Finding their voices

June 29, 2008|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

The nine youngsters flapped, twirled, and sang songs about bugs and their creepy personalities.

In a song about butterflies, one child donned antennae ears to portray a stinky bug, while the other eight children wore floor-length, sheer scarves to portray butterflies. When the music started, they did their best imitations of butterflies fluttering through the air.

"I chose the bugs theme because I knew it was something that the kids would really get into," said Joyful Sounds School of Music co-owner Sandy Pietrowicz, who is also piano and voice director. "We try to offer programs that allow people from birth to 100 a chance to make music and enjoy music. We believe that music is for everyone."

Pietrowicz is talking about a production called "BUGZ," which is the culmination of the first of three music theater camps being offered through the school in Forest Hill.

During the two-week-long camps, the children receive vocal coaching, attend acting workshops, design sets, create arts and crafts, and perform before a live audience.

The program is designed to help children find their voices, said Janis Katsu, a co-owner of Joyful Sounds.

"One of the major drawbacks of having a show like American Idol on television is that young children want to emulate the children they see on the show, and they don't know how," said Katsu, who earned a bachelor's degree in music education from Anderson University in 1976. "We try to help them learn to sing with gusto."

Started 12 years ago, Joyful Sounds offers private instrumental and vocal instruction, as well as group lessons to more than 600 students each year. Through programs that include the musical theater camps, instructors reach out to children as early as newborns, Katsu said.

"Music helps children get comfortable in their skin," she said. "We want to reach them at an early age to instill an early love of music."

Laura Pohlenz, 40, of Bel Air, who works as a music teacher at Magnolia Elementary School, agreed.

She began bringing her daughters, Lily, 9, and Mary, 5 to the school when they were babies, she said. She wanted to be the mother, not her daughter's music instructor, she said. When she heard about the program, she decided to give it a try.

"My girls get to do music with their peers," she said. "And they are allowed to explore self-expression with other children. The competitiveness of music is eliminated here. "

Pohlenz said her daughter Mary has become quite the performer since starting the program and has developed a new sense of confidence through music.

"She comes home and sings in the bathtub, and performs for the family," Pohlenz said. "She also calls her grandmother and sings her songs to her on the phone."

Mary, who is enrolled in the mini-camp musical theater program, demonstrated her talents when she sang a solo about fireflies last week for an audience.

"Firefly, Firefly, keeping me company," she sang, pronouncing each word just right. "Turn on your gentle glow..."

In addition to building voice skills, the camps help develop other talents as well, Katsu said.

The children learn to be creative on stage, do improvisation, and get comfortable in front of an audience, she said.

The musical theater camp for older children - ages 8 to 15 - began in 2005 with Schoolhouse Rock Jr. The program was such a tremendous hit that school officials wanted to find a venue that would allow the younger age groups a chance to perform.

For starters, last year some of the children under age 8 received parts in Annie Jr., said Katsu.

It was such a great success that the school kicked off the mini-camps last year.

"We wanted to do something to get the little ones in there," said Katsu, who earned a master's degree from Towson University in music education.

Held from 9 a.m. to noon, the mini-camps are scaled-down versions of the musical theater camps for older children.

Karen Beyer enrolled three of her four children - Colleen, 6, Nathan, 9, and Rachel, 10 - in the mini-camps last year because they offered her home-schooled youngsters a chance to socialize, she said. But the benefits reach far beyond socialization, said Beyer, 32, of Abingdon.

"This camp has done some amazing things for my children," she said. "They have more confidence, they aren't afraid to talk to people, and they work very well together now."

Future programs

* "Lemonade" - a mini-camp based on nursery rhyme characters. The program is being offered Monday through Friday, July 28-Aug. 9, from 9 a.m. to noon. The cost is $225.

* "Alice in Wonderland" - a musical theater program for children ages 8 to 15. The program is being offered Monday through Friday, July 28-Aug. 9, from 9 a.m. to noon. The cost is $450.

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