjoyed, and appreciative of how we focus on the arts in the Gahanna Jefferson Public Schools. This year I was much more aware of the time commitment and hard work it took for the teachers and students to prepare for this performance because of the use of social media. The final product was simply a masterpiece. I asked GLHS Orchestra Director, Kevin Dengel (@KevinDengel) to reflect on the collaborative process and share his thoughts:

What Drives You?

What drives you? For me, it is the creative process; developing unique experiences and facilitating collaboration. It helps to continually energize and refresh my battery – and those of my students. Collaboration also makes me a better educator, because it gets me out of my comfort zone. You know  ‘the comfort zone’, that forlorn cubical far away from any windows or humans. It’s adjacent to the fire escape and tornado shelter, and has not been dusted since 1943. Your comfort zone is where you keep your red Swingline stapler and await the next ‘TCP’ report (Office Space). Fantastic mentors instilled in me an appreciation and understanding for the power and impact collaboration has on individuals and communities, and I pursue these within my own department and across the curriculum. I have been able to find a new, more exciting and interactive, comfort zone.

Reaching Out

We were not created for isolation and must be cautious to not withdraw ourselves into it. “Think outside of the box” … well for heaven’s sake, who put me there in the first place?! In the Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools (@GahannaJeffersn), I am blessed to work with amazing colleagues and students. Many have thrown the box out with the trash – the same one with all the pre-scripted lesson plans. We are always pursuing new endeavors and initiatives, both personally and professionally, making the learning environment exciting and fresh, if one choosing to engage with it. Few quarantine themselves into isolation, but it is an educational travesty when they do. If we are all experts in our field, we should be engaging in authentic community. If nothing else, to show students that our world is not departmentalized.


Two years ago, I approached Jeremy Lahman (@JeremyLahman), LHS choir director, interested in combining two of our ensembles. This collaborative question is flourishing into something we could not have anticipated. Since then, our Chamber Orchestra and Chorale have joined musical-forces to perform Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem Mass and Antonio Vivaldi’s Gloria. We now hope to collaborate every year. It is not only fun for everyone, but it benefits Gahanna Residents In Need (GRIN) – a local charity! Preparing for this performance is always a tall order; however, I have learned that the best growth and learning occurs when we experience challenge and difficulty. To teach and not allow for these is … well, poor teaching. Do you always play it safe?

Light the Fire

Had Mr. Lahman and I not capriciously discussed collaborating that one day, Gahanna Residents In Need (GRIN) would have not had their yearly budget triple for two-consecutive years. Had our students not been exposed to these pieces by Fauré or Vivaldi, they would not have performed masterworks in the classical repertoire. Had the community not rallied behind the arts, our most-needy residents would have little hope. Had that ‘acorn’ of an idea not germinated, this collaboration would not have grown to bear fruit. 

What fruit? Firstly, the proceeds from ticket sales allows GRIN to improve the quality of life for many struggling families in our community. Secondly, it is service-learning; the process of aiding others grasp that one person or group can become a change-agent. Remember always that a Giant Sequoia (Redwood) starts as a seed no larger than a pea – and the seeds require a fire to germinate. What “seed” are you holding onto? When are you going to light the fire?

Reaping and Sowing

Pastor Claude Davis, at New Life Church, Gahanna, says, “Whatever is sown will give 1) what was planted, 2) after it was planted, and 3) more than was planted.” It’s a Biblical principal that is as real as gravity. Mr. Lahman and I hope that our first two “harvests” will pay forward for Gahanna, illustrating to our students the power of reaping and sowing for the benefit of our brothers and sisters. Who knows what our current students will do to improve others’ lives in the future, because of the collaborative experience in service-learning now.

“I had to keep pinching myself.”

Retired Director of Bands, Jeff Shellhammer said these words to our students, at the conclusion of our final rehearsal before GLORIA! “I had to keep pinching myself. Are we really in Gahanna?!” Gahanna has top-tier arts, from music to theatre to visual arts. We are able to offer our students high-quality opportunities, because our administrators, community, and staff value the arts. Parents encourage their students to enroll in our courses because of this! It is due to the convergence of ALL these that our students are able to thrive.

Moving Forward

So I ask, “What seed are you keeping in your cubical?” Become an agent of change and accept the challenges associated with it . Allow the words of Jeff Shellhammer to be your community’s reaction, “Are we really in ________?” Push the quality and opportunities to a new level. The process is not easy. It requires creativity and collaboration, but it is worth every drop of sweat. What will you sow? When will you light the fire?

In Arts Education, 

Kevin Dengel



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