Fine arts program gives youths a (singing) voice

April 16, 1995|By Karin Remesch | Karin Remesch,Contributing Writer

Leann Woodson would never have dreamed of standing on a stage and singing a solo.

And if anyone had said she would be able to write a song, she said, she would have laughed out loud.

But Friday evening, 14-year-old Leann and a group of her friends will not only be performing two songs they wrote, but will be opening for a national act -- 4 P.M. (For Positive Music), the Havre de Grace quartet whose remake of the classic hit single "Sukiyaki" climbed into the Top 10 of Billboard magazine's Hot 100 Singles in January.

Leann and her friends are part of an after-school fine arts programthat is being sponsored by St. Patrick's Church in Havre de Grace to help boost young people's self-esteem.

The two shows Friday night with 4 P.M. will help raise money for the arts group and Havre de Grace High School, where the event will take place at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.

During a recent rehearsal, Leann shyly looked at the lights above the stage and softly sang, "If you want to be somebody, if you want to go somewhere, you better wake up and pay attention."

She was surrounded by eight teen-age friends who snapped their fingers, hummed and tapped their feet to the rhythm. They joined in harmony, and suddenly all voices were clear and strong, their faces reflecting the feelings in the song. Then the spell was broken -- Leann giggled and the other girls burst out laughing and hugged each other.

"I'm nervous, but also excited," Leann said. "Two-thousand people will be staring at us. What if we fall apart?"

She was quickly reassured by one of her singing partners, Tashonia Dennison: "We won't fall apart. Maybe we'll get discovered and make some money."

The singers took their positions on stage and tried again. This time they made it through the song.

"They still need practice, but they have come a long way and are not far from doing a bang-up job," said Robert Griffin, 45, executive director of the Fine Arts Program. "They will be opening up for some heavyweight professional people and learn quickly what it takes to do something in a professional manner."

The concert came about through a fluke.

"I told the girls that one day they'd be good enough to sing with P.M., and the very next day Bobby Pena [a member of 4 P.M.] moved in next door to me, and I approached him with the idea for a concert," Mr. Griffin said. "Everything just fell into place after that."

The members of 4 P.M. -- Mr. Pena, his brother Ray, Larry McFarland and Marty Ware -- are delighted that they can help a worthwhile cause before embarking on national tour April 24.

"We needed a place to rehearse, and at the same time we can help raise money for the arts group and the school. We're just glad we can give something back to the community," said Mr. Ware, a Havre de Grace High School graduate. "The concert will be our dress rehearsal for the tour."

Helping young people is part of the group's philosophy. The singers say they have a responsibility to the youths who listen to their music and that they hope to influence them on a positive note with their songs.

"That's exactly what we are trying to accomplish with the arts program," Mr. Griffin said. "We want to use the arts as a positive influence on the kids."

The first verse of the song the girls will be performing came to Leann on Thanksgiving Day, two months after she started attending the fine arts program for three hours every day after school.

In that short time, Leann said, she had already discovered that if she wanted to succeed in life, she had to pay attention and work hard.

Leann wrote the first verse of the song, and the rest of the group added verses two and three.

Aimed at middle and high school students who might be struggling with the pressures of adolescence, the fine arts program was started in September by the Rev. Paul J. Henry, pastor of St. Patrick's Catholic Church on Congress Avenue in Havre de Grace.

"Too many kids today have a sense of hopelessness, an overall depressive attitude. . . . They don't see a future," Father Henry said. "We want to reach out to those kids, foster growth, make them feel betterabout themselves and give them a sense of accomplishment."

Students are recommended for the program by their teachers.

There are few rules and conditions for what Father Henry calls his "structured unstructured" arts program, which is being offered in 13-week increments that parallel school semesters.

The only expectations are a commitment from the students for each 13-week session, punctuality and keeping up their grades.

Since September, the students have been given acting and songwriting lessons, taken ballet classes, produced an 80-minute video and gone on field trips to the theater and Baltimore.

And they have become the envy of their classmates.

"At first, our friends thought it was corny to come here every day," said Trineesa Thurston, 15, a student at Harford Technical High School. "But now they wish they could be part of the group."

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