JHS Theatre Says, “Let Your Freak Flag Fly!” in Shrek the Musical

MIII2429Last week the Jenison Thespians amazed audiences with their talent and passion in their performance of Shrek the Musical!

MIII1804The story in the musical version is very similar to the movie from 2001 we all know and love with a few minor changes and song additions. Shrek is an ogre who finds solace in a lonely swamp until it is invaded by ousted fairy tale characters from Lord Farquaad’s kingdom when he deems them “freaks.” But Shrek doesn’t want them either. Preferring his solitude to a overly crowded neighborhood, Shrek visits Farquaad to convince him to take the characters back. Farquaad decides to let Shrek rescue Princess Fiona who has long been trapped by a ferocious dragon in return for his swamp. Along the way, Shrek is saddled with Donkey, a chatty but charming compatriot in his adventure. Fiona is less than impressed with her rescuer and even less so with Farquaad and through a continued series of songs, fun and love, Shrek and Fiona end up together and the fairy tale characters get their new home after all. You could say “they live happily ever after…”

MIII1744Director Todd Avery hopes to spread the message about individuality being accepted and celebrated which is a main theme of the production. “As the song, “Let Your Freak Flag Fly!” indicates, EVERYONE has something “freakish” about them and those traits should be celebrated and not suppressed.  People [or in this case, fairy tale creatures] are different.  However, those differences are a GOOD thing and shouldn’t be judged by others.”

There are many  behind the scenes teams including set design and construction, sound and tech, pit orchestra, costume design, hair and makeup and stage management.  Kelsey Shannon is a senior who is the crew leader for the hair and make up team and enjoys being part of productions and the ability to be yourself. “Nobody’s judged, everyone’s accepting because you share the same passion.”

MIII2136Freshman, Ashley Hillson, playing the role of Princess Fiona loves being part of Jenison Theatre and makes her return to the stage after playing Arial in the Little Mermaid in last year’s Junior High musical. “The friendships you make here are so cool. Rehearsal doesn’t even feel like rehearsal anymore, it’s just everyone hanging out.”

Playing Shrek is senior Jacob Helm who says, “I feel like letting your freak flag fly is really important because it’s letting you show who you truly are, especially in theatre, which is why I think it’s so cool that we’re doing this show.  This is a place where we’re allowed to be who we really are without being judged.”

Ashley adds, “Anytime you are yourself people end up accepting you more and you end up finding  the people who are like you and when you’re yourself you’re a lot happier. No matter what you’re part of, just be willing to stay true to yourself and not feel like you need to be fake or hide.”

Congratulations to the entire cast and crew of Shrek! We are proud of your talents and we love letting our freak flag fly!MIII1765










High School Chamber Orchestra Performs with GVSU!

thumb_MIII1290_1024 copyThe fall performance season was enriched by another year of the Jenison High School Chamber Orchestra partnership with the Grand Valley State University Symphony Orchestra.
In 2008 Jenison was the first high school orchestra asked to do a side by side concert with Grand Valley and they met up again on the stage of the JCA at the end of October this year.  The entire 70 member GVSU Symphony Orchestra was represented, including all woodwinds, brass, and percussion. The Jenison Chamber Orchestra is an elite musical ensemble made up of the top violin, viola, cello and bass players at Jenison High School.  Students are in 10th – 12th grade and perform a rigorous audition in the spring to be accepted into the ensemble.  Though the size of the group varies it’s roughly 25 students each year.
thumb_MIII1280_1024 copyDirector Dan Scott says, “Jenison students rehearsed in class [while also preparing our fall concert and our performance for the Betty Ford Breast Cancer Awareness Event], but they also had one 90 minute rehearsal with the GVSU Symphony on the day of the concert.”
The concert opened with the brass players from GVSU performing Fanfare from ‘La Peri by Paul Dukas from the balcony.  Included in the GVSU part of the program will also be Mars  from ‘The Planets by Gustav Holst followed by the Jenison Chamber Orchestra performing by themselves.  The GVSU Symphony performed three works by themselves before everyone joined together to perform Night on Bald Mountain by Mussorgsky.
Henry Duitman, GVSU Director of Orchestras explains how the side by side aspect works:  “For the Mussorgsky piece, the GVSU Strings will sit “side by side” with the Jenison High School Chamber Orchestra strings.  This gives younger students a chance to learn from older students and gives the entire string section the full sound that this mighty work requires.  It is a lot of fun for the students as well.  thumb_MIII1269_1024 copyOur students love to perform with the high school students and were especially looking forward to performing in the wonderful new Jenison Center for the Arts.”
Professor Duitman knows that music education is about more than performances and reading music. “This is just one more way of exposing students, parents, and the community to the exciting world of classical music, an important part of any liberal arts education.”
Mr Scott adds that the experience of playing alongside college students has a deep value as well. “This was a wonderful opportunity to learn about continuing to play their instruments in college.  Our students worked with students who are still playing in college while experiencing the musical level and expectations of a college ensemble.   As usual, our students were excellent musicians and people throughout the experience.”
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Thank you to both Mr Scott + Professor Duitman for bringing together these two very talented groups of musicians!  Students, we’re so proud of your talent and hard work!  Keep it up!

