New finds in fine arts department


Photo by Jiaxuan Yu

Dr. Hughes leads scales and triads in Concert Choir.

“Sing what I show you,” choir director Dr. John Hughes announces to the choir. Circling the room, he flashes solfege hand symbols and listens as students concentrate on reaching the proper intervals. This is only one part of the all-encompassing vocal warmup taught in classes, in addition to rhythm practice, sight reading, and physical stretches. In Dr. Hughes class, a strong foundation is paramount to musical success and student growth.
“He makes it a very professional environment and is super inclusive to all his students, “ said senior Nicole Mercado. “Choir is a big community, and it has given me the opportunity to meet so many great friends and learn so much.”
Dr. Hughes is just one of the four new fine arts teachers who have landed at Viator over the last two years, signaling a new era within the fine arts department.
After graduating from the University of Iowa, Dr. Hughes began teaching high school choirs in Rochelle and DeKalb for several years. He got his Master’s degree from Northern Illinois University and later returned to Iowa to receive his doctorate. He taught at the collegiate level for six years until 2020, when he moved back to his hometown of Park Ridge and took over as the music director for the Chicago Master Singers. But when Viator had a part-time teaching job available in the summer of 2021, Dr. Hughes decided to jump at the opportunity, missing being able to teach and connect with students.
“In music, it’s great to expose students to the beauty of the world and help them become sensitive to that, “ said Dr. Hughes. “In English class, you get to talk about what things mean and how they relate to your life. You also get to do that in choir since we have text, unlike band and orchestra. But, you don’t have to write all the papers, and I don’t have to grade.”
The choir department offers two curricular groups, Treble and Concert Choir, as well as Chamber Singers, an auditioned SATB group that rehearses on Fridays during flex time. Dr. Hughes also is involved with the winter musical, in addition to directing the Music Ministry, which rehearses Tuesdays after school and performs at school liturgies.
“Viator has all the pieces, and my goal is for [fine arts] to become something that every student feels like they can do,” said Dr. Hughes. “This is something that is really meaningful, enriching, and hopefully fun. You don’t have to stop doing a sport to do choir. You can do it all and it will make you more well-rounded in doing so.”
Ms. Megan Gray arrived in 2020 and already has made a tremendous impact on the theater department. Since graduating from Indiana University-Bloomington in 2015 where she student-directed numerous productions, Ms. Gray has worked on various production staffs, including the Magic Theatre in San Francisco and the Chicago Shakespeare Company.
In 2020, Ms. Gray made her Viator directorial debut with “Girls in the Boat” and “Into the Woods,” and the theater department is currently hard at work with the winter musical, “Pippin,” which will hit the Jeuck Auditorium on Feb. 4-6 and 11-13. You can also find Ms. Gray teaching Theatre I and II, Film Study, and Theatre Outreach.
“Mrs. Costello left quite the shoes to fill in this Theatre Department when she retired, but I would hope that my students think that I’m doing an alright job!” Ms. Gray said. “Working professionally in theatre up until just recently allows me to bring some of the most up-to-date knowledge about the industry to Viator. We’re doing musicals, plays, and scenes in class that have never been done at Viator before and I think that’s exciting!”
Mr. Ben Clemons took over as band director last fall, where he teaches Symphonic and Concert Band, as well as Jazz Band, a co-curricular group which meets after school. Mr. Clemons graduated from University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, and then took his music expertise to numerous different locations. He came to Viator after teaching within School District 30 in Glenview, and can also be found playing trumpet in the Northshore Concert Band, which performs concerts at Northwestern University and throughout the Chicagoland area. Key goals of Mr. Clemons’ teaching style are developing confidence and a passion for music.
Lastly, visual arts teacher Mr. CJ Zimmerman has already become a fan favorite in the community. After over 10 years of working in marketing doing photo and video work, where he had the opportunity to photograph celebrities such as dancer Jojo Siwa and internet-phenom Doug the Pug, Mr. Zimmerman decided it was time for him to make the transition into the classroom sphere.“Teaching was always something I thought about,” Zimmerman said. “I was honestly looking for something more fulfilling and rewarding in a career, and I thought teaching would be a good alternative. This opportunity came up over quarantine so I jumped at it, and it’s been great so far.”
Currently, Mr. Zimmerman teaches Intro to Adobe Photoshop, and plans on adding Adobe Photoshop II and Digital Photography to his course offerings next fall. He is also the moderator of the Viatome Yearbook and Photo/Video Club, as well as co-moderator of Cahill Crazies. Mr. Zimmerman loves being involved with the student body, and hopes to foster greater student involvement within the arts program.
“Obviously, this school is super academically-focused, which is great, as well as sports-focused, but it would be nice to have more of the student body involved in the fine arts as well as more buzz around it,” Zimmerman said
Since 2020, the fine arts department has overcome a plethora of new obstacles and found inventive solutions to bring the arts back into the community, despite COVID-19 restrictions. This new brigade of teachers, under the experienced leadership of art teacher Mr. Matthew Gruenfeld, have already brought new life and much-needed innovation to the fine arts department, and their fresh perspectives and teaching styles have deeply resonated with students and community members alike.
“There are so many talented students at our school that deserve to be seen, especially by potential Future Lions who are artistically inclined,” said Ms. Gray. “Who knows! You might surprise yourself and find something that you absolutely love and want to continue working on throughout high school and beyond.”