Music in Education



The cast finishes a big dance number in rehearsal

It was all about rehearsals, day after day

Anyone who doesn't understand or appreciate the value of music in public education, should attend a musical put on by students.

In this relatively small community, Saugeen Shores, on the coast of Lake Huron, I recently attended from day one, a musical being put on by the local high school students of Saugeen District Secondary School. The production of Rogers & Hammerstein's, Oklahoma, was from another time, a time that many of the students' great-great-grandparents had lived through.

Day one was mass confusion. Although the cast had been chosen, the stage work and orchestrations were just beginning. Everyone was laughing and joking at the lines, with their language of a bygone era.

Unfamiliar with the music, the lyrics and the spoken words, these young students, I am certain, began to ask themselves, ''What am I doing here?"

I watched as, with an unbelievable patience, teacher Leslie Turcott and music teacher and orchestra conductor, Ian Burbidge, began to painstakingly take the students through the music, although they had begun the actual musical process weeks before.

The next day, little seemed to have changed as well as the third and the fourth. Then, I missed a couple of days and, suddenly, things changed and began to take shape. Dance routines actually seemed to appear choreographed. Actors began to understand blocking and why you have to stand in a certain place, because of lighting and the other actors around you.

Then, came, the first dress rehearsal. A time when make-up, hair and costumes all come together ... a time when actors, singers and dancers begin to 'feel' their characters. From the leads, to the support actors, to the chorus - everyone began to realize that each had a role to play and that each was vital to the production.

Behind the scenes, everyone helped each other. Whether it was with make-up, hair or helping with a zippered dress, each helped the other get 'into character'. It is a camaraderie that, only those who have committed their time and dedicated their talent in a close-knit environment, can appreciate. They know that they are all putting themselves on the line and bearing their talents to an audience and it's a common factor that pulls them together.

The transformation from high school student to swaggering cowboy is something to behold, but that's what happened. Someone, who was a student in a t-shirt and jeans, became a cowboy, or a farmer, or a peddlar with all the mannerisms of each. The girls took on the personas of the pioneers, some became young twittering girls or a strong female role model. Much of the transformation comes from the costumes and, in this local production, they are quite fabulous. Authentic chaps and cowboy boots for boys, petticoats and lace for the girls ... the costumes are thanks to those many behind the scenes, without whom, no stage production would ever happen.

As the days progressed, suddenly, gone were the ungainly movements as everyone began to move and sing in harmony. Dance routines really began to appear choreographed and lines were delivered naturally. Singing and dancing, all at the same time, suddenly appeared to be effortless.

Then, came the first performance before 400 elementary school students ... the first time in front of an audience. It meant delivering music and words of an unfamiliar time to an audience made up of younger students, many of whom would not understand but, here again, was the element of surprise.

The students sat quietly, most listening intently. Undoubtedly, many were thinking of their upcoming high school days when they, too, might be able to be on stage.

It was obvious that the actors and orchestra got their energy from the audience. Building to the ending with Rogers & Hammerstein's resounding 'Oklahoma', where all the cast comes together with full orchestra, is a thrilling experience whether it's SDSS or Broadway.

Is music and theatre important in public education?

Is it the making of well-rounded individuals? Is it the honing of appreciation of different music and musical styles? Is it developing an appreciation of the work involved in the world of theatre? Does it foster self-esteem in young students? Does it foster commitment, focus and perserverence? Does it bring young people into another era, another time and build an appreciation of it?

I firmly and unequivocally believe it does all of the above.

It's only through the absolute dedication of teachers, parents, volunteers, and the students themselves, who have given hours and days of their time that will give all these young people the memories that they will remember all their lives. It will also give them the realization that, if they give 110 per cent, they will succeed.

There are only chances left to see this production (Friday, May 29, Saturday at 1:30 and 7:30) and, for anyone who wants to see first-hand what young people can accomplish and, at the same time, enjoy a night of musical entertainment, this is a 'must see'.

(next column)

29/05/2009 12:32 AM

'Behind the Scenes' in the making of the musical Oklahoma by Rogers & Hammerstein




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