Dan Scott Named Director of the Year

Dan Scott, Director of Orchestras at Jenison High School has been given the prestigious honor of being named the Director of the Year by the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association.  Dan Scott

Last Spring we told you about the nomination process for Mr. Scott which was the first step on this exciting journey.  He was nominated [alongside Mr. Zamborsky] by his peers in District 10 which is comprised of Allegan, Ottawa and Kent counties and this past June the nominations were narrowed down to only 3 teachers by the Executive Board of the MSBOA.  Then, in December, those 3 band and 3 orchestra teachers are voted on by the statewide membership of the MSBOA.  The winners are announced in January at DeVos Hall during the performance of the All-State Band and Orchestra performances.

There will be an official presentation in May at the Michigan Youth Arts Festival where Mr. Scott will guest conduct the Michigan Youth Arts Festival honors orchestra.
“It is an absolute honor to be on this list.  The previous recipients of this award are some of the most respected teachers in my profession and I have looked up to many of them for years.  To have my name on the same list as these people is a true honor.  Its also special that this award is voted on by band and orchestra teachers throughout the state.”  — Mr. Scott
For the past 17 years Mr. Scott has had many opportunities to see his students grow and give back and he is thankful for the many great opportunities Jenison has provided him as a teacher. He is especially thankful for the chance to travel with the orchestras to Disney World.  Last year they were able to add a performance at Give Kids the World which is a Disney resort dedicated to children with terminal diseases or serious health concerns.  The orchestra performed for these families as they waited to see Santa and as children passed by, many in wheelchairs, “tears streamed down several of our students’ faces as they performed for these families.  I will never forget that night.”
Mr. Scott is also thankful for the connection to former students that Facebook has allowed him:
“The most gratifying thing about my career is when students who have been away from the program for years, after college or in college, and they send me a message saying how they “got their violin out and played some music from the past”.  To see how playing their instrument becomes a part of their life after JHS is easily the biggest reward my students can give me.”

Knowing that no teacher works alone, Mr. Scott is especially grateful to his fellow staff at Jenison:  “The music department is a rare group of professionals who are all tops in their profession.  They are all wonderful teachers who consistently amaze me how they show their love for students, music and education.  In 2002, Carol Johnson joined the orchestra program, taking over the JH program and her partnership is one of the biggest reasons Jenison has the orchestra program it has today.”

We join the MSBOA in saluting you, Mr Scott!  We’re so proud to have you on our team!

7 – 9 Male Chorus Wows Music Educators

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Each January, music educators from the entire state of Michigan gather in downtown Grand Rapids for the Annual Michigan Music Conference.  They attend sessions presented by leaders in the field and also listen to selected school musical groups.  The conference is recognized for setting a standard of excellence philosophically and musically throughout the state.

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Various school groups are selected to perform based on audition recordings that are submitted by their directors the previous spring.  In the past thirty years many Jenison Choirs have been chosen to perform at all levels:  elementary, junior high and high school which is something we, as a district and community take great pride in.  However, this year, as a result of a blind audition the 7 – 9 Male Chorus was invited to perform during the MSVMA Choral Hour at the JW Marriott Hotel.  Only six choirs from the state were given this honor and ours was the only choir to include students at the junior high level.

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While the quickly swelling crowd waited for the previous session to wrap up the Jenison Male Chorus worked on their focus with mental warm ups.  The other selected choirs from Traverse City and DeWitt also waited but it was impossible to ignore the 94 young men dressed in their tux jackets and ties.

When they took the stage, they were greeted by applause and performed four songs:  two in Latin with complex harmonies and two that were upbeat and included some different stylings.  The final song, “Coney Island Baby” even included choreography and was a genuine crowd pleaser, earning the group a standing ovation.

