Choir Concert Wows Packed House

This past Tuesday night, the Jenison Center for the Arts was packed with friends and family members ready to be amazed by the vocal stylings of the Junior High Choir and the Elementary Honors Choir.

The Junior High Choir performed some great arrangements of familiar Christmas songs and some non-Christmas songs as well. Director, Steven Waters, says, “We always start the concert with all the choirs performing two songs from the Home Alone movies: Somewhere in my Memory [featuring our Elementary Honors Choir] and Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas.”

Each of the individual Choirs then present their own two-song set and finally, the choirs came together again to close the concert with Silent Night/Night of Silence. Again, this features the Elementary Honors Choir and also features three soloists from the Bel Canto Choir [8th grade girls] and Male Chorus. The 7th and 8th grade girl choirs performs from out in the audience with the Elementary Honors Choir. “This concert features a unique audience experience in that they get to participate in the concert through the sing along songs and they get to “be” in the performance of the final song as the entire auditorium becomes the performance space.”

The Junior High Choirs are composed of students in separate grades, and divided by gender. The classes meet each day as part of the regular school day which helps them be particularly well prepared for this performance. They are also a wonderful group to work with and Mr Waters is proud of the characteristics they display as part of this team. “They are all very joyful in their music making on a daily basis! When each of the choir hours begin the energy is amazing and so fun. Our choir students are very affirming and encouraging to their choral staff [directors and accompanists] too. They are a wonderful group of students to work with and get to know on a regular basis.”

Mr Waters knows that choral education has many benefits beyond the performance stage. Students learn to develop their ability to work collaboratively and learn to take responsibility for the success of the entire group. “They have to develop the skill to hear whether a note is in tune or not and how to make that note fit into a multi-part chord. Music/choral/instrumental students learn that whatever they do from a musical AND behavioral standpoint has a consequence for everyone in their musical team. No person is an island in a music group, you are directly responsible for the success or failure of the group based on your personal work ethic.”

Choir students also have the opportunity to learn how to sing in a variety of languages: “Spanish, German, French, Swahili, Italian, Latin, the list is endless. When they learn how to pronounce and sing different languages, it definitely gives them an advantage when they go to learn to speak a given language.

They also develop aural skills and physical stamina. “Choir develops the “ear” for singing AND for playing instruments. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen professionals who give master classes insisting that their instrumental students be able to sing whatever they want to play. I teach low brass instruments as a private instructor and my students know that they will be singing almost every lesson to some degree. They play better in tune and more accurately. And students with breathing challenges like asthma find that by taking choir, they develop more strength in their breathing muscles and more breath capacity when they learn to breathe as a vocalist. The choral students who participate in the sports programs frequently report improved performance after they learn how to breathe in this way too.”

Mr Waters adds that the musical community at Jenison is a safe place for students to find their place and have that sense of community benefit their entire learning experience. “Music does so much for the individual growth of each student. It also contributes to a feeling of community for many students who don’t always feel like they belong in their daily school day anywhere else. Students perform better in their other disciplines when they have an emotional investment in their school life and also if they have something in which they excel. Music education is a place where many students find their niche in school. When students find success in their music classes, then the teachers of the other disciplines can build on that to get the kids to improve in other areas. Music participation also contributes to the overall climate in the school. Music students are trained to behave in a supportive manner when they go to an event in an auditorium [like a concert] and this helps to build that feeling of community when you gather everyone together for assemblies and other events. ”

Thank you, Mr Waters and the entire Musical Department at JPS! Our students are becoming better learners and community members with you on their team! And thank you to our choirs for your hard work and dedication to learning and performing this valuable skill! We’re proud of you!

Growing Old is Mandatory. Growing Up is Optional.

