Passing Along That Thing Called Culture

There’s something about choral music that strikes a chord.  Yes, the TV show “Glee” has made it popular, but beyond that, Broadway actress LaChanze says it teaches kids how to listen.  LaChanze (pictured above) won a Tony Award in 2006 for her lead role in The Color Purple and has appeared in The Wiz, Dessa Rose, Funny Girl, and Ragtime just to name a few.  And now the Mount Vernon songstress is using her voice to teach youngsters ages 9 to 17 how to sing in unison and with style and grace.  Starting this summer with some 12 kids, her brand new organization, the Westchester Performing Ensemble, has organized a three-week music intensive, the purpose of which is to introduce children to a wide array of American music.  Working with pianist and composer Alva Nelson of Cortland Manor, LaChanze held auditions and then rehearsals in the basement of the First Baptist Church in Bronxville thanks to Rev. Granby.  After working four hours a day, five times a week, the ensemble will have its debut Friday evening at 7pm at the church.

Nurturing children with music comes naturally to LaChanze who herself grew up listening to albums with her Aunt.  She says her Grandpa was a mechanic by day and Nat King Cole by night singing in local cabarets.  Alva Nelson too, according to his bio, grew up with music.  He is the son of a Pentecostal minister, who one minute would be preaching the gospel, and the next be strumming his bass fiddle. It always sounds wonderful to me how people in the arts pass along their passions, such that a group of Mount Vernon youngsters are learning their cultural history as they perform melodic jazz themes using harmony and syncopation.  They will be singing a spiritual, “Wade in the Water,” the gospel “Oh Happy Day,” Big Band favorites like Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing,” some of what LaChanze calls the “girl group” music, one from Martha Reeves and the Vandellas called “Heat Wave,” and of course a medley from the Jackson Five, which includes “Rockin’ Robin.” Says LaChanze:  “I notice in communities today, there are so many distractions – the internet, various devices, television – everyone is watching but not participating.  Our kids need to participate and express themselves.  It builds their self esteem.”

 

LaChanze leads a rehearsal of the Westchester Performing Ensemble

 

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