Director Steven Waters, a veteran teacher of 29 years who has been with Jenison for 18 years, had this to say in appreciation of the young men he works with:

“I think the thing that is most unique about our group compared to others is that it is an all male JH age (grades 7-9) group. The second thing that sets them apart is that they aren’t an auditioned group. The other choirs that were selected are all “select” , elite choirs from their respective schools. We refer to our choirs at the JH as “y’all come sing” groups. Our Male Chorus is also unique in that it’s a JH aged choir that routinely sings 4-part acappella literature which is very challenging.” 

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If you’d like to catch an upcoming performance of another Jenison Choir please join our JH girl choirs performing in the Jenison Center for the Arts with the Lakewood Area Choral Society (LACS) on Tuesday April 1.

“This is a unique opportunity for our students to perform jointly with an adult group. We’re hoping this encourages them to view singing as a lifelong activity that is healthy and rewarding. The LACS is a phenomenal auditioned community ensemble of 110 voices  and is directed by former Jenison Choir Director Bob Oster.”  – Steven Waters

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Congratulations Male Chorus!  We’re proud of you!

Bauerwood Music Teacher Named Michigan Music Educator of the Year

What Diane Shrems expected to be an average Friday night football game in Jenison this fall turned out to be anything but average.  She was with her best friend and co-director, Karen Ambs, listening to students sing the fight song for a piece of candy when Karen handed her a stack of letters saying, “I want you to read what everyone thinks of you.”

Diane Schrems

They were her colleagues’ letters directed to the Michigan Music Educators Association [MMEA] nominating Diane for the prestigious award of Michigan Music Educator of the Year.  Diane was overwhelmed to tears with the outpouring of support and kind words.

Fast forward to this winter, when Diane received a call during an especially stressful rehearsal.  She told the unknown caller that she was dealing with a crisis and that he would have to call back later.  She hung up without another thought to who he was or why he called.

Much later that day, Diane was catching up on her work, only to discover a short email from the President of the MMEA apologizing for disrupting her rehearsal but wanting to let her know that she had been named the MMEA’s Educator of the Year. He added that he should know better than to contact a music teacher during holiday rehearsal season!

Diane loves working in Jenison and has done so for 23 years, calling it the “best job on the planet” and her students “amazing and respectful.”  She is humbled by the award saying that, “after reading the letters I realized that it is truly a team award.  My team makes me strong; without them I couldn’t be who I am—the team allows us to be the best.”

Co-director of the JPS Elementary Honors Choir and the Bobcat Choir [made up of 100 5th & 6th graders].  Diane’s list of accomplishments is long:

  • She also co-directs the vocals for the JHS annual musical and is excited to be part of the Wizard of Oz this spring.
  • Presented at the Michigan Music Conference, university general music workshops and the MMEA Fall workshop
  • Awarded for excellence by the Jenison School Board
  • Served on the Board of Directors of the MMEA
  • Regularly a mentor to student teachers 

But those awards and recognitions come in second place when compared to “seeing the excitement in kids when they connect to each other with music.” Seeing that interaction is her favorite part of the job, and she is most looking forward to continuing to perform at the new Jenison Center for the Arts. The thought of giving her students the chance to perform on a stage that “is worthy of their talents” and seeing them connect with an audience is a thrill she has long awaited.  Diane said she is especially thankful to have an administration that supports the arts and with that, she says, “the sky’s the limit.”

The Music Educator of the Year Award will be presented on Saturday, January 18th at the annual MMEA breakfast and meeting at the Michigan Music conference held here in Grand Rapids.  Congratulations, Mrs Schrems!  We’re proud to call you one of our own!

Jenison’s Center for the Arts Opens in Grand Style

After two years and over 50,000 man hours of dreaming, designing and digging, the Jenison Public Schools Center for the Arts opened this week to hundreds of expectant community members. Supported with over 390 tons of steel and boasting 1,251 seats, we are so privileged to provide a beautiful, well-appointed home for the arts for generations to come, and above all, wish to thank this community for making this vision a reality.

Fine Arts Center, Jenison Public Schools

The stage, whose floor is certified by the American Dance Association, spans 90 feet in diameter and touts a one-of-a-kind retractable dividing wall, enabling casts and crews to better customize their performance space. With over 3 miles of cables hidden beneath the stage and 60 locations for microphones, students will be heard–and seen– from any point in the hall. In fact, despite the soaring ceiling and custom wood chandelier, the furthest point from the stage in any direction is just 85 feet! Performances are also able to be broadcast live, with 8 different recording tracks available so that individual singers can be isolated out from the group.

