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WMS choirs share feelings through music

WORTHINGTON -- Face it: Not everyone has the patience or know-how to coax 260 middle-schoolers to quietly get on and off a stage and risers -- without engaging multiple elbows or giggles -- but this is a task Cindy Anderson has tackled, and apparently mastered, over the last 23 years.

"Do we look good?" grinned an eager eighth-grade boy as he sought Anderson's approval after making his entrance at a Wednesday morning dress rehearsal at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center.

"You know what I want," shot back Anderson, Worthington Middle School (WMS) choral and general music instructor. "There's gotta be happiness on every face."

At 7 p.m. today and Friday in the city's historic and newly upgraded performing arts center, roughly 260 WMS students -- about 90 each from sixth, seventh and eighth grades -- will present their spring concert, titled, "Music is What Feelings Sound Like."

"Our spring concert is a decades-long tradition that my predecessor, Ginger Sellberg, began," explained Anderson. "One of the highlights of our dress rehearsal was watching the kids' faces as we came through the door into Memorial Auditorium's new lobby.

"The eyes, the wows -- they were overwhelmed by how great it looked. Personally, I enjoy the air conditioning."

An understandable sentiment, given that Anderson personally accompanies for each of the concert's numbers while the stage glows with dozens of students and hot lights and the audience typically fills the auditorium's seats to capacity.

Each grade-level group is to perform at least two pieces, and small-ensemble songs (a boy and girl ensemble from each grade) will entertain -- complete with choreography -- over the course of the evening.

Anderson admits the 2011 program has a decidedly '70s sensibility to it.

"I was in junior high in the '70s, so maybe that has something to do with it," Anderson said with a laugh.

"The eighth-grade boys are singing 'Soul Man' with challenging choreography they've really worked on, the seventh-grade girls display some attitude in 'You Better Shop Around,' we've got the eighth-grade girls doing 'Boy from New York City', and the seventh-grade choir is singing half of 'Bohemian Rhapsody' by Queen."

Only half?

"It's to be continued next year," Anderson said. "It's a 16-page piece, and the second part requires a broader vocal range than they have the capacity for right now.

"The voices of my seventh- and eighth-graders are developing nicely, so they can do some good, solid three- and four-part music, but with the adolescent voice, you never know what you're going to get. I'm really pleased with how they're holding the chords and harmonies overall."

Students in the small ensembles dedicate time before school once each week during the year to perfecting their routines, and Anderson acknowledged that scheduling special rehearsals in the weeks before the show can be a scramble.

"One of the hardest pieces this year is the sixth-graders' 'Going to the Chapel,' because we have a really big ensemble involved, and working around kids' schedules is unreal sometimes," said Anderson. "These kids are just so busy."

Another moment eagerly anticipated by the eighth-graders, who are "graduating" to high school after this month, is the traditional slideshow displaying photos of the choir kids from infancy to adolescence.

During the slideshow this year, the eighth-graders will sing a medley of tunes from their preschool days -- theme songs from the children's shows "Blue's Clues," "Teletubbies" and "Dragon Tales" provide some light moments.

But if you're the parent of a student singer, don't leave your hanky at home because Anderson has built some tear-jerkers into the night as well.

After singing an upbeat "Don't Stop Believing," the eighth-grade choir will segue into "You Raise Me Up," which has been arranged to allow for a few students to read tributes to their parents under background vocals.

"Moms and dads seldom get thank-yous from their middle-schoolers, but they genuinely do love their parents underneath it all, so this is a way to say thank-you to their parents," offered Anderson.

Such a thought has real meaning for Anderson this year, as her own daughter, Aubrey, is among the eighth-graders preparing to move on to Worthington High School next fall.

"I've known so many of these eighth-graders since they were preschoolers. They've literally grown up with my daughter, so I've never had a class I've known so well for this long," Anderson said.

"But I'm excited about the musical opportunities my daughter will have at the high school, and I know all the kids will be in very good hands there."

Anderson is grateful for her supportive WMS music colleagues -- Mike Andersen, Jeanette Jenson and Melanie Loy -- who, along with Anderson's husband, Duane, and faithful WMS and WHS alumni Chris Kielblock and Drew Johnson, assist with technical details and in wrangling, arranging and quieting the hundreds of adolescents backstage during the performances.

"I owe a special thanks this year, too, to Ken Henkels for his help with the video," Anderson said. "My fellow teachers and the middle school administration have been terrific, and this show just couldn't go on without their help."

The Worthington Middle School choir concert takes place at 7 p.m. today and Friday at Memorial Auditorium.

The Festival Singers will perform in the lobby beginning at 6:30 p.m. as audience members arrive.

An admission fee is payable at the door; District 518 activity passes are also honored.