For kids at Wilde Lake High School, it's assembly time and the singing is easy

Diva teaches a lesson in the arts

November 28, 2007|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the run

Kishna Davis strode onto the stage at the Jim Rouse Center for the Performing Arts in a long red gown with a deep neckline, dripping in jewelry and perched atop sparkly stiletto sandals. "You have a diva in the house," she announced, and the students at Wilde Lake High School roared.

Davis, a soprano who can sing in seven languages and performs around the world, downplayed her accomplishments when she told the audience of freshmen and sophomores yesterday that opera is not so different from television reality shows. In both cases, she said, people fall in love and people fight - though in operas they tend to kill each other.

"Opera is not that deep," she said. Then she gave the students a taste of her talent, launching into a scene from Carmen. More than a few jaws dropped in amazement.

Davis, who grew up in Columbia and graduated from Hammond High School in 1986, has been a featured performer with companies including the New York City Opera, the Baltimore Opera, the Berlin Philharmonic and the San Francisco National Symphony.

She's also dean of the Celebration School of the Arts, which offers music and dance classes and is affiliated with Celebration Church in Columbia.

The School of the Arts is one part of CITI, or Champions in Training Institute, which offers classes in arts, academics and athletics. The program, formerly known as Empowerment Academy, recently began reaching outside the church, offering classes in martial arts and music at Wilde Lake, starting this school year, said Tony Small, the executive director.

The classes are offered through the school's Bridges program, which provides after-school help, but students can take the classes without being in Bridges, said Robyn McDonald, who runs the program.

In fact, yesterday's performance was an advertisement to students, alerting them that the classes are available. "Today is just a taste of what you will get, if you participate in some of our programs," said Small, who played the piano during the performance.

CITI volunteers would like to add drama and dance classes after school, but they need more students in order to put on a show in the spring, McDonald said. "Kids might not know they have this opportunity," she said.

Also on stage during yesterday's performance were students from Wilde Lake's chorus, and several students from Kids LEAD, a troupe started by Small.

One performer, Tariq Al-Sabir, 14, drew sustained claps and cheers for his moving, mournful rendition of "Summertime" from George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess. Several Wilde Lake students also sang the same lines, one after the other, and then Davis delivered them, demonstrating the different ways artists can interpret the same lyrics.

Tariq was discovered after Small visited his school, St. Ignatius Loyola Academy in Baltimore, and asked students to audition, he said. "I tried out and I made it," he said. As a member of the six-person group, Tariq said, "we travel a tremendous amount. We've been all over the country."

He and another performer, Avery Bargasse, also can be heard in the opening credits of the HBO show The Wire.

Small, who lives in Columbia and is executive director of a theater workshop in New York, said he has known Davis for years, and the two had long wanted to start a program that would "bring world-class performing arts programs to kids, especially kids who might not otherwise be exposed to it."

Davis said she grew up singing in church and joined the high school chorus when she was a senior. She attended Morgan State University and then received a master's degree in music from the Juilliard Opera Center, part of the New York City school for the performing arts.

Her brother, Robbie Davis, is senior pastor of Celebration Church. Her sister, Allecia Davis, is coordinator for CITI and was on hand for yesterday's performance.

"It's mainly just to teach our young people that opera is fun," Allecia Davis said of the show.

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