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For the second straight year the Richmond Heights High School Choir blew away the competition during the Music Festival Competition, being named the Grand Champion Winners of the Big Apple Classic Choral Music Festival in New York City.

The choir performed April 27 at the competition that was held over two days at the College of Staten Island. It competed in six categories, earning a first-place superior rating in five: Concert Choir, Women’s Ensemble, Large Men’s Ensemble, Special Ensemble Madrigal Choir and Gospel Choir. In the category of Small Men’s Ensemble Sextet it earned a second-place rating.

Senior Tim Lowe received one of only two solo trophies given in the entire competition for his performance of “The Longest Time” and “Rock-A-My Soul.”

“The entire trip was exciting, enthralling and vigorous and to come back grand champions put the icing on the cake for us. It shows Richmond Heights kids are talented and can be put up against anybody and succeed,” said choral director, Anita Caswell.

The competition she spoke of included ten schools, which came from areas of Boston, St. Louis, South Carolina, New Jersey and more.

After being named grand champions of last year’s festival in Virginia Beach, Va., Caswell said this year’s choir had to compete against different competition and at a higher level.

Judging in the festival were representatives from Long Island College, the New York Opera Company and Rutgers University. The latter was overly impressed extending Caswell and her choir a special invitation.

“Their choral director invited us to come to Rutgers to perform during next year’s school term. They want us to come and show how a public school choir should look and sound,” said Caswell.

In addition to the competition, the students enjoyed other festivities and sightseeing adventures in the city.

They visited the Statue of Liberty, where, because of the lasting effects of Hurricane Sandy, they weren’t able to get off the ferry, but did sing the “Star Spangled Banner” on the boat at the shore.

They also toured Carnegie Hall and got to sing on its main stage. The visit was arranged by a former student of Caswell’s at Richmond Heights, Evan Fein, who is a doctoral candidate at Juilliard Performing Arts School. It was paid for by the Tender Hearts Crusade from Queens, which is organization that Obadiah Baker, a friend of Caswell’s from Richmond Heights Christian Assembly, is connected with.

At Long Island’s Zion Cathedral Church the choir performed for a women’s conference. Caswell said they were received beautifully.

Maybe most exciting for the students though was a trip to Broadway to see the musical “Wicked.”

“They were so glad to see it because we do so many musicals at the school.” Caswell said. “They all hugged me and thanked me for taking them. It was the highlight for me as well.”

This year’s choir includes 27 seniors but Caswell is not concerned about replacing their talents. Last year she said she had at least 20 seniors as well. She credits the longevity of the students staying in the choir program and wanting to learn under her guidance for the continued success the choirs have each year at the school.

“Everybody has been asking how we can top this next year but we still have room for improvement and we got a lot of suggestions from the judges,” Caswell said.

This week in film in Indianapolis we are spending our time at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (Yes we have award winning museums too!) watching features and shorts from filmmakers all over the world. Get your tickets for this weeks movies

If you missed our panel discussion with these fabulous filmmakers here’s a bit of a recap from our very own Film Indy Butler Intern, Caitlin:

Indiana Film Commissioner, Teresa Sabatine spoke at Indy Film Fest’s Filmmakers Panel, where directors, producers, and writers of festival films gathered together to discuss the filmmaking process.

Raising money for films is never easy. “I work two other jobs, so I don’t sleep,” said Obadiah Baker, executive producer of Something Blue, “But for me, that was a way to fund my film.”

The Narcissist’s director, writer, and actor Quincy Rose agreed. “I don’t make these films to make money, I make them for the opportunity to make the next film.” The spirit of Indie films is in the low budgets and tight time schedules. Quincy Rose added, “To keep the budget small, I only used four actors, a three-man crew, and filmed in five days.”

For Hoosier filmmakers, Indiana was featured a couple of times. “I wrote my film right after graduating DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, and the place is so inspiring I knew I wanted to film there and include all these beautiful Indiana towns,” said Henry Johnston, director of King Rat. Chatterbox director Daniel Arthur Jacobson agreed. “Even though I’ve been freelancing, I try to do at least one passion project a year. You walk in the Chatterbox in Indy and you know there’s history. I wanted to selfishly learn the story for myself.”

We Are EC: The Untold Story of East Chicago Basketballrevolves entirely around the multi-cultural city of East Chicago, Indiana. Director Tim Helfen said, “High school basketball is big in Indiana and East Chicago, which is up by Gary, has over 70 different nationalities represented. The players in the documentary say sports wasn’t the end for them, it was a means to college. Being in that town and on that team brings people together.” Teresa Sabatine added,

“People might think a small town in Indiana wouldn’t be able to get along with different types of people, but you flipped the story and showed how it really is.”

Whether from Indiana, New York, Texas, or Italy, all filmmakers agreed getting their film on the big screen was the most satisfying part of the process. The Indy Film Fest runs from now until July 23, see these films and more before it’s too late!

Live the Game is a short documentary showing how capoeira, the Afro-Brazilian martial art, is being used as an agent for social change among at-risk young people in Cleveland, Ohio.

The documentary follows the lives of Anthony Santo Domingo, capoeira instructor, and student Demetri Tye. Live the Game speaks to their difficult upbringings and how studying capoeira helped them to overcome a lifetime of social issues such as bullying and violence.

Through the martial art of capoeira, Anthony Santo Domingo has been teaching young people and adults to become confident, active, and engaged leaders.

Capoeira was developed as a form of self-defence by the African people in Brasil in the 16th Century. Capoeira incorporated diverse elements of African culture including dance, music, acrobatics and various fighting forms.

The African people who were enslaved by the Portuguese, were forced to create an effective and unknown fighting form both as a means of defence and a way to free them from slavery.

