Amplifying Young Voices: Our Outreach to W.E. Greiner Exploratory Arts Academy

 

A sixth-grade student at WE Greiner Exploratory Arts Academy in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas raises her hand and asks with a smile, “Miss, okay, so like, if you could sing with any musical artist, who would it be?”

Erin, Derrick, Alex, and I had just finished singing and doing some ensemble demonstrations for the youngest choir students at the Dallas ISD arts magnet middle school and had opened the floor for questions about our lives as professional vocal musicians. This was our third week of immersion in the choir program, and that this point, students knew us, looked forward to our visits and felt comfortable asking us questions about our careers, training, and inspiration.

Earlier this year, Sam and Bethany Ring, head choir director at Greiner, presented to a panel appointed by the Dallas Office of Cultural Affairs. They were competing for city funding to bring a collaborative project to life for middle school students in Dallas ISD. Verdigris has performed at area schools and done single-day workshops with choral programs, however, this project is a first for us as we sought to establish a deeper, more impactful connection with young musicians over an extended period of time. The panel saw the value in the project, and, after receiving funding to launch this initiative, we dove in headfirst into the various components of this project. Meredith Tompkins, composer and Verdigris soprano set to work composing a commission based on poetry written by Greiner students. A quartet of Verdigris singers completed district clearances to be twice-weekly visitors to the Greiner choral classroom. And Bethany planned how to best use the quartet of singers in her classroom to enrich the young musicians in her program.

For the past three weeks, the four of us have visited the Acapella mixed choir and the sixth grade choir. While there, we lead sectionals, offer individual instruction, and share our singing with the students. We want these students to see professional singers close up, so that, through personal connection, they see themselves in us. We want this diverse body of talented, hard-working students to carry with them the knowledge that they deserve our time and attention and could, through hard-work and dedication, create a career in performance for themselves.

I teach private lessons at several schools in the larger Dallas area. The students I teach are motivated, talented, and hard-working. Greiner students — who are admitted to the school after a successful audition — have all of those qualities in spades but most lack the financial resources that would allow for private vocal study and the standing private voice faculty that many other DFW choral programs benefit from having. Bethany Ring has stepped into her role as their choir director with vision and energy and saw this as an opportunity to bring inspiration to her deserving young musicians.

Bria and Antoniya, the two poets chosen for Meredith’s commission, strike a joyful pose with the musical setting of their words.

Bria and Antoniya, the two poets chosen for Meredith’s commission, strike a joyful pose with the musical setting of their words.

My favorite moment of this outreach so far was seeing the faces of the two young poets, Bria Brown and Antoniya Davis, light up as their words, set to music by Meredith, were sung by Erin, Derrick, and I (sans Alex who was out auditioning for graduate school). The entire choir followed along in their own copies of the score as we sang, each student rapt in their listening. When we finished, the pride on the faces of both Bria and Antoniya as their classmates applauded lit up the room. The value of their words had been recognized, and their voices were going to be amplified through the performance of their peers and professionals who cared about their future and success.

One of the three tenets of the Verdigris mission is “Invest.” We are not just here in Dallas to create beautiful music or encourage creativity in our medium. Through this project we are working to build a more equitable, diverse world of vocal music. In one of the most racially and socioeconomically segregated cities in the nation, our investment in South Dallas matters deeply to the health and healing of Dallas and to the lives of these young musicians.

Join us on March 8 and experience the culmination of our residency program with W.E. Greiner Exploratory Arts Academy.

The Poet Sings
March 8, 2019 - 7:00pm
W.E. Greiner Exploratory Arts Academy
FREE and open to the public

We are still working to raise the final $4,000 for this project. Help us in our mission to lift up the voices of DISD students. We hope to use this project to establish a standing relationship with the schools of DISD. Donate here.

 
Erinn Sensenig