Student singers, dancers share music as Offbeats


December 08, 1997|By Lisa Breslin | Lisa Breslin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WALK THE HALLS at Charles Carroll Elementary School on any Tuesday, and you'll hear young voices singing.

Listen closely, and you'll hear another young voice -- that of their director, Eric James. He has voluntarily organized a singing group called the Offbeats at the Silver Run school, where his mother has taught for 22 years.

Eric, 17, a senior at Francis Scott Key High School in Uniontown, grew up hearing about school budget cuts and fallen arts and choral programs.

He saw a need for more music programs in elementary schools and decided to pull together this singing-dancing group not only to fill the void, but also to share his love of music. Fifteen students, ranging in age from 8 to 11, are singing, dancing, learning and loving every minute of it.

"I like the songs and being with other kids my age," said fifth-grader Ryan Haines. "The choreography is good too."

"I like singing with my friends, and [Eric] is nice, and he sings good," said Offbeat member Brittney Hoover.

The Offbeats gave their premiere performance at the American Legion Hall in Taneytown last week. Decked in glittering green vests and nervous perspiration, they sang for a packed house.

Throughout the performance, they kept their eyes on Eric. With polished perfection, he directed the group: "Hold this note; close the 't' sound at the end of those words; sing a little louder, and smile."

"It is neat that a kid that age sees a need and fills it," said Joann Benson, vocal music director at Charles Carroll Elementary School. "He has been a wonderful role model for the fifth-graders who will soon go to middle school and wonder, 'What am I going to be like?' James is the kind of guy I'd like them to be."

Eric has loved music since he could utter "do-re-mi." He sings everywhere. From room to room, from meal to meal, he sings. When he was in the third grade, he joined the Carroll County Children's Chorus. He is in the Show Choir and Concert Choir at his high school and has participated in the Maryland All-State Chorus for several years.

Eric also sings in the choir at Messiah United Methodist Church in Taneytown, where he directed the children's choir for a year.

"It is so fun to watch children get excited about the discovery that music is much more than notes on a page," he said. "These kids [at Charles Carroll] work as hard as the high school students in the Show Choir."

Eric recruited Alison Kniss, also a senior at Key High School, to accompany the group. She helps Eric pick musical arrangements, choreograph songs, coach students and book performances. They are scouting at the high school for potential successors.

"I want the Offbeats to be a lasting tradition," Eric said. "The joy that this group shares singing is unsurpassable."

Dental gift

Dr. Daniel Stewart of Columbia recently donated his time and office to screen Head Start children from Carroll County.

Stewart spent one morning examining young children and educating their parents about the importance of good teeth and gum care.

For many of the 3- and 4-year-olds, the examination was their first experience with a dentist. His gentle nature coaxed even the most reluctant students to open up.

Later that day, Pizza Hut on Route 108 and Stewart provided a pizza party for the Head Start children and their parents. Smiles prevailed. Thanks, Dr. Stewart.

Book signing

In a long line that snaked through the halls of the Winchester Exchange in Westminster, more than 100 people waited patiently Nov. 30 for Linda Fisher to sign copies of her book about her life, "The Muffin Lady."

Fisher, dressed in her Sunday finest, signed, chatted and thanked her fans.

"I hope people know that I am still supporting my business -- it is not supporting me," she told them.

The signing at Locust Books was scheduled from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.; however, Fisher signed for four hours without a break, personalizing every copy and promising to sign a pile of books left by people when the store closed.

"This is by far the largest turnout for a book signing here in the last 18 years," said Tim Bryson, owner of Locust Books.

"She is a hero to a lot of people, and they want to contribute to her potential success."

Bryson said 300 copies of "The Muffin Lady" have been sold at the store. That reflects not only the book-signing sales, but also books previously reserved.

So eager were Fisher's fans to contribute to her success that one woman expressed concern about the bookstore's 20

percent holiday discount.

"I assured everyone that Linda's commission is based on the $18 list price. But that shows you how much people want to contribute to her climb out of poverty," Bryson said.

Lisa Breslin's Central neighbors column appears every Monday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

Pub Date: 12/08/97

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