300 voices fill theatre with song

Around 300 children from St Joseph’s Narrandera and St Joseph’s Leeton came together to give a concert on Tuesday night at the CRC Hall. Here, the students are in mid-practice, conducted by an ASPA educator.

A huge concert by the children of St Joseph’s Narrandera and St Joseph’s Leeton which was the culmination of the ASPA Education program was held at the CRC Plaza Theatre in Narrandera on Tuesday night.

ASPA Education is a subsidiary of the Australian School of Performing Arts and for the last eight weeks students from years three to six have been learning a program through ASPA.

“They’ve had four sessions with the ASPA education team,” explained Production Coordinator from the Australian School of Performing Arts and ASPA educator Jane Hennessy at the rehearsal on Tuesday morning.

“Each week the ASPA delivery team come and run a 75 minute performing arts crazy session with them and in the following week their teachers either revise or run that session.

“It’s as much about building the teacher’s skills as it is about working with the children. By the end of the program they’ve had eight sessions; four with the ASPA team and four with their teachers.

“This concert is the outcome and their parents can come and see what they’ve been doing.”

The students learnt individual acts within their groups as well as a few items to perform together.

“Each stage learnt their own song, and there’s a big opening, which is Tim Minchin’s “When I Grow Up” from the Matilda musical, and the big finale which is “Brand New Day” from the musical The Whizz. There are two choreographed dances that they do together,” said Ms Hennessy.

“It’s just all these voices coming together. There are about 300 kids on that stage right now. The first time they all sang you could see them look stunned – that’s what 300 voices sounds like, we did that.”

The performing arts program is designed to try to engage children in ways they may not have access to in the classroom.

“The thing about the program is it’s designed to use performing arts to develop presentation, confidence, eloquence, and confidence in this kind of environment,” Ms Hennessy said.

“One of the students is speaking about becoming braver on stage, that’s her script. She actually suffers from anxiety. Her parents don’t know that’s she’s delivering a speech tonight for the first time on microphone. Not just in front of her school, but in front of her entire community. This is the power of the program.

“For a lot of these students who aren’t excelling in their written studies, some of them will find some sort of spark in them, and this is where they belong, this is their strength.

“It’s something about tapping into their humanity as well. It makes them kinder, more empathetic. It speaks to both sides of the brain. They learn to work as a team.

“This is an engagement program. People who are told at this age that they can’t sing carry that around for the rest of their lives. All these kids are giving it a go. Everybody can sing, given the right training and encouragement, and that’s what ASPA bases their entire education program on.”

That said, corralling 300 primary children takes a particular kind of classroom management.

“ASPA Education came out of the Australian School of Performing Arts, which is the home of the Australian Girls Choir. Most staff have either been choristers with the Australian Girls Choir or are currently tutors with the Australian Girls Choir, and we’ve been around for 34 years,” Ms Hennessy said.

“We’re very well practised at a dynamic, energetic and positive reinforcement style of communication and classroom management. You’ll rarely hear us say no, or don’t; we’ll find the kid that’s doing the right thing, heap praise on him or her and everyone else learns what the expectations are and rises to the occasion.”

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