Area graduates return to teach future Young Americans

Published 5:13 am Thursday, January 22, 2004

By By JOHN EBY / Edwardsburg Argus
NILES -- How do you teach 276 youngsters to sing and dance in an afternoon?
The 47 Young Americans from California made it look easy Sunday afternoon at Niles Senior High School as they sorted order from chaos by color.
Blue in back. Red in the middle. Yellow ("yo! yo!" in response at every mention) down in front.
After a 12-hour rehearsal from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. today, these area students in grades 4-12 should perform like polished professionals, too.
Two members of the troupe guided by 1973 Niles graduate Bill Brawley hail from close by, Whitney Criswell, 20, of Cassopolis, who joined in the summer of 2002, and Matt Marshall, 20, of Niles, who wants to attend chiropractic school after a tour that starts here and ends in Europe.
Also taking part in the preparatory workshop is former member Josh Grannell, 21, of Niles, who is majoring in elementary education at Southwestern Michigan College.
Brawley said it was "awesome" to return to his former hometown.
Young Americans is important because it helps the students to set goals for themselves and builds their self-esteem and confidence, he added.
The choreographer, Brawley's wife, Robin, has a background in ballet and an Australian accent.
As members of the international tour, the participants are unpaid volunteers who stay in the homes of local families.
Marshall, 20, began his Young American experience years ago when he was a student at Niles High School.
As a student, Marshall participated in the Young Americans program on three separate occasions.
After graduating in 2001, he was accepted to the University of Michigan, but instead decided to move to Anaheim, CA and try out for the Young Americans.
He made the cut and this marks the fifth tour that he has been a part of.
Marshall said this has been a great opportunity that has allowed him to travel all over the U.S. and even go to other countries such as Germany and Luxemburg.
He said the program is important to students because it "uses music as a vehicle to open them up and raise their self esteem."
Marshall eventually plans on attending Life University in Georgia to become a chiropractor.
Snips of songs shower the stage like confetti as they whirl without pause through what sounds like enough material for several shows.
The easiest way to pick out Young Americans in the teeming mob onstage is the infectious excitement they radiate.
They often have their arms draped over each other's shoulders like all-for-one, one-for-all Three Musketeers. The students are still a bit shy and self-conscious on the first day of the workshop.
The air crackles with energy, an antidote to January snow piling up outside.
As for how they do it, perhaps the better question is where will they put the audience? The aisles and stage are full of gyrating performers, even when some hang off the "Jailhouse Rock"-like scaffolding.
They speak their own language. "Groove it" is a signal to flail limbs until they look like propellers coming off airplanes.
The calisthenics and cacophony crescendo so fast in "We are Family" that the room itself seems to be spinning.
In one set they practice locomotive cadences and "Pennsylvania 65000" to put listeners in the mood for Glenn Miller's 1940s big band sound.
The Young Americans and their younger shadows will also perform a medley of Beatles songs, including "Come Together," "Eleanor Rigby," "Yellow Submarine," "Let It Be" and "Hey Jude."
The students presented the amazing amount they learned in a whirlwind three days at performances Tuesday and Wednesday at the Niles High School.