Finally, for comfort within the hall, air is circulated in the most “green” way possible. Beneath the seats are vents covering two chambers that perfectly mix both cool and warm air. Once blended at a precise temperature, heat seeps up from the floor rather than blowing audience members in the face. This technique not only ensures proper temperatures throughout, but reduces the electrical use that fan systems require.

Jenison Public Schools,


Jenison Public Schools

Other impressive details show that every suggestion was heard and each thought considered in the planning of this facility:

  • The make-up room stretches wide and has sinks in each corner for easy preparation and clean up.
  • Costume rooms have sewing machines and a front-loading washer/dryer for a complete costume production experience.
  • Sets are designed in-house in a specially-designed shop with saws, plenty of electrical outlets, and towering ceilings.
  • Double doors protect each entrance to the hall, providing a sound-proof experience.
  • Walls are designed for acoustics, maximizing sound travel.

This holiday season, visitors will also enjoy the painted instrument sale whose proceeds benefit the Jenison Public Schools Art Department. Please consider taking home a masterpiece this December! Until then, take a tour with us and leave a comment with your first impressions!

What most amazed you about our new Center for the Arts?


JPS Administration Offices






Elementary Orchestra Sign-ups Strike a Chord

For 5th graders dreaming of playing the cello like Yo-Yo Ma or the violin like a Juilliard graduate, the annual fall orchestra sign-ups are the first step down a path that is limited only by their will to succeed.


While Jenison 6th graders are eligible for band and have their own fitting and instrument pairing evening, the opportunity to play in the Wildcat orchestra begins in 5th grade with an instrument rental and fitting in the junior high.

aaron's instruments, JPS, orchestraBut orchestra teacher Carol Johnson explains that the journey to a music career actually begins at the end of 4th grade when she travels to each school with a selection of stringed instruments for the kids to hear and touch. Because this occurs right before summer vacation, students are given time to consider which instrument — if any — they’d like to play.

By the time September rolls around, those same students have begun 5th grade and have reached a decision with the help of their parents. They enter the cafeteria on a mission to find the best fit — and perhaps the best price — for their rental.

This year, three area rental companies were on-site for families to get acquainted with: Aaron’s Instruments, Baroque Violin Shop and Marshall Music Co. Having rental companies come to the school is just one way that the Jenison Music Program strives to support busy families and make it easier to consider trying something new.

Aaron Reiley, of Aaron’s Instruments, says that they started participating in this event five years ago.

“We originally came to JPS because they have a great orchestra program. I’ve known Dan (Scott) for a long time and it was a big factor in our decision to get on board. In fact, our family decided to move to Jenison for that reason! Once we saw the music program we wanted to work with JPS.”

Jenison Orchestra, Jenison Public Schools

Families and students present for the event were helped by volunteers directing traffic and answering questions. They were also excited for the chance to take home their very own instrument. Ella Uganski, a 5th grader picking up her own violin had this to say:

“I chose the violin because it sounds the best and it looks the most fun to do. I thought about the viola for a couple of minutes, but then I changed my mind. I’m really excited,” Ella said, beaming ear to ear.

Jenison Public Schools, Orchestra

Students like Ella will benefit from the early and consistent teaching that Jenison offers. She and her orchestra classmates will receive one afternoon of instruction in her own elementary building (45 minute class) and will also make a personal commitment to travel to the junior high two additional times per week before school. This kind of approach means that kids will play their first song on the first day of class — and be ready to perform a holiday concert by December!

Mrs. Johnson is looking forward to a new group of musicians, as well as the prospect of concerts in Jenison’s new Fine Arts Center.

How about you? Is your student in the orchestra? What do they love most about it? Leave a comment and tell us your story!

Sound the Trumpets: Prestigious Honors Go to JHS’ Mr. Zamborsky & Mr. Scott

If you thought that brackets and championships were just for March Madness, you’d be wrong. Because while Mr. Zamborsky and Mr. Scott didn’t shoot hoops for these awards, the stakes and the honor that go along with them are just as high, and the applause from the crowd is just as loud.

We are thrilled to share that earlier this month, both Orchestra teacher Dan Scott and Band teacher Dave Zamborsky received word that they had been nominated by their peers and elected as District 10 Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association (MSBOA) Teachers of the Year! 

Jenison Public Schools, Dave Zamborsky, Dan Scott, MSBOA Awards

There are sixteen MSBOA districts in the State of Michigan, and Jenison lands in district 10 which is comprised of roughly 150-200 schools spanning from Northern Allegan to Lowell.

To draw a comparison between music education and athletics, these districts could be thought of as the OK Conferences for music. One distinguishing factor in this situation, however, is that our directors were identified as outstanding by their peers, and voted on to win Teachers of the Year.

