This past Friday evening, Becky and I drove up to the Harrisburg, PA area to stay overnight so she could accompany the Parkside Middle School Concert Choir at the Hershey Park Showcase Music Festival at Central Dauphin High School in Harrisburg. We have known the director of the Choir, Debbie Schlechte, for years, and if you ever despaired about the youth of America, you should watch these young people perform. They will gladden your heart.
Debbie co-directs the choirs at Parkside with Larry Stanley, and Becky accompanies them when they go to festival. We got to the high school about half an hour early, in time to see the Show Choir perform “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got that Swing.” Our Chorale Ensemble has done this piece, and it’s hard enough just to sing it. The young people did it with choreography and had a bright, energetic sound and featured four couples dancing in front of the group.
They then did a song called “Fireflies” (by Owl City) I wasn’t familiar with (here’s a link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rO3gg2cVfxg). It included some engaging choreography. Debbie said she “mashed up” that song with Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” which featured the “Jackson Five,” five hip young dudes in “bad” hats moonwalking across the front of the chorus. (Have you ever tried moonwalking? I have, and it’s impossible for an old guy like me. These cats had it down, I want to tell you!)
The young people looked and sounded great, and Ms. Schlechte and Mr. Stanley directed with precision and great energy.
A while later, the Concert Choir did the difficult Handel piece, “Hallejulah, Amen,” with Mr. Stanley directing. The parts were precisely sung, with a pure vocal quality and a nice balanced sound. I’ve done this piece as well, and it’s not easy for adults, much less for middle school students. Their performances were enthusiastically and deservedly cheered by a gym full of other students and parents.
The next piece, which Debbie directed, was Mark Hayes’ “Shut de Do’,” an a cappella number that we have also done. It seems like a simple song, but is in fact harder than it sounds. The Choir handled the dynamics well and had a beautiful blended sound.
The students were not only impressive musically: Becky and I have talked about how well-behaved they were. They comported themselves in a way that would make any parent or community member proud: they were polite, well-disciplined, respectful of adults and each other and appreciative of anything done for them.
This past week, the Census Bureau released information that we are a majority minority nation. We are moving from a country of white Boomers to a multicultural global population. The choirs at Parkside Middle School show this dramatically. The group is ethnically diverse and the kids treat each other with affection and respect.
After the Festival, the whole group was off to the rest of the day at Hershey Park. The Parkside choirs earned two “Superiors” and missed being Best in Show by one point. I hope they had a great time at the park.They won big, as they have before.
We hear so much about young people and how they fall short in so many areas. I’m here to say that if these young folk are any indication (and I think they are), the future for all of us is very bright indeed.
Congratulations to the students at Parkside for doing so well and for being examples for us all, and to their musicians and teachers Debbie Schlechte and Larry Stanley, and their accompanist for this occasion, Becky Verner. Way to rock out, guys!