Dorothy Han with students at the Kenwood Academy (Photo: Sam Brewer)

Before Dorothy Han became a professional musician, she would sneak in extra piano practice between classes at Kenwood Academy, from which she graduated in 1978. Now a violinist with the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, Han returned to her alma mater for the first time in 39 years Thursday, March 30, 2017, with music director Keith Lockhart and other Pops musicians.  Together, they performed and led a workshop with over 50 Kenwood students in the very same room where Hahn once rehearsed as a student. The experience, she said, “almost brought tears to my eyes.”

Han remembers the Kenwood Academy’s music department as a tight-knit, albeit smaller, community than it is today. “We had an orchestra teacher, and there were a few instruments but not really very many,” Han said.  “In our year, there were many of us who coincidentally became professional musicians – all of whom I’m very good friends with to this day,” Han said.  Kenwood Academy’s music offerings now include a concert band, jazz band, multiple choirs, and a piano program.

After performing an arrangement of Vivaldi’s Concerto Grosso in D Minor, the Pops musicians had a chance to hear the Kenwood students perform.  “The level of preparation was really impressive,” Han said. “I work with a lot of high school kids, and this orchestra can hold its own with any of them.”

Band Class at the Kenwood Academy (Photo: Sam Brewer)

In an exercise designed to help the students feel the music they are playing in their bodies, Han instructed players to stand up and sway while Lockhart conducted them. “You should sweat every time you rehearse,” Han said as rehearsal ended. Lockhart chimed in, “Music is something that you can’t phone in.” Almost immediately, the students played with a more connected, rich sound.

“I hadn’t really thought about how your movement affects your sound when you’re playing,” 16-year-old violinist Dasaun said. He hopes to continue playing in college. For him, Han’s visit “really symbolizes how far you can go if you actually dedicate yourself and actually work to make yourself better over time. You’re not just going to end up in a rut somewhere.”

Joshua, a 17-year-old cellist, also hopes to continue making music after he graduates, potentially giving back just as Han did that day. Working with Han, he said, was almost like “seeing myself in the future – how I could come back to Kenwood and have that same impact, and perhaps do a master class.”

Hahn and the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra perform with three-time Tony Award winner Bernadette Peters in an evening of Broadway hits and American classics at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago, IL on Friday, March 31, 2017. Learn more about the Boston Pops on their website.