By LINDA CHION KENNEY
Choral students from three area high schools and the University of Florida joined last week at Riverview High to stage a combined fall concert.
For the Lennard, Riverview and Strawberry Crest students, it was a chance to learn from each other and from university singers and professors the next steps possible after high school.
For the choral teachers and university professors, it was a chance to link their programs, with a shared purpose to instill in young people a love of music for a lifetime.
“Having to prepare for such a large concert, with many groups involved, made me drive my kids to bring a higher level of work earlier in the year,” said Elizabeth “Liz” Stewart, who as director of vocal activities at Riverview High runs chorus, show choir and three barbershop quartets. She also leads a group of Victorian Christmas Carolers, available for community engagements in support of music programs.
Moreover, “I learned a little bit from Lennard, I learned a little bit from Strawberry Crest, and I learned a little bit from UF,” Stewart added. “It gives me ideas I can bring back to my own program to challenge my students to do their best work.”
Parent C.J. Cornett had her phone camera in hand during the pre-show rehearsal for the Oct. 22 concert.
“It’s great to see all these schools supporting each other in the arts,” said Cornett, whose son, Cullen Faircloth, sings at Riverview High.
“It’s a great feeling, giving us a sense of community, that we’re not alone in the world of music,” Faircloth added. “I played football for eight years and I thought it couldn’t get any closer. But when I joined chorus, it was so much more. Rather than a brotherhood, it was a family.”
About 250 students took to the Riverview stage for the joint choral undertaking, presented by the Dr. Earl J. Lennard High School choral program, led by Yasmani Gonzalez, director of choral activities. (The concert was at Riverview because of auditorium work at Lennard.)
“It’s a nice experience seeing how other people perform,” said Lennard senior Lysette Rivera. “It brings us closer together because we talk about music.” Each musical piece “has a story,” she added, “and explaining that story, showing that story through music, is amazing.”
Joseph Canessa, a 2007 Newsome High graduate, issued a similar sentiment. “This is a great opportunity for the kids, to see what other schools in the area are doing,” said Canessa, who teaches show choir, guitar and keyboard at Strawberry Crest. “It brings us together, which is what music does naturally in life.”
Riverview senior Nico Galdona said the collaborative choral event allowed him to catch up with friends he knows at other schools. “It’s really cool and interesting to see the kind of songs they bring,” he added.
Among the selections performed were “I Hope You Dance” (Strawberry Crest Prestige choir), “Sisi Ni Moja” (Lennard mixed chorus), “Somewhere” (Riverview chamber choir), and “Day of Fire and Sun” (UF concert choir). The show ended with a combined chorus rendition of “Ukuthula,” a traditional South African Zulu song.
“It’s great for the University of Florida to come down from Gainesville and have an opportunity to engage with schools in the community,” said UF Assistant Professor of Music Education Marhshall Haning. “We’re here to show the high school students it doesn’t end with high school.”
Professor Willard Ray Kesling is the esteemed director of choral activities at UF; he has been teaching for 42 years. Known for “weaving together text and music, chorus and orchestra,” Kesling has conducted “hundreds of choral ensembles and 46 professional symphony orchestras throughout the world,” according to his UF bio. Among his accomplishments, Kesling has conducted engagements in Carnegie Hall and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, as well as in major concert halls internationally.
“My students are just a couple years older than these high school students and they come from schools like these,” Kesling said. “My goal is these young people will sing their whole lives. With all the troubles in the world, music brings beauty.”
“I love being a part of Dr. Kesling’s choir,” said UF student Anthony Montalto, a junior majoring in journalism. “I met a senior at Riverview who said he wanted to be a music educator. I told him UF is a great place for it. “
As for singing on stage with hundreds of voices in Riverview, the chorus of sentiment was overwhelmingly positive.
“I never thought I’d be around so many great choirs in one place,” said Riverview sophomore Savion Dew, who recommends the chorus life. “If you feel like you have the potential, and you have a good voice, I suggest you go for it.”
Being in a chorus, Dew added, is “one of the greatest experiences you can have.”