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Running with the arts

Arts coordinator also is a composer, musician and athlete

Arts coordinator also is a composer, musician and athlete

December 02, 2007|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

Rob Hovermale is the drummer, piano player, distance runner, songwriter, mentor, leader, father, husband, composer and "consummate professional" - as his co-workers describe him - whose job title is visual and performing arts coordinator for Washington County Public Schools.

Hovermale, 43, of Smithsburg, is responsible for arts programing for all of the county's public schools. Those who know him say that his passion for the arts does not operate on a 9-to-5 schedule.

"I tell you what, the guy doesn't sleep, that is for sure," says Niki Perini, artistic director of Authentic Community Theatre, who has worked with Hovermale on several projects.

Since he's been with the school system, Hovermale has strengthened music and theater programs, given visual arts more exposure by coordinating art shows at Valley Mall and the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, improved teacher training - all the while maintaining a home life and nurturing his other hobby, running, his co-workers say.

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Currently, Hovermale is working on curriculum for the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, a high school that will be located downtown for students who want to pursue studies in music and the visual and performing arts. The high school will accommodate as many as 300 students. To attend, students will have to audition or submit a portfolio.

If there are no construction delays, classes will start by the 2009-10 school year, says Dale Bannon, director of system development.

"(The school) will better prepare (students) for a career in music," Hovermale says.

Hovermale's vision is for the school to be an inclusive center for learning - not just for artistic training.

"It's a different way of learning," he says. "Many doctors have gone to art schools."

Hovermale grew up in Hagerstown and attended North Hagerstown High School, where he was a percussionist and a track and cross-country star. He also is a self-taught piano player.

"For a while, I was more into running than I was into music," Hovermale says.

He was state champion in cross-country and state champion in track for the two-mile race while in high school. He ran cross-country at Hagerstown Junior College and then went on to run at Towson University, where he met his wife, Suzy.

He says that, right now, he runs as often as he writes music. Hovermale has completed the JFK 50-mile ultramarathon twice and is considering entering the race again next year. He was not in the 2007 race.

Hovermale decided in college that he wanted to pursue music and teach. After he graduated from Towson in 1987 with a degree in music education, he worked as a school band director in the Baltimore area and then took a job as band director for E. Russell Hicks Middle School in 1990.

In his time with Washington Public Schools, Hovermale has been an advocate for integrating arts programs in day-to-day curriculum for all students, says Ed Masood, Hovermale's boss and supervisor for arts, health, physical education and athletics.

Since Hovermale has been employed by Washington County Public Schools, he's helped bring back the elementary school music program, which gives fourth-graders an opportunity to play instruments, Masood says.

Hovermale says the program ended in 1995. Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan decided to bring back the program, Hovermale says. Morgan has been superintendent since 2001.

By 2006, all of the elementary schools in the county had music programs - with much thanks to Hovermale, Masood says.

Hovermale also has been involved with the Summer Institute for the Arts, a two-week program for students 8 to 18.

The program is a joint effort between the school system and Authentic Community Theatre. Students perform in an original musical production at the end of the program.

"I couldn't believe he's been under our noses this entire time," says Perini, who asked Hovermale to write the music for the program's 2006 production of "Alice in Maryland," based on the Lewis Carroll novel.

Hovermale, she says, was able to write songs in a short amount of time.

Once, a student was performing lines on stage and both Perini and Hovermale thought it would sound better as a song.

"The next day, he shows up with a song," Perini says.

The students performed "The Phantom Tollbooth" at Weinberg Center for the Arts in Frederick, Md., in August. The original play was based on Norton Juster's 1961 book. Hovermale wrote the music for the production.

Recently, Hovermale has been putting the finishing touches on a CD recording of the musical in his home studio. Students have come in to record various parts that will be added to the tracks.

Sheridan Webb, 15, of Cearfoss, and her father, Lee Webb, were at Hovermale's home on a recent evening to record tracks for the CD. Sheridan was a participant in the past summer's program.

"I would definitely do it again," Sheridan says. "I really didn't have a sense of what real theater was like until I did this. I had only experienced theater (by) watching it."

Both Sheridan and her father are in "Christmas Reborn," another musical Hovermale wrote for Antietam Recreation's "Old-fashioned Cowboy Christmas Dinner and Show," which debuted Nov. 10.

Hovermale wrote the music; Suzy Hovermale wrote the lyrics for "Christmas Reborn."

Suzy Hovermale, a stay-at-home mother, says that most people assume that she is either a teacher or a musician, but she says much of the passion for music making and the arts has rubbed off on their daughters, Bailey, 9, and Bethany, 4.

Just like her father, Bailey, a fourth-grader at Smithsburg Elementary School, plays percussion and piano. Bethany is taking ballet and loves to dance in the living room while her father plays the piano.

"He's a very good role model," Suzy Hovermale says. "He really believes in the arts program. Our daughter, by the time she's in high school, she's probably going to audition for the arts school."

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