Rising stars at Charter Tech

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SOMERS POINT--For all of their flash and dazzle and promise of instant fame and fortune, TV shows like American Idol are no sure-fire path to a career in the performing arts industry.

Charter Tech High School for the Performing Arts in Somers Point can make no guarantees either, but offers a far smoother start on that creative journey.

Charter Tech is a tuition-free, public school providing students with the quality of a private school education while developing their intrinsic discipline in the pursuit of their performing art.

"It's an amazing place," said Lew London, artistic coordinator for Charter Tech and a longtime professional musician. "It's all about the performing arts, with classes taught by industry professionals. I've had professional musician friends come up to me and say they wish they could have gone to a high school like this. It would have given them a foundation and a step-up in the business."

London said that Charter Tech graduates have gone forward with careers in the industry as songwriters and sound engineers in Nashville recording studios.

"The goal is for every student to become a complete musician during their four years at Charter Tech," London said.

And there are many opportunities for students to perform, as well as learn and work with consummate professionals.

Last month, Charter Tech instrumental and vocal students had the opportunity to have a Master Class from singer/songwriter Peter Mayer, lead guitarist for the Jimmy Buffet Band for the last 23 years, and Scott Kirby, a singer/songwriter from Key West, Fla.

Mayer and Kirby, longtime friends and bandmates of London, spoke to the students about their experiences in the music industry, both the ups and downs, and how things have changed in the recording industry. Mayer and Kirby also performed several songs.

Charter Tech students choose from one of five artistic majors, which include:

  • Vocal Music, in which students study vocal technique, intonation, interpretation and musicianship, music theory, musical literature, performance techniques, and sight-singing. There are several performance groups for the students to participate in, ranging from a full concert choir to individual gospel and chamber ensembles. The Vocal Department sings in events throughout the community and has performed as backup choirs for internationally known singers such as Josh Groban, Michael Crawford and the Turtle Island String Quartet. In addition, a select group of students participates each year in the Masterworks Choir Series at Carnegie Hall.
  • Instrumental music, which includes performance, music theory and audio-technology. Students have the opportunity to perform in the fall and spring showcases and work together on duets, small chamber groups and larger full group rehearsals.
  • Dance, which includes studies in ballet, modern, and jazz techniques. Guest artists visit the dance department to teach master classes throughout the year. The dancers have the opportunity to take trips to New York and Philadelphia to see Broadway musicals and visit professional dance companies.
  • TV/Film Animation. Students in the Film/TV department are exposed to a wide arena of digital media including film, TV broadcasting, animated film, film editing, and directing. Film students have opportunities to participate in professional shoots with directors, producers, actors, sound and camera men.

The newest major at Charter Tech is Musical Theatre, which includes the three major elements of musical theatre – acting, voice, and dance - along with technical theatre and the history of theatre. A student in the Musical Theatre major will be individually challenged in preparation for advanced studies in college as well as for a professional career in musical theatre.

Phyllis London, Charter Tech's office manager and wife of Lew London, said the approach to theatre is unique to the area and designed for the “triple-threat” performer (one who can act, dance and sing).  Master classes are offered throughout the year and there are several advanced learning trips that include Broadway in New York City and the Philadelphia area.

Charter Tech students also have regular class requirements in math, science and language arts, "which actually motivates them to do well in their major," Lew London said.

The Vocal department at Charter Tech will present Coffee House Cabaret starting at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25 sponsored by Dunkin’ Donuts. All performances will be original material that is written, arranged and performed by students.

The Coffee House Cabaret was created to showcase the next generation of singer/songwriters, according to Phyllis London.

"As more and more students began writing original songs, it became clear that we needed a performance dedicated solely to these rising talents," she said. "Since the music is acoustic, the coffee house setting seemed perfect. The students write across the genres - there is a little bit of everything. The students have added additional instrumentation and arranged backup vocals for many of the songs."

The Coffee House Cabaret promises to be an exceptional and unique showcase of original music. Free refreshments will be provided by Dunkin’ Donuts.

"The cabaret came about because a lot of the kids had all of this original music, and they all worked together on it and developed that camaraderie," Phyllis London said. "So it's really a unique opportunity for the kids."

For additional information about Charter Tech High School for the Performing Arts visit the school website www.chartertech.org or call (609) 926-7694.

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