“For me, that’s what means the most. I’m really flattered to have been chosen by my colleagues,” said Mr. Scott.

“Winning these accolades speaks volumes about the reputation of Jenison’s program,” added Mr. Zamborsky.

Pushing the significance of this honor to greater heights is the fact that no two teachers from the same school have ever won before! In fact, there are some districts in Michigan (typically the smaller ones) that vote only to honor either one band or one orchestra teacher, but not both.

This year changed everything when the MSBOA members voted to recognize the work of both a band and an orchestra instructor — and both from the same high school. This has never happened before!

“This award really highlights the well-roundedness of our entire program, both in band and in orchestra,” noted Mr. Zamborsky.

Moving forward, winners from all sixteen districts will go to the “state finals” on June 3, where three finalists from each category will be chosen to be presented to the MSBOA membership in the fall. Then, from December 2013 to January 2014, these same members will vote on one orchestra and one band teacher to be recognized –not just as superior in their district — but as exemplary in the state.  Results of the final voting will be made public on January 14, 2014.

If Mr. Zamborsky and Mr. Scott earn this recognition from their peers, they will have the opportunity to conduct the All-State Honors Band and Orchestra at the Michigan Youth Arts Festival in May 2014.

Please join me in congratulating these men on this unprecedented achievement! We are so lucky to have them both leading Jenison’s music program!

Jenison Male Chorus Invited To State Performance

Erasmus once said, “Concealed talent brings no reputation.”

If this is so, then the reverse must also be true. And next weekend, Mr. Steven Waters, Mr. Les Rowsey, and the Jenison Male Chorus will have the opportunity to prove it in front of hundreds of the brightest minds in music education.

Jenison Junior High, Mr. Steven Waters, Mr. Les Rowsey, Michigan Music Conference

(above) The JPS Male Chorus practices their performance pieces.

Jenison Junior High, Mr. Steven Waters, Mr. Les Rowsey, Michigan Music Conference

(above) For these students, practice makes perfect!

Each January, music teachers from around the state converge on Grand Rapids to attend break-out sessions, learn together, and listen to selected school choral performances. Doing so as a group helps to set and maintain a standard for excellence in music education while reaffirming philosophical standpoints in their field.

Due to their history of exemplary performances and overall reputation for talent and skill, the Michigan Music Conference has foregone the typical application process for the Jenison group and has invited the group to perform at next week’s meeting in Grand Rapids. Under normal circumstances, groups desiring to perform are required to submit an application and audio recording in order to be considered, but in this case, the Chorus’ reputation has garnered acceptance on its own.

Jenison Choirs at all levels have applied, submitted recordings, and have been accepted several times over the past three decades, however the opportunity to perform without going through this process is extremely rare. The male chorus group will be collaborating next week Friday, January 18, with Mr. Lon Beery, a conference coordinator, composer, arranger, and educator who will also present around the topic of changing male voices. His session is entitled, “Working with Middle School Men,” and will take place in the International Ballroom at the J.W. Marriott Hotel at 9:30 a.m.

We send hearty congratulations to Mr. Waters, Mr. Rowsey, their accompanists, and the outstanding group of young men who will so proudly represent Jenison Junior High and High School at the Michigan Music Conference!

Best of luck!

Coats from Choirs Wraps Up Tonight!

Jenison Public Schools, Coats for Choirs, Holiday 2012Jenison Choirs are seeking to do more than send beautiful notes of Christmas joy into Fairhaven Church at this evening’s concert; they’re striving to gather coats, hats, and mittens for Grand Rapids’ Alpha Women’s Center. 

The Alpha Women’s Center is a community outreach that assists young women in crisis pregnancy situations or those who find themselves as young single mothers unable to adequately provide for their children. The 4,200 clients they serve report that one of their largest needs in the winter is warm clothing and snow gear for their children, and Jenison is honored to help fill that need!

We’re proud to report that since our “Coats from Choirs” project began on November 13, it has already taken in some 410 coats! The November 29 Culver’s benefit night was a tremendous support to our efforts and also brought in countless hats and mittens.

Coats From Choirs, Jenison Public Schools, Jenison Junior High

Photo courtesy of Mr. Waters

Tonight’s concert marks our final collection night and our goal is to far surpass 500 coats donated! We feel privileged to live in a generous community who considers the needs of others, and know that this year’s giving will be another indication of our compassion.

To all who have already given and to those who are planning to join us yet tonight, we thank you!

Jenison Junior High Christmas Choir Concert

8:15 pm

Fairhaven Church