Choral program becomes more than expected

Dec. 30, 2013 @ 08:08 PM

On the day before holiday break, the Eaton-Johnson Middle School chorus took a special field trip.

They performed at Aycock Elementary, went to McDonald’s for lunch and ended the day with a show at E.M. Rollins Elementary.

The girls dazzled the audience in blue mesh tops with sequins and black slacks, and the boys dressed in matching blue sequin ties and black suits.

They performed six songs, including Great Balls of Fire, Joy to the World and a unique Jingle Bells medley.

Those were not the first live performances for the chorus, but they have only been practicing together since the beginning of the school year.

Eaton-Johnson’s chorus, just in its first year, offers students a creative outlet for self-expression: song and dance.

The chorus is a new addition to the school, which has not had one for the past few years.

Chorus member Brianna Jefferson said her previous chorus class focused on hammering down basic skills, like learning to read notes, and music appreciation.

But there were no performances, sequined costumes or field trips with lunch at McDonald’s.

The group had their first performance at Eaton-Johnson’s 2013 holiday concert, and twice since then during the all-day field trip.

Jefferson said she didn’t know what she was getting into when she signed up for the middle school chorus this year.

She met her soon-to-be chorus teacher, Cindy Clark, at an open house and decided to sign up.

“We all thought it was just going to be a little group,” Jefferson said.

Jefferson and her peers didn’t realize they would be expected to sing and dance in front of a live audience.

But Jefferson said the performances, though scary at first, allow her to show off her talents, express herself and do something she enjoys.

For many of the chorus members, the confidence to perform has come from their instructor, Clark.

Some students had a bad habit of looking at the floor during performances, so, Clark wore a red nose during practice to help them look straight ahead.

Caitlin Bassett, an eighth-grader, will tell you she thought Clark was crazy when the teacher introduced herself to the choir in August.

“We had no clue what she was doing when she came in,” Bassett said.

She admits she still thinks her chorus teacher is a bit crazy, but in a good way.

Bassett said Clark pushes them to do their best because she knows they have the potential.

Dy’Kaisha Washington, also an eighth-grader, said her singing voice has improved immensely since the beginning of the school year.

“She worked with me one-on-one so I could get better,” she said.

Clark is a music educator who spent 16 years as a musical theater teacher at J.F. Webb High School and then four years as the chorus teacher at C.G. Credle Elementary School.

She opened her own studio, Stonecrest Studios, at her home in Oxford that offers Christian musical theater, private and group lessons and summer camp.

During the summer, Clark got a call from Eaton-Johnson Principal Larry Webb, who was looking to start a new choir program at the school.

“I was excited to get back into the performances,” said Clark. “And I love performance because I think it’s a valuable part of musical education.”

Clark said performing can teach her students important life lessons.

“It’s about stage presence, it’s teamwork, it’s collaboration, it’s all the 21st century skills that employers expect,” she said.

In order to get to know her students better and build personal relationships, Clark would have them answer a different question everyday in class.

Who do you live with? Who is your favorite artist? What are your hobbies?

She encouraged her students to evaluate themselves after each class finished.

What did you learn? How did you improve? Why are you better now than you were 40 minutes ago?

“It gets them thinking,” she said.

She introduced them to her ‘star’ theme.

Each of the five points stands for a different value statement: I count, I care, I contribute, we collaborate, and we create.

The filter is another concept she explained to her students.

“A filter keeps the bad stuff in and good stuff out,” she said. “I tell them, ‘Your brain is your filter. Let your brain work for you.’”

Clark said her chorus will continue performances in the spring, and she is arranging to have the group sing the national anthem at a Durham Bulls baseball game.

Her goal is to build their confidence and sense of responsibility.

“Music, in general, is a great confidence builder,” she said. “And, I believe anyone can learn to sing.”

Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.