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Arts Academy vocalists to perform at Radio City

Start spreading the news … the eighth grade vocal primary students of Arts Academy Charter MS, Allentown, will be part of a storied New York City Christmas tradition this year, as they gear up to perform before The Christmas Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes Dec. 20 at Radio City Music Hall.

The Rockettes’ Christmas show, first presented in 1933, is a hallmark of Christmas in New York, and this year students from the school at 1610 East Emmaus Avenue will be part of the festivities.

“This is the opportunity of a lifetime,” AACMS Principal William Cecchini said. “Some students wouldn’t have had the chance to go to New York City and experience what they’re going to experience.”

Students submitted an audition video, and were selected from middle and high school students across the East coast.

“This is extra special with them because they are all younger middle school students performing at such a higher level,” Theo Loupos, the school’s community outreach liaison, said. “Our vocal students have been practicing intensely to be prepared for the performance.”

The school decided to make it a full day for the entire eighth grade, so students and eighth-grade staff will join the vocal students in the Big Apple.

The day will begin by leaving the Salisbury Township school at 6 a.m. and arriving in New York City between 9 and 9:30 a.m. While vocal students practice, the other eighth graders will take a tour of Radio City. The vocal students will perform at 10:45 a.m., then all will enjoy watching the Christmas Spectacular.

After lunch, students in each art will be having a different experience to enhance their academic art.

The vocal students will have a performance window of four minutes to present the Pentatonix version of “Hallelujah.” Pentatonix is an American a cappella group.

“The kids are very excited about performing the Pentatonix version,” Emily McManaman, AACMS vocal director and piano instructor, said. “I reworked it and made it doable for them.”

The students performing are all vocal primary students, meaning they spend most of their time – three hours per day – on vocal, with the rest of the day filled with academic studies. In contrast, sixth and seventh graders spend four days of the six day cycle focusing on their primary art.

Cecchini explained the six-day cycle is ongoing. “If Monday through Friday is days one to five, the next week begins with six and then one to four, and the following week is five, six, one, two and three.” This allows students to never miss a day when school is closed for a holiday on a Monday.

Reign Jodun-Allah and Lily Suero are two of the eighth-grade vocal primary students bursting with enthusiasm for the Radio City experience.

“It’s an amazing class. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to perform,” Jodun-Allah said. “I’m nervous, but it’s an amazing opportunity.”

Suero is very excited as well, and voiced appreciation for the support students receive from each other. “If someone is nervous, the others will support you and say, “You got this.”

There are multiple solos in the performance. Soloists are Jaiden Ortiz, Juan Rivera, Hailey Catricola and Lily Suero. Soloist understudies are Avery Hill Richards, Reign Jodun-Allah and Hailey Catricola.

“All the students were so enthusiastic to do a solo, it was difficult to make a choice,” McManaman said.

Jodun-Allah and Suero want to go into music as a career, and both have applied to Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts in Southside Bethlehem. The audition prep class that is part of their curriculum at AACMS is helping them prepare for their upcoming auditions for the high school.

McManaman, who is a first year teacher at AACMS, is a 2017 graduate of the high school.

Jodun-Allah and Suero enjoyed Open Mic Night at the school on Nov. 16, where any student could perform. “Performance isn’t restricted to your art – for example, dancers can sing,” Suero said.

Like many AACMS students and teachers, Jodun-Allah and Suero are active in performing outside of school. Jodun-Allah portrayed Alice, the mother-in-law, in The Addams Family Musical this November at the Jewish Community Center of the Lehigh Valley, Allentown. Suero takes voice lessons and performs at Open Mic Night at SteelStacks. Many teachers perform outside of school in different venues.

McManaman said the AACMS course includes music theory, offers rhythm games and “learning about different singers and their backgrounds, such as Elvis Presley and Ella Fitzgerald.” They learn about posture, how to project your voice, and vocal techniques.

“We want to get their name out there in a positive light, and we do that through performance,” McManaman said. “We want people to see how incredible these kids are.”

One of the upcoming opportunities people have to see the students in action will be at Arts Academy Night at the Lehigh Valley Phantoms Dec. 13 at the PPL Center, Allentown. AACMS receives $5 for every $20 ticket the school sells – tickets are available for purchase on the school website. Students will perform The national anthem and God Bless America at the game, which begins at 7 p.m. Solos will be performed by vocal and instrumental students before the game in the main concourse.

“Students working together lift each other up when they perform,” McManaman said, highlighting the vocal and instrumental students performing at the Lehigh Valley Phantoms game. “We want to get them out there performing and show them what we’ve got.”

The school will hold a Music Department Coffee House Dec. 15. In addition, vocalists will perform at Christkindlmarkt at 11 a.m. Dec. 1; dancers will perform at the Easton Winter Village Dec. 3; vocalists will perform on 69 News At Sunrise on WFMZ-TV Dec. 7; instrumentalists will perform at the Live Advent Calendar in historic Downtown Bethlehem Dec. 9; and vocalists will perform at Wind Creek Casino Dec. 12.