Tonight the curtain opens on another spectacular Jenison High School Musical: Peter Pan! Of course, the story of the boy who refuses to grow up, written by J.M. Barrie, is well-known and a ubiquitous part of pop culture. It first hit the Broadway stage in 1954 when it earned its first Tony Awards. JPS Thespian Director, Todd Avery, was thrilled to bring Peter Pan and the Star Catcher this fall as a prequel to this weekend’s big show and he hopes audiences who take in both productions see the subtle connections the shows have to offer.

Of course, the show will feature some fantastic special effects that everyone has come to expect from Peter Pan – flying! According to Mr Avery, “The biggest part of the show is the flying. I have a fantastic “flight crew” of students and alum who have taken on the responsibility to fly their classmates across the stage.  The actors who fly, have never done anything like this before and are executing very well while hovering 10 to 20 feet above the stage.  We have a series of safety checks, good leadership, and everyone is having fun. There’s plenty of special effects in the show besides the flying.  Tinkerbell darts across the stage, interacting with the Darling nursery.  We even have a special live appearance of everyone’s favorite fairy that I’ve added to the show.  Finally, the talent level of this great group of kids is amazing.  Audience members will forget they are watching high school students.”

This show features sets, props, and costumes that are entirely handmade by student teams, each assisted by an adult leader. The professional quality is a testament to many hard and long hours of work in the scene shop and costume shop.

Students grow in their confidence, abilities, and leadership qualities throughout the show preparation and production. Students with special needs are involved in the show and fellow students rally around them for support, unprompted by Mr. Avery or other adults. “Probably the most amazing growth I’ve encountered is in our Peter Pan, junior Ashley Postema. Her freshman year, Ashley worked with her mother, board member, Jen Postema on our scenery for Oklahoma.  I saw her in the shop every day and her work was beautiful.  Ashley is an accomplished artist with several entries appearing in galleries around West Michigan. She barely spoke to me and was a very shy young lady.  Now, here she is laughing and joking with me and has the title role in the show!  I’ve seen this happen again and again with various students over the years.”

Of course, each time a production is featured we hear from students that the theatre community is welcoming, open, and feels like a family. Mr. Avery works hard to set the tone for students but they take the reigns and welcome each other. “Since the beginning, I have stressed the collaborative elements of theatre.  Everyone is welcome here, no exceptions.  I’m proud to say that over the years we’ve had representatives from every social group at Jenison High School either onstage or backstage. Mutual respect is also important.  No matter how stressful things become, we all must do our best to listen and respect each other.  We continually build each other up.  It is amazing how a simple “thank you” or “good job” can change someone’s day. My biggest joy is hearing about students within our program bringing in other kids to the program because it is a safe place where they can be themselves, have support and have fun.”

Amazingly, the benefits and strengths of students participating in theatre  don’t stop when the curtain goes up. A 2012 study by Americans for the Arts shows that students with four years of high school theatre arts, visual art, and music classes have higher SAT scores than students with one half year or less. “There are dozens of studies like this one that prove that students involved in the arts gain problem-solving skills, self-confidence, a sense of belonging, speaking and organizational skills, as well as many other benefits. There are several studies showing that employers like to have theatre majors working for them because they are creative problem solvers who work well in groups and are confident in interpersonal interactions.”

This weekend, take some time to enjoy the talents, hard work, and community of the Jenison Thespians! They will inspire you and bring some magic while they’re at it. And of course, remember that Growing old is mandatory.  Growing up is optional.  Too many people lose touch with their inner child and forget how to have fun once they “grow up.”   They don’t take the time to look at the world through the eyes of a young person.  Of course, there are benefits to growing up, but when life is taken too seriously, something is being missed or sacrificed.  Play with your children.  Fight for your right to never grow up.”

Break a leg, JPS Theatre! We are always amazed by everything you do! [Psst! If you haven’t gotten you tickets yet, you can do so here!]

Peter Pan Has a Prequel? Of Course it Does!

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Before you see Jenison theatre perform “Peter Pan” this winter, you’ll want to know the back story, of course!

