Moments before David Boswell learned he had won Artworks of Hillsdale’s Artist of the Year Prize, he stood before his students at Hillsdale High School, helping his chorale warm up for rehearsal.
For Boswell, his final year of teaching looks remarkable like the previous 25 – investing in the musical community of his students and peers, and finding ways to deepen the local musical community through training chorales and sharing performances.
David Boswell, choir director at both Hillsdale High School and Davis Middle School, won Artworks of Hillsdale’s 2019 “Artist of the Year” prize, awarded to individuals or couples who promote the arts in Hillsdale county.
Boswell’s own musical career started during his highschool years, when he was inspired by his high school choir director.
“I thought, maybe if I could be half as good as him, I could do something good,” he said.
As Artworks of Hillsdale’s award has witnessed, Boswell has indeed done much good.
Connie Sexton, president of Artworks of Hillsdale, said Boswell transformed the music programs.
“He picked up a falling program and turned it into something inspirational, beginning with his arrival in Hillsdale in 1993,” she said.
Boswell’s students succeed both during and after grade school years. Each year his students from Hillsdale High School reach the regional and state levels, regularly qualifying for the all-state choir.
Others have gone into teaching themselves, including a now-alumnus of Hillsdale College who double majored in voice and cello performance before attending University of Michigan for his masters in vocal performance.
“It’s a tough career, but he’s doing all the great stuff to make this career work. I’m awfully proud of him,” Boswell said.
Boswell has even inspired students to follow his own example, including a student who directs the choirs at Dewitt High School.
“She’s doing just an incredible job,” Boswell said. “Her choirs are among the best in the state.”
But Boswell doesn’t just train students to go on the road and bring back titles. Often the same trips to larger campuses with bigger productions spark ideas in Boswell’s head that he brought back and planted in Hillsdale.
The three-day art festival, Artrageous, which recently celebrated its 13th year, was based on the Michigan Youth Arts Festival, held on the campus of Western Michigan University. On a trip to Western for a choral festival, Boswell wondered if Hillsdale High could replicate the festival for Hillsdale’s own students and community, and give greater publicity to the work he and his students already do. He pooled funds with the band and orchestra directors and helped start Artrageous, a visual arts festival held over a spring weekend.
While past years have included video projects and culinary arts, the program of Artrageous centers around theater and music performance. This year’s show featured “The Little Mermaid” on Friday and Saturday, with a coffee shop performance Saturday evening featuring the jazz band, students reading their own poetry, and various solos and ensembles. Artrageous culminated in Sunday’s Festival of Song, a program that featured Hillsdale High School’s band, orchestra, and both choirs. The visual arts of the students were displayed so that the audience could browse before and after the theatre and musical performances, and during intermission too.
In addition to Artrageous, Boswell also developed the Hillsdale Collage Concert, which was held this December for the 16th year in a row, at the Davis Middle School Auditorium. Boswell initially drew the idea at the state music conference at University of Michigan, where he saw the larger school’s collage concert.
Now, Hillsdale’s own Collage concert is “probably the community’s favorite performance of the year,” Boswell said. “It might go from a flute solo to full choir to jazz band to string quartet. It’s very beautiful.”
Boswell’s love for music and the community it produces extends outside the classroom. His time in Hillsdale involved six years as the director of the Hillsdale Arts Chorale, which performs both sacred and secular pieces four times a year, ranging from Bach to Mozart to Bernstein. Boswell called Hillsdale Arts Chorale a “fantastic organization,” and said “I’m grateful for my time as a director.”
Boswell himself played trombone, tuba, and bass guitar in previous years, but currently enjoys guitar best, often on Friday nights performing around Hillsdale with his wife. Their band is called “Secondary Roads,” and showcases rock, pop, and blues. Some of Boswell’s favorite pieces include “Son of a Preacher Man,” Elle King’s “Ex’s and Oh’s,” and a healthy dose of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
From Here’s to You Pub and Grub to the halls of Hillsdale High, Boswell leaves a rich legacy of investment in the Hillsdale’s musical community, as recognized most recently by Artworks of Hillsdale’s “Artist of the Year” prize.
No matter the venue, classroom, or auditorium, Boswell believes that music fosters people and their relationships in a unique way.
“I think it helps us connect to our humanity – to connect with others. It doesn’t really matter the other people in group – what their beliefs are, or if they are different.
For something greater we can come together, and we’re better for that.”
Debbie Wyse, assistant choral director at Hillsdale College and a previous recipient of the Artworks Artist of the Year prize, said in an email, “The next high school director will have a tough act to follow.”