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Ward creates an impression at concert

June 18, 2010

My opinions are usually set to music, performed in "Lagunatics" each October. This one can't wait that long: "Impressive!"

Thursday night the Thurston Middle School and high school choruses performed their spring concert. It was impressive. Under the hand of vocal music teacher Roxanna Ward, the evening included a spectrum of choral, ensemble and solo music, most of which was written by Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim, chosen in celebration of his 80th year. It was a brave, potentially insane choice. Sondheim is a notoriously difficult musical technician, and a combative lyric genius for storytelling.

It would have been impressive just to expose all those young people to such rich, complex material — or to hear it executed accurately. But to present nearly two hours of nuanced, beautifully accomplished performance? Sweet, tender moments — grand, thick chords — the stunning grasp of the material by so many young singers? Impressive. The match of material to talent was inspired, not the least of which was Ward herself at the piano. An established professional performer in her own right, Ward brought in others to give additional, focused direction to the students. Professional singers, directors, actors, came in at her request, volunteers sharing their proficiency with students perfectly primed to absorb instruction, direction and inspiration.

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Roxanna's a big player in our little town. Although she performs almost exclusively outside 92651, she musical directs shows with all our theaters, teaches vocal charts to various groups, works with other professionals, including me, to fine tune material. But she is really having an impact on lives at our schools. It's not enough to have kids singing, memorizing or performing. They need to be educated. Ward is teaching the language of music, the skills of vocal production, the connection of intellectual material to public expression, and the reward of genuine accomplishment. Curriculum and life skills.

We are led to believe that teachers in our district are degreed, credentialed and/or "teaching in their field." Don't believe it. The Emperor's New Clothes are paraded before trusting parents with regularity. Ward, however, is a teaching artist. Fully clothed, and turning out kids who are enthusiastically soaking up her expertise. Ward and a hundred kids who worked hard to learn and perform more and better than they could have imagined was possible. Impressive. Very, very impressive.

BREE BURGESS ROSEN

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