By Catherine Twing, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – At a school with math and science in the name, you may be surprised to find students whose prospective college majors are music therapy or musical theater. But inside the part health classroom, part music room at Advanced Math and Science Academy Charter School (AMSA) in Marlborough, a group of students is busy rehearsing, fresh off their fifth appearance at the International Championship of High School a Cappella (ICHSA) quarterfinals.
AMSA’s a cappella group, the Photosynthesizers, was among 10 groups selected from the Northeast region by video audition to compete at Wakefield High School Feb. 9. For some students this was their first time performing with microphones and equipment. The group performs at school assemblies and a local nursing home, but the competition is the only time they perform on a stage.
“We look forward to it,” said member Dustin Burkhart. “It’s the best we’ve sounded as a group!”
While the Photosynthesizers didn’t advance to the semi-finals, they said it was a fun experience which felt more like a showcase than a competition.
The students shared stories of groups sending notes of good luck to each other, finding inspiration for warmups and meeting other students with the same interests.
Since AMSA’s focus is on math and science, the music offerings are limited and there is no formal music class. The students expressed how honored they felt to compete alongside schools that have more comprehensive music programs.
“As a school that doesn’t have a big music program, this was huge,” said member Audrey Nguyen-Whitehead, with other students echoing in agreement.
The Photosynthesizers, with a name that reflects their science-based school and their musical passion, formed five years ago under the supervision of history teacher and chorus director Jessica Bowen.
“I mostly teach history,” Bowen said. “I was a singer and a few years ago I was like we don’t have any music, so I started a chorus.”
The students enjoy having music as a release from the stress of school work.
“We’re at what some might argue is a stressful school that is very academic-based, and it’s proven that music reduces stress,” said member Zena Achary.
Many students said that music has actually helped them with academic subjects and vice versa.
Ian Harvey noted that he was learning about musical frequencies in physics. Another student mentioned the way she makes songs to remember chemistry formulas and another that math helps them to better understand music theory.
Senior Rachel Bowen explained that a cappella provides a creative and social outlet that their other classes don’t.
“It’s a great way to express ourselves in songs that we pick and arrange,” she said.
Watching them rehearse, it is clear that the members are more than just classmates.
“It’s a great way to make friends,” said Achary. “This is the first year we’re all so close and we hang out all the time.”
“It’s nice knowing there are others around you who have similar interests,” said senior Alenda Evans. “So when you are interested in some musical geek thing you have someone.”