Once free, the African Brazilian people formed hidden communities called Quilombos in the deep forest of the north-east of Brasil. There they were able to develop the fighting skill which today is known as capoeira. From the Quilombos to the streets of Salvador, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Capoeira thrived as an expression of life and resistance.

Anthony Santo Domingo, who started training capoeira in 2002, leads the training sessions at Capoeira Brasil Cleveland (CBCLE). He teaches capoeira to provide a comprehensive capoeira program and to help build a positive community for at risk youth and adults.

El Sistema, you continue to play with my heartstrings.

I’ve written in the past about this gutsy and successful effort to save children through music. The El Sistema model, which originated in Venezuela and is now internationally acclaimed, shows how a rigorous, inspiring afterschool music program can change the livesof low-income kids. It provides intense, high-quality music training to children who can least afford it, and gives them the exposure, mentoring and life skills needed to navigate out of poverty.

On Friday, you could see the ever-growing reach of this program as close to 1,000 people walked into the Shrine Church of St. Stanislaus — in the rain — to hear the stirring sound of strings played by Slavic Village children in one of Cleveland’s two El Sistema programs.

I’m guessing you’ve never heard Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” played purely by violins and cellos?

Trust me, you would have enjoyed it. Guest composer Obadiah Baker, a Cleveland native, created a strings-only arrangement of the hit song that won over the schoolkids in the audience, prompting grins and nods of recognition.

Tiranay Campbell, a fifth-grader at St. StanislausSchool, is one of 51 youngsters participating in the four-day-a-week afterschool program sponsored by CityMusic Cleveland. “I like Mozart and Beethoven,” said Tiranay,a violinist recently accepted into the Cleveland School of the Arts music program.

But it’s especially fun to play a Michael Jackson song, she added.

Baker had a pointed reason for choosing “Beat It.”

The song, Baker told me, has a strong message for kids growing up amid urban violence:

“Subliminally, it encourages children to be responsible when confronted with peer pressure and to tell their bullies to beat it.”


It’s a fair June evening and Nehemiah Spencer sways stageside at Wade Oval Wednesday, clad in black-on-black Converse and a crew neck festooned with the familiar red curves of the Coca-Cola logo. Today’s theme is “Reggae Night,” and the assembled families are chatty and sporting Bob Marley T-shirts. Spencer has picked up a loose branch in each hand and moves his arms in easy rhythms, improvising a deft twirl of one wrist in time with the band. A few huddled couples smile at him from their blankets, unsure if he’s part of the show.

Spencer, a graduate of the Cleveland School of the Arts (CSA) and Juilliard, is now a company dancer with the Complexions Contemporary Ballet in New York City. The Glenville native is preparing for a new show with the company in Israel. So what’s he doing in Cleveland on a Wednesday night?

Spencer comes home every summer. In 2012, he founded the Nehemiah Project, a dance-intensive effort that provides affordable instruction to inner-city youth. Beyond typical lessons in technique, however, the program holds classes geared toward social justice, covering topics on everything from bullying prevention to race relations workshops.

“For example, I know that bullying is not just physical, but most of the time, there’s an aggression that needs to be let out, in some cases physically,” says Spencer. “I wanted people to realize that there are different ways you can use your body to allow yourself to feel liberated. That’s what dance basically does.”

Every year, the program tackles a new community initiative. One summer, the students created a showcase for nursing home patients, choosing the venue and choreographing the piece themselves. Last year, the group held an anti-bullying flash mob in Tower City, dancing to “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The Cleveland-based MadWerkz Studios filmed it, and created a documentary short that was shown at three film festivals, winning the “Audience Choice Award” at the ICE Film Festival in Dayton. For several summers, students have participated in diversity and community relations seminars hosted by the Shaker Heights High School Group on Race Relations and the Cleveland Police Department.

“We had our first student alumni of the The Nehemiah Project graduate from college just recently and that’s huge,” says Obadiah Baker, founder of Tender Hearts Crusades, the nonprofit that acts as the Project’s primary fiscal sponsor. “That’s the whole point – to give them the emotional tools they need to cope with the reality of life. We’re trying to build resiliency in at-risk youth, especially those that are in disadvantaged, underserved areas in America. We want to equip them with the tools they need to endure in any type of environment, especially because of their social position within American society.”

But on this summer night, the kids are at Wade Oval as part of a collaboration with Fresh Camp, an urban gardening and hip-hop recording program for Cleveland youth. They’ve created a modern dance piece to a song the Fresh Campers wrote and produced. The performance starts quietly, with four dancers stretching their arms into acute angles to a folk-inflected melody. Soon, the bass rises, and the Fresh Camp MCs enter, rapping “Everything is better when we work together!” while the dancers spin. By the end of the set, they’ve invited half of Wade Oval to join them onstage.

It’s more than Spencer ever hoped for. He started the program as a one-off after a conversation with his mother, Callie, lamenting the lack of affordable dance courses in Cleveland. Through CSA, he traveled to dance conferences across the country, but knew many of his peers didn’t have that opportunity. In the Nehemiah Project’s first year, he taught the classes himself and created a Kickstarter to pay for costumes. Soon, he’d raised $1,500. Five years, a number of Juilliard Summer Arts Grants and a fateful meeting with Baker later, and the Nehemiah Project is a rising force in Cleveland arts education.

For Spencer, the program is a tribute to his mother, who serves as a mentor and for many young dancers. When he founded the Nehemiah Project, he also established a scholarship fund for graduating CSA seniors and named it after her – the Callie E. Taylor Award.

“Programs like this are important, because they give students an alternative viewpoint on the reality that we live in, because we can live in a really scary place. But it doesn’t have to be, if people find something that they’re passionate about or something that scares them, and do it anyway.”

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