Art, performance and all that jazz at Arts Alive

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Quincy Green has been singing since he was age 4. He is about to graduate from Saint John Paul II Regional School in Stratford and begin high school at Camden Catholic, Cherry Hill, where he plans to dive into music and theater. On the heels of Arts Alive, he is leaving middle school on a high note. Quincy was among the more than 170 students from 10 Catholic schools in the Diocese of Camden who gathered May 22 to celebrate the arts through the lens of the Harlem Renaissance, the artistic movement associated with Harlem in the early part of the 20th century. It was an opportunity for middle school students who are interested in music, theater, dance and visual arts to collaborate with peers, work with pros, and share their gifts through performance. 

Students from different schools perform an original scene inspired by the poetry of Langston Hughes at Arts Alive on May 22 at Assumption Regional Catholic School, Galloway. More than 170 middle school students, from 10 Catholic schools, with interests in music, theater, dance and visual arts participated. —– Photo by Alan M. Dumoff

More than half the students arrived with theme-related artwork, which was arranged to create an instant, vibrant display in the Assumption Regional Catholic School (Galloway) gym. But the highlight of the day was participation in master classes, where students honed their talent and interests and prepared for a same day performance.

“Singing the first song got us really into Arts Alive,” said Quincy, who chose the vocals master class. He was referring to “It Don’t Mean a Thing” by Irving Mills and Duke Ellington. Guest instructor Tonya Dorsey, director of the Diocese of Camden Gospel Choir, had provided music in advance and brought the students’ voices together at Arts Alive. Dorsey also introduced the students to music composition, allowing them to write original verses to “Free to Be Me,” a song she wrote for the event. In pairs or solo, students shared their verses with the Arts Alive audience during the afternoon performance.

Guest instructor Tonya Dorsey (center), director of the Diocese of Camden Gospel Choir, leads a vocal performance. Students participate in a band performance. —– Photos by Alan M. Dumoff

“It was such a blessing and an honor to work with so many awesomely talented children,” said Dorsey.

The vocals master class was coordinated by Toni Burdey, music teacher and choir director at St. Mary School, Vineland, who also provided piano accompaniment.

As vocalists performed “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” participants in the dance master class added movement, thanks to guest choreographer Grace Cerana.

Bella Dane, a seventh grader from Resurrection Catholic School in Cherry Hill, said getting to perform was the best part of the day. Cerana “gave everyone a chance to perform in front of the altar,” said Bella. A dancer for 11 years — nearly her whole life — Bella said she knew some of her master classmates from dance competitions. “It was fun to showcase… we just got to enjoy it,” she said. 

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel principal Alice Malloy led the instrumental master class — a band of 24 wind, brass and percussion musicians. The band opened the afternoon performance with “The Star Spangled Banner” and entertained with “Big Bass Boogie” by James Ployher. 

Students in the acting master class reviewed some theater basics with directors Grace Hoffner (Saint Mary, Vineland) and Gerry Janansky (Assumption), who used ice-breakers and improvisation to get the creativity flowing. In groups of five or six, the students developed and performed original scenes inspired by the poetry of Langston Hughes.

In the visual art master class, more than 60 students created collages inspired by Harlem Renaissance artist Romare Beardon. But the students weren’t the only ones to benefit from the day. “It was a fantastic day,” said Nicole Ayala, who teaches art at Saint Joseph Elementary School in Hammonton. “Spending time with other art teachers discussing what we do in our own classrooms, while engaging with students, was so valuable to me as a professional.” Ayala shared responsibility for the art master class with Margaret Hawkins, Saint Vincent de Paul; Sheila Nuss, Cape Trinity Catholic; Maddie Giardina, Assumption; and Jenna Alcantara, Our Lady Star of the Sea.

Students create collages in visual arts master class.

Arts Alive is the expansion of an idea that originated at Saint Mary’s in East Vineland, which held its first  Creative Arts and Beyond (CAB) arts fair in 2016.

“The fair was [started] to realize the advantages of the arts in Catholic schools,” said Grace Hoffner, art and theater teacher at Saint Mary’s. “So often we take the arts for granted, not knowing how much they impact math, science and social studies. Once we think creatively in art it transfers to other subjects.” Hoffner added that the school wanted to broaden the scope to encourage participation among more schools.

If Arts Alive 2019 was any indication of broader interest, it’s time to get working on Arts Alive 2020.