Director and theatre teacher, Todd Avery, has been waiting to perform “Peter and the Star Catcher” for three years, ever since he saw it performed in Chicago and watched it win five Tony Awards in 2012. He was drawn to the unique qualities of the show including wonderful opportunities for an ensemble cast, creative scenery and the need for the audience to participate through their imagination. “Everything is very suggested. For example, we don’t have swords that we fight with, we fight with plungers. The actors create a ship with just a big piece of rope and their bodies and a couple crates, so the concept is just really interesting. It’s a unique way of storytelling and it’s a style called Story Telling Theatre.”

miii4226It’s not a traditional show where the actors play a single role. In this show, the actors are playing multiple roles, keeping track of where they need to be at all times and even wearing multiple costumes on top of each other!

While the winter musical performances are stories told through music, this weekend’s show is a “play with music” and students filling this role had very challenging music to master. All of the music is performed by a pianist and percussionist providing exciting sounds that take on a character of its own.

Sophomores Emma Byerwalter and Caden Hembrough play the leading roles of Molly and Peter respectively and are both alums of the theatre program beginning in junior high and taking on their biggest roles to date with this show. Emma loves her character and says it’s her favorite of her theatre career, so far. “Molly is confident, strong-willed and down to earth.” Caden says that he enjoys playing Peter who starts off being quiet and mad at the world and builds confidence and leadership skills throughout the show.

miii4287As so many other theatre students have said in the past, the Jenison theatre community has meant “everything” to Emma and Caden. “You make friends with everyone and they all count on each other. There’s no exclusion.” says Caden. Emma adds, “It’s a really open community. No matter who you are, you are welcome here.”

Mr Avery knows that this group of students is ready and well prepared to tackle this challenging and entertaining show. “I knew this was going to be a particularly challenging show and I saw some great things in [these students] the last couple of years, even back in junior high, and I knew they could do it. And they’ve risen to the challenge and it’s like nothing they’ve ever done before.”

If you’d like to spend some time this weekend getting to know the beginning stories of Peter Pan, Wendy and the rest of the Peter and the Star Catcher crew, check ticket availability and purchase them here.

Break a leg, Jenison Thespians! We can’t wait to see you shine!

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JH Theatre Tackles Once Upon a Mattress

MIII4394Taking the classic fairy tale, The Princess and the Pea, to another level, Once Upon a Mattress was this year’s Jenison Junior High musical production!

The story centers around 15th century Prince Dauntless and his mother’s ruling that no one in their [imaginary] medieval kingdom shall marry until he does. Despite the fact that Princess Winnifred wins his heart, his mother is less than impressed, something many modern women can relate to as well!  Winnifred is put to the final test of sleeping on a stack of twenty mattresses with a pea and when she wakes disheveled and less than refreshed Prince Dauntless [and the rest of the kingdom] rejoice!  [Of course, there are various antics involved — love never works out just that easily!]

MIII4138But this choice of musical wasn’t just for the fun and silliness of a fairy tale retold. According to Director, Holly Florian, it was also about teaching students about life in the 15th century, gender roles, as well as the importance of speaking up in the face of adversity. “Princess Winnifred is great example of someone who is confident in who she is, despite facing pressure from those around her to meet their expectations for her life [and getting more than a few strange looks from the people around her when she doesn’t meet their expectations]. Her influence allows Prince Dauntless to grow in self-assurance and ultimately to stand up to his overbearing mother and break the curse that has caused so much strain in the kingdom. The fact that one person can have such a powerful influence on the world around them is something that I think everyone can learn from, and a lesson that is especially powerful for the young students that were in this year’s production.”

Junior High students auditioned back in October and have been participating in rigorous rehearsals since early November. Students led crew, lighting, did most of the hair styling and makeup as well as set design and costume changes.

The vocals in Once Upon a Mattress can be extremely challenging and with the ever-changing needs of Junior High students and their voices, it was important for the cast and directors to stay flexible and make changes when needed. Despite those challenges, the cast performed four strong shows, the first time a junior high production has held four! Ms Florian says she is particularly proud of their consistency throughout each performance.

