The Arts

The school has a lively arts program.  The St. Bernard’s visual arts program instills in the boys a keen interest in self-expression and creativity.  Music classes at St. Bernard’s seek to encourage enjoyment, open-mindedness, and an appreciation of music that will last a lifetime.  We encourage confident performance (whether in public or private) and fluency with the language of music, so that boys will be excited to explore new music and new challenges.


Junior School introduces boys to singing, reading, and listening to music.  Third graders begin to play the recorder.  Middle School emphasizes performance, basic theory, and guided listening to music of many genres.  The boys begin to study famous composers and their works.  Upper Schoolers explore the history of music from the Renaissance to the 20th Century.

Singing is a much-loved activity.  The school boasts four choral groups:  the Upper School Glee Club, the Middle School Chorus, the St. Bernard’s Singers, and the Chamber Chorus.  Boys who study stringed instruments may join our string orchestra.  A spring concert takes place each May.

St. Bernard’s has its own book of school songs, from which the boys sing at Friday assemblies.  Boys learn the recorder in Grade III.  Those interested may join the Recorder Club, which performs several times during the year. 


The art program offers boys the chance to produce effective and creative work through a series of exercises and projects within set guidelines.  Our aim is for each boy to become increasingly confident and motivated, relying less on supervision as he matures, and to enjoy the mastering of different techniques.  In this manner he may develop a sense of personal aesthetic style.

Good art is a product of hand and eye.  Whatever the project—and we work with clay, pencil, tempera, pastels, scissors, and many other media—boys have to use their eyes first, then execute their idea with increasingly skillful hands.  In many projects, they begin with reference material: if they want to draw a tiger, they find many pictures of tigers before striking off on their own.  Trial and error is important at any stage, and boys are assured that mistakes understood only strengthen their abilities.

The art teachers hang nearly all the year’s two-dimensional work in the lunch room in a series of about eight exhibitions a year.  Three-dimensional work appears in the school’s front hall and on top of library bookcases in five exhibitions a year.  An art show is held in the spring, and selected pieces are published in The Budget, the school’s literary magazine.  Student artwork is also reproduced in various programs (for the Shakespeare play and Spring Concert), and some of the school’s official mailings.


Carpentry at St. Bernard’s springs from the vision of each boy.  All students in Grades I-IV take part.  At the start of the year boys are given a vaguely general assignment (a clock, an animal with at least one moving part, a sculpture), and after that they choose their subsequent work.  The results can be surprising.  In addition to the utilitarian (desks, bookshelves, locked boxes) the students often go very far afield.  The projects are dreamt up, designed, cut, attached, shaped, and painted by the students, with as little help from the teacher as practical.

Each boy’s vision lies at the heart of the program, but it is pushed through to development by bringing to bear motivation, self-organization, judgment, common sense, spatial imagination, and often a sense of humor.  As work proceeds, boys develop independence of thought and action, good spatial awareness, math skills (especially use of fractions), and pride in careful work.  They solve problems not found elsewhere in their daily routine, for carpentry is truly a process of the hand speaking to the brain.

Carpentry offers something different from but deeply complementary to traditional academics:  a creative, challenging, expressive experience in which a boy can learn from his mistakes, learn to persevere, and learn in the process of creation.  He exercises parts of his brain and parts of his body rarely stimulated in pencil-and-paper projects. The realization of an idea, from plan to concrete object, is a powerful process.


While many boys perceive crafts as purely for fun, there is a serious purpose.  Whether making potholders or Halloween witches, Junior School boys are developing and strengthening their dexterity and their ability to listen to instructions and follow them in the proper order.

There are other obvious benefits.  Projects often provide a unifying or cross-pollinating link within the curriculum, serving as an inspiration for creative writing topics in class.  They also promote a sense of community service, as the boys periodically donate their creations to worthy causes.

Less apparent are the subtle emotional factors involved.  Crafts encourage boys to take risks, to overcome the fear of making mistakes, to learn how to correct them, and to develop patience with themselves and others.  There is an intrinsic reward, as well as instant gratification, for a project completed in one class can be taken home for display.  With lavish praise, crafts provide an easy way to build a boy’s self-esteem.


Class plays are big part of school life at St. Bernard’s.  Beginning in first grade, each class performs a class play before parents and before the entire school at a Friday morning assembly.  Each boy has a speaking or singing role, which he rehearses thoroughly with his teacher and class over several weeks.  The eighth grade has performed a play by William Shakespeare since 1910.  The Shakespeare play is one of the most cherished of St. Bernard’s traditions.  It is a group effort, with each boy contributing to its success.

The boys begin studying the play that they will perform in the seventh grade and then spend the eighth grade rehearsing it.  For many years, the play was performed shortly before Christmas, but in the 2020-21 school year, the performance was moved to March, just before spring break.  That year's play, Macbeth, was produced as a movie, filmed in Central Park and The Church of the Heavenly Rest. The Shakespeare play returned to the stage the following year, and is now performed at the The Heckscher Children’s Theater at El Museo del Barrio.  The celebration of the Shakespeare production is a crucial part of the school’s cultural and poetic tradition.