UPPER MARLBORO – The joy is heard spilling from the doors of the Largo High School Choir Room every time the 65-member group begins a new song. Laughing mixes with melodies before sudden silence and they break into harmonious chorus. “A lot of people are like, ‘oh what ya’ll do? Ya’ll just sing?’ But it’s […]
UPPER MARLBORO – The joy is heard spilling from the doors of the Largo High School Choir Room every time the 65-member group begins a new song. Laughing mixes with melodies before sudden silence and they break into harmonious chorus.
“A lot of people are like, ‘oh what ya’ll do? Ya’ll just sing?’ But it’s more than singing to us in the choir. To us it’s just, the environment that we’re in,” said Dyonna Nelson, a senior at Largo High School. “It’s not just singing. It’s something special.”
“People normally think ‘oh you’re just in there making noise,’ but the music that we sing, it has a meaning,” said Sharlene McCall, a junior.
The students in the Largo High School choir have a passion for their group, for their instructor, and for their school and for them, their choir is a family. And this family is taking their music to new levels.
For the second year in a row the Largo High School Choir applied for the GRAMMY Signature School Enterprise Awards. This year, they were named semifinalist.
The GRAMMY school awards are awarded through the GRAMMY Foundation, which awards schools based on skill, need and dedication to their music program. The program was created in 1998 and recognized the top public high schools in the United States. The Enterprise Award is specifically for schools hat are economically underserved.
“From our perspective, many public high schools across the country provide top-notch music education programs for their students – often working with very limited financial means,” said Neil Portnow, president and chief executive officer of The Recording Academy and the GRAMMY Foundation. “Our GRAMMY Signature Schools program steps in to augment those resources with cash grants, and to celebrate the excellence of these programs, and the beneficial and lasting effects of a music curriculum in the lives of young people.”
Approximately 20 schools across the nation were selected as enterprise semifinalist and each winning school will receive approximately $5,000. Bladensburg High School won the honor in 2011. Largo was the only school in the Mid-Atlantic region to make it to the semifinals this year. Now the choir must record 11 songs to send to the foundation to help them make the final decision.
Brandon J. Felder, the music and arts chairperson at Largo and the choir’s director, said the school turned in its application in September to start the long and exciting process. He said he decided to apply for the grant to help fund some music-based projects in the school and increase the visibility of the choir.
“There are extreme sources of scarce funding for music programs in a time when programs are being cut, not even because of smaller numbers, but just because of budget crisis. I’m always looking for creative ways to fund our program and show visibility,” Felder said.
The money, Felder said, will help to finish a new music lab in the school, where students can compose and get hands-on music writing and producing experience.
Hands-on experience is a key to the music education at Largo High School. Felder said he strongly believes in a hands-on, performance-based choir.
“We’ve been in competitions this year. We perform very regularly. That’s part of my philosophy – students learn a lot more outside the four walls of the classroom in performance and music education than what they will learn in the classroom,” he said. “A three-day tour at Ithaca College, which we toured at, will be more beneficial than a month of learning a piece of music.”
Felder took the job at Largo three years ago because he wanted to be challenged and said every day at Largo he feels “really alive” and said he knows this is where he’s “supposed to be.” He said he is grateful to be at a place where he feels a difference is being made.
“Mr. Felder is one of kind,” said Victoria Luskie, a senior at Largo. “Of all of the teachers I’ve come to know at Largo, he’s welcoming, he’s entertaining, he understands students.”
Luskie said Felder is engaging and always makes sure everyone is included. He creates a welcoming environment where the choir members feel safe and like they are a family, Dyonna Nelson said.
“Mr. Felder is a person that I feel like I can go to about anything,” Nelson said. “It’s a good experience with him.”
Nelson said it is the sense of family, camaraderie and the dedication to hard work that makes the Largo choir thrive.
The choir performs all across the county and region with concerts at local colleges and halls. The group performs anything from gospel to international pieces in Spanish and German.
“In our concerts we like to go on a journey, so get the entire musical experience from Bach to auto tune. We even have some inspirational rap,” Felder said.
But, Jamila Wright, a junior in the choir, said the music they sing, though not music they would typically buy from iTunes or music they would listen to on the radio, is inspirational and has become a part of their lives.
“The music we sing, it has a meaning and people come in here when they are feeling down and it picks them up,” she said. “It’s more than just singing and winning and bringing something good to this school, because it changes people.”
Felder said, while changing people is not the goal of choir, he does get joy out of watching his students mature and grow. He said fostering their creativity and helping create well-rounded students is what the job is all about.
“I would love for every student that comes out of this program to be a concert pianist, a concert singer or even a music teacher, but I will be more grateful if those students that come out of programs from music here at Largo are great, well-rounded scholars who could possibly be the next doctor, the next politician. We’re sharing more than music,” Felder said.