John “Jack” Carr
Carr began his career as a music teacher following “a very successful student teaching experience in Philadelphia in 1970.” Four years later, he would embark on what was essentially an experiment in education, an endeavor that would come to define his life’s work as an innovative music educator.
What started as an offshoot of the Stephen Girard School, with a handful of dedicated educators and approximately 55 fourth- and fifth-grade students housed in the basement of Trinity Church at 18th and Wolf streets, has grown to its present size of 30 staff members and more than 500 students now occupying the Poe Building at 22nd and Ritner streets, a former elementary school that boasts a brand-new regulation gymnasium, cafeteria, and full-sized theater/auditorium.
“Having founded GAMP in September of 1974, I spent 25 years as the music catalyst for the academic program,” said Carr. “About 15 years ago I became the assistant principal, and just last fall I became principal of the school.”
William Carr, DMA, is a Steinway artist and professor of music at Immaculata, and it was he who suggested that his brother Jack speak with the Graduate Admissions Department about entering its doctoral program in educational leadership.
According to Jack Carr, “I attended an open house and was immediately poised to begin the program, which was in its initial stages at that time. Because of Sister Jane Anne Molinaro, who was my adviser, and Sister Anne Marie Burton, I was able to complete the degree.
“Those years at Immaculata so energized my teaching career through associations with peers and inspiring classes with challenging, knowledgeable instructors,” he said. “I would strongly recommend the graduate program at Immaculata for educators who wish to move their careers to another level of achievement.”
Rising to new levels of accomplishment is a theme that resonates with Carr, embodying as it does the values and mission of his music program. GAMP provides a unique educational environment for students in grades five through 12, emphasizing musical and academic excellence for youngsters who are both academically gifted and musically inclined. All students are “music majors,” required to take three periods of music theory each week, and GAMP is recognized as one of Philadelphia’s top schools.
“Music teaches children to cooperate and socially interact in the academic setting through the medium of musical performance,” said Carr. “Music provides structure and discipline in the students’ academic lives and allows them to share and appreciate many diverse cultures while performing.”
Carr knows first-hand how significant early musical influences can be. Both he and his brother William credit their mother (Cora Carr), though not a trained musician herself, with being the “driving force in supporting our passion for careers in music.
“When my brother William and I were very young, we both realized music would be our career choices,” said Carr. “With his high level of musical aptitude, William was driven to the musical performance arena, and I chose music education as a professional path. For both of us, it has been the most powerful influence in our lives.”
Today, Carr cites two especially important influences for him. “Musically I am influenced by two venues—musical theater and the works of certain contemporary choral composers,” he said. “The former because no other musical endeavor encompasses the skills of acting, dance and vocal talent as it does, and the latter because of the uniqueness of combining texts with the sonorities of aesthetic choral settings.”
Not surprisingly, Carr conducts GAMP’s Concert Choir, a group that includes the school’s most vocally gifted and for which students must audition, and he is eagerly anticipating the upcoming student production of Rent. “The most rewarding times occur when our students perform in our new theater setting,” he said. “The level of musical achievement is quite remarkable.”
The Concert Choir has traveled and performed around the country and around the world from Florida to Chicago to San Francisco, and from Montreal to Italy, Germany and France. Notable performances include singing for President Clinton, former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, performing with Peter Nero and the Philly Pops, and appearing with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Concerto Soloists and the Singing City Community Choir.
In addition to mandatory choral experience for all students enrolled in GAMP, there are a variety of options offered for exploring, expressing and developing budding musical abilities: marching band, jazz band, concert band, swing band, jazz trio, string ensemble, string quartet, and all orchestral instruments. GAMP’s non-musical extra-curricular offerings include baseball, softball, basketball, tennis, color guard—even the chance to join a championship cheerleading team. “Our Pioneer cheerleaders actually won for the whole city of Philly,” said Carr.
His work with GAMP, building it from humble beginnings to its present prestigious reputation, watching young people blossom and flourish in a creative, challenging and supportive environment, has been the fulfillment of a dream for Carr. “To find a place where you’ve been happy your whole life,” he said, “a place you can come to every day and be glad you did, is what makes it all worthwhile.”