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'Hamilton' workshop inspires Groton Middle School students

Groton — Even during a pandemic, Groton Middle School students had an opportunity to learn from Broadway performers and will join their voices with students from across the country in singing “Hamilton” songs in a virtual choir.

About 60 Groton Middle School chorus students participated in a virtual “Hamilton” workshop earlier this month with current and original "Hamilton" cast members and Musical Director Ian Weinberger. The students sang along with Weinberger, listened to solos performed by Erin Elizabeth Clemons and Marc delaCruz, and learned choreography taught by Betsy Struxness.

After the workshop, the students recorded themselves performing a medley of songs on their own that will be compiled in a multi-student virtual choir that the students can share with family, friends and the school community.

Renee Celey, choral director at Groton Middle School, said the experience helped broaden the students’ horizons.

“I think any time a kid can be exposed to the arts is enrichment so by having this experience that is so recognizable all over the world it just gives them another layer to their education,” said Celey.

Before the workshop, Celey and Karen Mitchill, chorus and music teacher, taught the Groton students the music, with students practicing "Hamilton" songs at home on Google Classroom and then rehearsing together on Zoom, said Celey.

After learning a medley of "Hamilton" songs, the students next recorded themselves singing via the Seesaw app, said Celey. The teachers then submitted the recordings for the company that put on the workshop to create a video chorus with the about 600 students across the country who also participated in the workshop.

The "Hamilton Highlights" medley, arranged by Lisa DeSpain, features pieces of songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical such as "Alexander Hamilton," "My Shot," "The Schuyler Sisters,"  "You'll Be Back" and "The Room Where it Happens."

Celey said the students are very dedicated and took the time on their own to learn the medley because they love the music so much.

“They had to listen and they had to practice on their own a lot, and I think that gives them a sense of accomplishment,” she said.

Mitchill said the experience was inspiring and fun for the students, and they learned behind-the-scenes insight into what it’s like to perform on Broadway. She loved the advice given by Struxness who told the students when they go into an interview, to be their unique selves.

Mitchill said it was amazing for the students to connect with people across the country through their passion for music during the virtual workshop and they will have the virtual choir performance, once completed, to watch over and over and share with their friends and family.

“We really just wanted to do something special for them and give them some real world insight and do something special because this year has been so challenging,” added Mitchill.

Sixth grade student TJ Frickman said the experience was amazing and the students learned a lot.

“I never even thought in my wildest dreams I would get to meet them,” he said of the performers. While he said he wishes he got to meet them in person, it was still amazing because he got to see how talented they were.

The experience encouraged Frickman, who loves being in plays and singing, to keep up with singing for his whole life.

“I’m not going to forget it,” he said of the experience.

The workshop was held through Broadway Choral Workshops, which, prior to the pandemic, held a workshop for the past seven years to bring kids to Broadway for a workshop and then to see a matinee, said Pam Pariseau, executive director of PKN Broadway.

She thought a virtual workshop, followed by students self-recording themselves performing, would be an opportunity to help reignite students’ passion for choir and give them an opportunity to perform at a time when many performances have been canceled, while keeping them safe. Professional sound and video editors will compile the students’ submissions into one multi-student performance.

She said that she was so happy to see that theatre was still being made in some shape and form during the pandemic and to see the kids engaged doing it.

“It was so uplifting,” Pariseau said.

The funding for the middle school students to attend the workshop was available through a Magnet Schools Assistance Program grant, according to the school district.

Seventh grader John Lambert enjoyed meeting the cast members, learning what it was like for them to be on Broadway, and hearing them sing and help the students. He said the experience helped him with understanding notes, and how to learn songs in a short amount of time.

He thought it was cool to learn how singers pronounce certain letters in some songs and don't pronounce them in others, or sing some words louder and others quieter to change up the tempo and style.

“I just think it was very cool and I’m really happy I got to have this experience,” he said.

Seventh grader Coriana Lindeborg had a wonderful time and hopes one day to go to New York to see the cast in real life.

“It was such a wonderful and a life changing experience,” she wrote in a letter about her experience. “I’ve always wanted to meet the 'Hamilton' cast and my dream came true.”

k.drelich@theday.com

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