For Kerstyn Hammett, music is the force that has helped propel her toward graduation.
“It’s getting me across the stage in June,” the senior choir member from Independence High said. “It’s the blood in my veins.”
So the chance for her to perform with 15 choir and instrumental student groups from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools on the Belk Theater stage is an exciting one. The students are participating in the second annual Charlotte Concerts’ Musical Showcase in front of 2,000 people.
The 15 groups represent 14 elementary, middle and high schools and were chosen by nine people who are professional musicians and choral artists.
The prize per student group for being chosen: $500 and the opportunity to play on a professional stage. Each group will perform a six-minute number.
“I’m impressed with both the diversity of the student body and of the schools,” said Jim Babb, honorary chair of the Musical Showcase. “I think it says there is a lot of talent spread all over Charlotte. And it says to me that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are getting the job done.”
Babb spoke recently at the first and only practice for the showcase finale, a special rendition of “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers, assembled by Charlotte composer Alan Kaufman.
Only 45 students will be on stage for the final number — a necessity when over 550 students are participating in the full showcase, explained co-coordinators Mark Setzer and Linda Franzese.
Setzer and Franzese are retired CMS music teachers, and jumped at the opportunity to participate in the Musical Showcase when it began last year.
“These kids could be doing something else,” said Setzer. “They don’t have to be here. This is what’s good in America, and we need to celebrate that.”
The show was made possible last year through a challenge grant awarded by the Leon Levine Foundation. Charlotte Concerts Executive Director Diane Lumpkin said they had been speaking for years about having another opportunity to boast Charlotte’s best student musicians before the grant came through. This year’s funding is through several community and corporate sponsors.
She said the goal of the evening is to celebrate students who “feed their souls” through music and to honor the dedication they have.
“One group at Bailey Middle School in Cornelius, they come early to participate in this band,” Lumpkin said. “And River Gate Elementary stays after school. It’s not always even part of the curriculum, it’s a separate thing they do in the morning or afternoon.”
Ten-year-old Tinaya Hill from University Park Creative Arts Elementary School said she was excited to be able to sing with the big kids. “Choir is only for fourth and fifth-grade, and I couldn’t wait to join choir.”
For older students, it’s also a chance to learn more about the industry and what they could do with music after they graduate.
“I’m excited about it because I’ve never performed on such a large stage before,” said senior Donovan Teasley of Northwest School of the Arts, who will be playing trumpet with the school’s jazz band and in the finale number. “I can network with people who have been doing the things I want to do in the future.”
Last year, over 1,200 people attended the showcase, which was emceed by former Panthers player Jordan Gross. This year it will be Eugene Robinson, an ex-Panther and current co-host of WCNC’s Charlotte Today.
Robinson is also a former saxophone player and current high school coach at Charlotte Christian School.
“I hope they realize how powerful they are,” he said. “If they can do music, there’s nothing else they can’t do.”
When they’re not performing, student groups sit in the balcony to watch others perform, Lumpkin said, and last year they were the loudest cheering section.
“Seeing all the other people perform will be the best part,” said Hammett. “I’m always at home or school. I never get to see what kids outside my school are doing, so I'm excited to see the other kids play.”
Want to go?
A Musical Showcase will take place at 7 p.m. Monday at the Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St., Charlotte. Tickets range from $10 to $30 and can be purchased online at carolinatix.org or call (704) 372-1000.
The participating student groups:
Hawk Ridge Elementary School: The Hawk Winds
Providence High School: Chamber Choir and Chamber Orchestra
Bailey Middle School: 7th and 8th Grade Performing Band
Randolph Middle School: Ringing Raiders
David W. Butler High School: Percussion Ensemble
University Park Creative Arts Elementary School: Starts Chorus
Myers Park High School: Mixed Chamber Choir
Alexander Graham Middle School: 7th and 8th Grade Advanced Chorus
Northwest School of the Arts: Chamber Orchestra and High School Jazz Band
Crestdale Middle School: 8th Grade Band
Community House Middle School: Symphony Orchestra
River Gate Elementary School: Select Choir
Myers Park High School: TheMybers Park Winds
Independence High School: The Patriot Singers Chamber Choir