“Is anybody having fun right now?” Glen McDaniel asked a group of kids in a classroom on Friday night well after the school day ended. “I can’t tell.”
The dozen students in grades six through 12 were there by choice, but perhaps more intensely focused than usual after being selected by an instructor from a large group of Juneau Alaska Music Matters (JAMM) alumni to perform part of the grand finale the following night during the fall Juneau Jazz & Classics festival. It was the first concert of the school year for JAMM, a tuition-free program featuring during and after-school activities for a reported 500 local students.
Friday’s gathering at Sitʼ Eeti Shaanáx̱ Glacier Valley Elementary School with McDaniel and the two other members of Simply Three, a nationally acclaimed classical crossover string trio, was a chance for the youths to get tips from the pros before both took the stage for their respective shows Saturday at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé.
First, before appealing the audience with music, was appealing to them with a positive stage presence, McDaniel urged.
“Get into the habit,” McDaniel said. “Look around — these are your friends, your audience. Smile. Let’s have fun.”
The students — rehearsing a 30-minute set of classical music and standards— also got tips on making the “joke” ending to a jig more humorous, making the abrupt lyrical notes of a waltz glide smoother and keeping proper time when they tangoed. And to never, ever get discouraged about making a mistake the audience almost certainly won’t notice.
Arlo Carlton, 12, who among the alumni students showed the least amount of stage fright with his constant jokes and quips during the workshop afterward, said the main lesson he picked up from the pros was about vibrancy rather than virtuosity.
“Surprise the audience with our creativity and reach the audience with our power,” he said.
Tips on playing techniques for the tunes proved helpful for Maelee Lawrence, 10, a cellist who’s been in the JAMM program for four years. She said she’s played on bigger stages such as JDHS (and been a dancer for productions there such as “The Nutcracker”) and done workshops with pros, but the set for Saturday’s show still posed challenges.
“It’s pretty hard because I’m used to slower songs,” she said.
The students took the stage at JDHS as a near-capacity crowd began streaming in through the auditorium doors. Among the listeners were about 200 students in the JAMM program provided free passes for the evening’s concerts. The members of Simply Three, giving thanks to the alumni students for contributing to an “incredibly energetic evening,” also said afterward in a post on the band’s Facebook page the reaction from the youths in the audience was cause for applause.
“As one eight-year-old noted, ’Simply Three is simply awesome,’” the band wrote. “Such a great night of music and wonderful to see so many kids in the audience enjoying the show.”