Students spend day off preparing for concert

Published 7:40 am Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Several students and TYA performers pose at the conclusion of their rehearsal segment. Leader Photo/TED YOAKUM

Several students and TYA performers pose at the conclusion of their rehearsal segment. Leader Photo/TED YOAKUM

While most children spent their Veteran’s Day hanging out with friends and playing the latest “Call of Duty” on their Xbox, nearly 250 Dowagiac students went to the last place most kids would imagine spending their holiday.

They all spent the entire day at school.

However, math, science and English weren’t on the schedule for today’s classes, nor was the day spent running from classroom to classroom. Instead, these children spent the day singing, dancing and cartwheeling on Dowagiac Middle School’s auditorium, with the bright lights shining down on their young faces and the sounds of classic show tunes filling the spacious room.

For the past few days, these children have been hard at work rehearsing for Tuesday’s “Turn Up the Music,” a collaborative musical extravaganza between Dowagiac Union Schools and The Young Americans, an international performing group dedicated to promoting musical education among children. The event, which will begin at 6:30 p.m. at Dowagiac Middle School on Tuesday, will feature 3rd through 12th grade students working in tandem with over 40 members of the California-based production company.

“This is brand new material we’ll be presenting,” said Katie Speicher, the Young Americans member who is managing the production. “These kids are among the first in the world to learn this material.”

One of the unique characteristics of the show is its blend of various performing arts, Speicher said. In addition to singing, “Turn Up the Music” will also feature acting, dancing and improvisation throughout its hour long run time.

“The show caters to nearly every kids’ interests,” Speicher said. “We try to do it all.”

The student performers only started learning the various numbers for show on Sunday, and have spent the following two days working with The Young American staff to rehearse and refine their acts before the curtain opens Tuesday night.

“These kids will learn an entire one-hour show with only a day and half of practice,” Speicher said.

Jessica Robison, an 8th grader who has participated in events with The Young Americans for the past two years, will perform “Tomorrow” from “Annie” in Tuesday’s show. Robison said she was kind of nervous performing a solo in front of her classmates.

“The last time I sang [with The Young Americans] it was really fun,” Robison said. “But this year it’s been hard to put into words. It’s that much fun. All my friends are here with me.”

Tomorrow’s show is the third musical orchestrated between the school district and The Young Americans, the last to be held in 2010. The group is currently touring the Midwest, stopping in Dowagiac before heading north towards a school district in Canada. The goal of this year’s show is raise $1 million to support music education.

Working with The Young Americans to help coordinate the show is Jeff Robinson, the choir instructor at Dowagiac Middle School. Robinson said he was delighted to get involved with project, adding that participating in similar fine arts programs placed him on his career path toward music education.

“What draws me to The Young Americans, as an educator, is that it helps bring students out of their comfort zone,” Robinson said. “It helps change their outlooks on their education and their lives. That, and it’s fun.”

One of the concerns Robinson said he had about this year’s show was due a potential decline participation compared to the last show, as parents could dissuaded by the $59 sign-up fee. However, Robinson said that both local businesses and private citizens donated over $2,500, with some citizens sponsoring three children at a time.

“I was amazed by the how the community rallied around this event,” he added. “It was truly humbling.”

Admission to the show will be $10 for adults and $8 for children. The show begins at 6:30 p.m., with a performance by The Young Americans opening the show, immediately followed by the student show.