“The kids are truly excited about this opportunity in New York City. I’m very proud of them, they’ve worked so hard,” McManaman said, noting they even practiced a day that she was out ill.

Loupos gave kudos to McManaman as well, noting, “They do it for the teacher.”

“The teachers are here for their passion for the kids and the arts,” Cecchini said. “The teachers are developing programs that have never been here before.” The school opened in August 2012.

“It’s fun coming to work every day. They keep me on my toes, but its fun,” McManaman said.

Jodun-Allah expressed her enthusiasm for AACMS as well, noting she likes being with her friends and learning new things. “There’s always something exciting going on at school.”

Loupos said the arts school is not just in the classroom, but outside the classroom too, such as going to performances at Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University and at Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown, which offers students free tickets to all performances.

Lydia White began assisting McManaman during primary class this year and is already a big fan of the school and its students. White, who assists most weeks on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, will be codirecting on the Radio City trip and offering her full support for students.

“I’m very excited for them – they’ve grown so much since the school year started,” White said of the vocal primary students. “They are so talented and I’m happy for them.

“When they hit the harmony really well and put all the vocal parts together they are building together a beautiful art piece.

“Seeing the joy on their faces makes it all worth it,” White said.

White explained Loupos was her seventh grade English teacher at East Hills Middle School and reached out to her “to help the kids and give them my real world experience in music.”

And she arranges a cappella music, “which is mainly what the kids do.”

White - who has a full-time job, is in graduate school and just got married in September - writes, produces and records music.

“I typically do Christian music of different genres,” White said. Her single, “Joy of the Lord,” is available under Lydia Joy on all streaming platforms and can be viewed on You Tubeyoutube.com/watch?v=dMSoVYYTe70.

White, a Freedom graduate, noted she participated in Harmonium at East Hills, through which she would sing and perform. “It was very similar to what they have in a charter school,” she said.

“I want them to have fun out of producing beautiful music,” White said of the AACMS students. “I want them to have great joy doing what they love.”

Loupos said the New York City trip is an expensive one, and though students are asked to contribute to the trip financially, “we are still left with a huge expense.”

“We have been doing an incredible amount of fundraising and are continuing to do so.”

Each month the school has been selling Candygrams, where students and parents can send a treat and a message to someone at the school. September was “Apple of My Eye,” October was “No Tricks, Just Treats,” November is “I’m Thankful for You” Turkeygrams, and December will be “Happy Holiday” Candy Cane Grams.

AACMS has also had Dine to Donate, car wash, community movie night and basket raffle and sold pickles. They recently sold 91 buckets at a cookie dough sale, and sold apple dumplings from The Farm (formerly Meyer’s Family Restaurant) in Quakertown. Everything can be purchased from the school’s website.

They are also having a December lottery calendar fundraiser where you receive a calendar and a three-digit number. If your number matches the evening daily number, you win the amount listed on that day. The cost of each calendar is $10, and they will be sold online until Nov. 30.

Frozen Night will take center stage at the school Dec. 14. The evening will include a screening of the movie Frozen with visits from Elsa, Anna, Olaf and Santa Claus along with food, games and crafts.

AACMS is appealing to local businesses to reach out and help them achieve their goal. “We are either asking for sponsorships from businesses, and in turn will promote them on our social media, including our website, or services in kind or donations toward student activities,” Loupos said.

“We are reaching out to businesses and churches and anyone willing to support the arts,” Cecchini said. “Any financial support the community can give is always welcome,” Cecchini said.

“The purpose of the charter arts school is to give kids an expanded exposure of their

artistic abilities, and we are seeking additional events and opportunities for this expanded scope,” Loupos said.

“We are seeking support and additional help to expand their horizons beyond the classroom,” Loupos said, noting the school is open to all students, from all school districts.

“We are incubating the arts.”

For more information visitarts-cs.org/; for information on financial donations email Cecchini wcecchini@arts-cs.org; and keep up to date on student’s activities on Facebookfacebook.com/ArtsAcademyCMS and Instagraminstagram.com/artsacademycms/.

Press photos by Tami Quigley Taking a break from rehearsing the Pentatonix version of “Hallelujah” at Arts Academy Charter Middle School, Allentown Nov. 10 are, from left, front, Emily McManaman, vocal director and piano instructor, and eighth grade vocal primary students Tigerlili Thomas, Reign Jodun-Allah, Miana Hadlock and Juan Rivera; second row, Nyrie Washburn, Lily Suero, Hailey Catricola and Catherine Marroquin; third row, Avery Hill Richards and Jaiden Ortiz. They will perform the song Dec. 20 before The Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes Dec. 20 at Radio City Music Hall, New York City.
Students practice their a cappella version of “Hallelujah” while rehearsing at the school.
Chatting about the upcoming performance at Radio City are, from left, Reign Jodun-Allah, Emily McManaman and Lily Suero.