Rafe Wadleigh is the director of choral music for the Middle and Upper Schools and serves as chair of the performing arts department. He has more than 15 years experience directing choral ensembles, building music programs, and performing. He is a versatile musician with a strong command of both academic and popular music styles.
“The moment I stepped on to the Charles Wright campus, I saw a palpable spirit of pride and vigor in the faces of the students, in the beautiful grounds, and in the faculty and staff who seemed thrilled to be at work,” says Wadleigh. “I decided very quickly that I wanted to be part of that feeling.”
Wadleigh grew up in Eastern Washington in a theater family. He spent his summers performing in Pullman with his mother and sister, under the direction of his father. “I grew up in a pretty small town, so being the son of a couple of artists was both a blessing and a curse at times. Advertising for my mother’s dance studio in a bedazzled top hat with my tutu-clad sister amid my friends doing the same duty for their fathers’ welding shops was ‘character building.'”
“I went to college intending to be a jazz guitarist, but somewhere along the way got drawn into the choral department. The feeling of performing a piece with 60 impassioned voices is something that everyone should experience. It brought me back to my musical theater days with my family and my many turns as gawking townsperson No. 11, singing our hearts out for that final number. It is visceral electric, and it’s something that you can’t recreate with an instrument. My goal as a choral educator is to shepherd my students toward that sense of elation and emotional abandon that occurs on stage with a choir of like-minded musicians all striving for the same feeling. It’s magic!”
Wadleigh previously served as the music director for a private girls school in Seattle for 11 years. It was there that he realized his love of rock and roll did have a place in a high school music curriculum. “I have always kept one foot in the rock music world, and was thrilled to realize that there was a need for a bridge that rock music could fill between academic music in the classroom and the music that students were actually living with outside of school. I created a course at my previous school called Modern Music Ensemble that was essentially a rock band that met five days per week. When students realized they could take this class for credit, they were over the moon. What I found was that writing and performing the music that they felt close to was as rigorous and valuable as any course work in Baroque or Classical music. I try to keep each side of that coin alive in all my musical adventures with students.”