Putting art and soul into it

Celebration of the Arts event culminates with talent contest

April 26, 2006|By SANDY ALEXANDER | SANDY ALEXANDER,SUN REPORTER

A graceful ballerina in a pink tutu, a vocalist playing to the crowd in a red dress and heels, an opera singer, two cellists, an oboist and several others brought their talents to Jim Rouse stage for the Howard County Arts Council's annual gala.

But Korey Jackson's charismatic rendition of "Make Them Hear You," from the musical Ragtime, by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, won the audience's hearts -- and their votes -- making him the recipient of the $5,000 Rising Star Award.

"It is a piece from a show that I hold close to me," said Jackson, 26, who grew up in Elkridge and is pursuing a career in musical theater in New York. "Besides being a powerful message, I think it shows off some of my abilities in the best light."

The Celebration of the Arts has been the annual fundraiser for the arts council for nine years, raising $561,000 before Saturday's event.

The council, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, has grown from a small group of advocates passing the hat in one family's living room to an organization that awards $320,000 in grants and runs the Howard County Center for the Arts among other projects.

The Rising Star competition has been part of the gala for four years. This year was the first time the council also awarded monetary prizes for second and third places.

Caleb Jones, 20, who played an original, modern composition on cello, earned $2,500 for receiving the second-highest number of votes.

Jones, who attended Long Reach High School and studies at Peabody Institute, said, "I was trying to do something on the cello that people haven't heard."

Alex Brown, 19, who played on piano his arrangement of the jazz tune "Alone Together" by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz, was awarded $1,000 for third place.

A fixture in the Howard County art scene since he was in middle school, the Wilde Lake High School graduate is a student at the New England Conservatory in Boston. He said his goal is to help bring jazz "back to life."

Other contestants said they had dreams to make recordings, teach performing arts, and, in the words of singer Karen Zizzi, "to be on stage somewhere, someday."

The contest is intended to give some of those dreams a boost while offering an entertaining evening for the audience, which gets to vote for the winners.

Each contestant had to be between the ages of 18 and 35 and have lived, worked, performed regularly or trained in Howard County at some point.

The competition included an original modern dance piece by Mandi Davidson and classical ballet performed by Jill May. Katherine Needleman played classical oboe and Kacy Clopton played classical cello. Zizzi sang an opera selection while Janine Gulisano and J.P. Gulla chose musical theater tunes.

Jackson said he was in every play and musical during his four years at Howard High School and got his first professional experience at Toby's Dinner Theatre in Columbia. He studied music education at Penn State and has performed off-Broadway in New York and in productions in Tennessee, Arkansas and Vermont.

He said the prize can help him continue to pursue training, market himself and seek out more roles in New York and elsewhere.

"In this competitive environment, it's a slow process," he said. "Every audition, every show, every opportunity is a learning experience."

As the votes were tabulated, the audience was treated to an unexpected lip-synching performance of "Soul Man" in the style of the Blues Brothers, featuring County Executive James N. Robey on air guitar, Jim Lewis and Richard Imbach on vocals and "trumpeters" Vic Broccolino, Robert Vaccaro and James Hampson.

The group, which has appeared in public seven times in the past 22 years, reunited in honor of the council's 25th anniversary, Broccolino said.

The council also gave out three "Howie" awards to long-standing members of the local arts community.

Steven A. Gershman was honored as outstanding community supporter of the arts. The accountant has been a board member for the arts council and other organizations and a skilled fundraiser. He joked that his attempts at the arts convinced him that he should "stick to playing the numbers on the calculator."

Outstanding arts educator Barry P. Enzman was in South Carolina at a band competition fulfilling his role as director of bands for Glenelg High School. In a taped speech, he said despite having to chaperone mischievous high-schoolers, "I love what I do. I've really found my niche."

Ceramic artist Tatiana, of Glenelg, was honored as outstanding artist.

She said she was one of the "pioneers" who came to Columbia "because it held a vision of a better America. ... My hope is that the original spirit of Columbia be passed on to the next generation."

The evening began with food from more than 20 Howard County restaurants and catering companies.

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