Opportunities to perform are welcomed warmly by the young musicians at St. Martin de Porres School.
Music program builds opportunities
Miss LaNell has the attention of the 15 sixth-graders in the parish community center-turned-music room on the St. Patrick campus of St. Martin de Porres School. She encourages them through posture, warm-ups and choreography.
"In this room you can be as loud as you want," she tells them. By the time they sing their first words — in the last quarter of their 50-minute session with her — "Bring Me Little Water, Silvy" — the result is glorious.
LaNell Martin, a graduate of Holy Names High School and Cal State East Bay, works for Oakland Youth Chorus, which is contracted to teach vocal music to the students.
Choral music is one piece of the music picture at St. Martin de Porres School. The younger students at the K-5 Sacred Heart campus have a music curriculum rich in rhythm, movement, percussion and singing.
"The approach starts from sound and rhythm, integrated with choir," said Ann Magovern, president of the regional school.
"The sixth-graders come in singing," said Martin.
The young singers are offered opportunities to share their talents — and glimpse a world far from their West Oakland neighborhood, finding that they have place there, too.
Last fall, 20 students found themselves on the stage at the University of California, in the CAL Performances presentation of "Angel Heart."
The story is about a young girl who finds peace after heartbreak with the help of a petulant guardian angel.
The students' role in the performance — and in the making of a recording a year ago based on a multimedia storybook conceived by composer Luna Pearl Woolf and soprano Lisa Delan, with original text by writer Cornelia Funke — was presented t them by their very own anything-but-petulant guardian angel.
Mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade — "Miss Flicka" to the students — is a strong supporter of the school.
Through her encouragement and support, a program to teach the violin to kindergartners began. Under the direction of Stephanie Railsback, tiny violinists hoist child-sized instruments beneath their chins, and begin to make music.
From that first adorable "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" has come an impressive cadre of school children unafraid to carry a violin case.
Last spring, Magovern attended a concert the violin students put on for their parents. "The third-graders are now in their fourth year of lessons," she said. "There are 25 kids who can play violin well."
The school president left that night with this thought: "We need more instruments."
The vision? A St. Martin de Porres School Orchestra is not outside the realm of possibility. But getting there would require greater funding of the school's music budget, which hovers around $40,000 a year.
The music program is funded by individual donors and a private foundation.
"We're getting there," Magovern said.
The contractors, such as Oakland Youth Chorus, are "helping us be more creative about what we do," Magovern said. She said she'd like to include additional music education, to help the students "understand and appreciate" music.
In the meantime, the students are taking advantage of the performance opportunities. A small group sang with von Stade at a private Christmas event in Oakland; violinists performed at a school tuition-assistance fundraiser at Saint Mary's College in Moraga; and many students participated in a concert at St. Columba Church in Oakland, another of the school's benefactors.
Another opportunity presents itself April 6, when the school moves its annual fundraiser from San Francisco to Scott's at Jack London Square. Check the school website, www.stmdp.org, for details.
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