MIII4240The cast also faced the challenge of understanding the mindset of this very different time in the world. One thing that “can be difficult in this show is getting the cast to understand why there is so much frustration over Prince Dauntless needing to be married before anyone else can get married. This is a key point in the story but isn’t necessarily something Jr. High kids can really relate to. During rehearsals we were able to explore the role of marriage in this time period. For the girls, getting married was their only option – without a husband, they had nothing. Once the cast members understood what life was like at this time, it made their expressions and actions on stage easier to understand. One of the coolest things about working on a show is the many opportunities for cross-curricular study and the interesting discussions that result. Acting is not just about randomly selecting a facial expression or reaction or just pretending to be someone else. You have to really understand the whole story in order to make it believable for the audience.”

The show was a success, due in large part to the varied experiences of the cast and crew. Some are involved in community theatre, while others had never set foot on a stage. Ms Florian stresses that students are selected based on their ability to model respect, hard work, the ability to follow directions and have a positive attitude are all equally important in a Jenison production.  And they did not disappoint the staff nor the audiences:  “I think people are always blown away when they see our productions because they can’t believe that the kids are only in Junior High. I’ve always believed that kids this age are capable of just about anything. You just have to set the bar high and give them clear expectations right from the beginning and they will meet – or even exceed – the expectations every time.”

Thank you to all of our cast, crew and staff that came together so amazingly to entertain our community! Your talent and perseverance is inspiring!

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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!

Jenison Fine Arts Center Construction Update in Pictures

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View from the Jenison Junior High parking lot.

With room for 1,200 seats, hundreds of students, and millions of dreams, the Jenison Fine Arts Center is taking shape despite the roller coaster weather we’ve experienced during the past month, in particular.

“The construction crew has been working diligently through the difficult winter months on the inside of the facility to maintain the schedule.  The team has kept the project on schedule for the grand opening performances in December 2013,” said Owner Rep for the project, Bill Culhane.

With a stage “uniquely designed with the flexibility to convert from a theater to a music hall,” the performance area remains the “heart” of the facility. However, there is much more to look forward to!

The venue will offer a “Black Box” small performance area, dressing rooms, scene shop, student art gallery, and conference room. It will additionally provide a home for Jenison’s district administrative offices.

“Jenison’s new Performing Arts Center will provide the students at Jenison Public Schools with a world class performance venue to display the hard work and dedication they put into their craft,” said Mr. Culhane.

We look forward to many years of stellar student performances within these new walls! And as always, we thank the community for continuing to value the arts in Jenison.

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Future administrative offices

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Entry area getting tooled under a welder’s torch.

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Future performance seating area.

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Future conference room

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Our choirs will raise the rafters!

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Securing stairwells.

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Where will you be sitting next Christmas?

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Working rain, shine…or snow storm!

New Fine Arts Center On Track for December 2013 Completion

Brick by brick and nail by nail, the dreams of this community are being raised in grand fashion, pushing against the sky with regal determination. Slated for completion in December 2013, the Performing Arts Center (also referred to as the Fine Arts Center) is on-schedule and looking fantastic.

Boasting a 1,200 seat auditorium, dressing rooms, scene shop, multi-purpose room for smaller performances, and a whopping 90 foot stage, the Performing Arts Center will truly be a community gathering space where our students can shine with room enough to fully spread their wings.

In addition to the performance-related venues, this building will also become the new home for Superintendent Tom TenBrink and Jenison’s team of central office administrators. Parking will be accommodated in a new lot that will be tucked between the junior and senior high schools, as well as additional room south of the junior high and adjacent to the tennis courts.

 

Jenison’s Performing Arts Center will truly be a venue that will invite celebration. We eagerly await the evening when teachers, parents, students, and community members will be able to sit in the glow of a dimly-lit auditorium and watch the magic of theater and music unfold.