The Arts Are Marching On at MUSD

MUSD arts Achieving Central Valley Recognition

By Frédéric Martin, Editor-in-Chief

The 2018 Winter Showcase

During the Holidays, ambitious live musical, drama, and dance performances took place at the Warnors Theater, in Fresno, to celebrate Madera’s budding artists: The Winter Showcase featured over 400 MUSD students and was well attended, with far more parents in the ample theater seats than last year, enjoying the full display of talented young Madera students. This year, middle school Drama students proudly made all the announcements during the preshow. A demanding theatrical performance, with actors from both high schools’ drama programs dressed in period costumes, revealed the story of how Madera became a county, based on Bill Coate’s published article; the dialog was designed to take place during the set changes, between musical and dance performances. Another favorite, this year, educator Mariela Angulo’s folklore dance group performed again at the event, having expanded her roster to include male dancers.

Noteworthy Accomplishments

Madera Unified’s music departments are crushing it! A record seventeen students, from MUSD, auditioned and were included in the Fresno — Madera honor band and orchestra, and both groups performed at the Paul Shagoian Concert Hall at Clovis North High School in mid-January, starting an ambitious 2019 performance schedule.

Other Madera musician honorees include Aunika Bull and Noell Williams, students of Roger Harabedian, MSHS Choir Director, who were selected for the California Choral Directors Association Central Regional Honor Choir. Aunika Bull also made it to the All State Choir. The central region encompasses all the schools of central California from Bakersfield to Redding. They were chosen through a rigorous, competitive audition process. They had to perform a prepared solo piece, sing scales and triads. In addition, they were asked to execute tonal memory exercises they had not previously heard, and sight-read music they had not previously seen. Their scores were also used to decide the All-State Honor Choir, which is made by combining the best of all three regional honor choirs throughout California. Megan Patino, Kirstyn Olsen, and Diego Zarate-White direct a total of forty three students in the Middle School Honor Choir. This is a huge honor for these girls and for our choir!

Many more concerts are scheduled this year, including the pyramid bands in both high schools, the Purple Pyramid on April 11 at Madera South, and the Blue Pyramid on April 29 at Madera High, and the Howard Spring Concerts will take place on the Madera High campus because the program has outgrown the Howard school facilities. This year will also feature all the best musicians from MUSD’s elementary, middle schools, and high school musicians, with its Third Annual Honor Concert, with strings, orchestra, and bands, in the middle of May.

Other events in the arts include the Youth Arts Month in March, and the drama department will feature two productions from Madera South, “The Addams Family,” and from Madera High, “The Miracle Worker.”

The Beauty of Guitar Music

Madera Unified is lucky to have Sandra Kelly, music and guitar teacher at Madera South High School. Sandra launched a guitar curriculum, a few years ago, and her program has become one of the best performing groups in the Central Valley. A first for MUSD, Sandra Kelly’s class was selected to perform at the February California All-State Music Education Conference (CASMEC) in Fresno, February 14-17, 2019. The ambitious program included guitar favorites such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Bourrée, Yellow Bird, Ungala Wé, La Llorana, Manzanita, Feet in the Water, El Noi de la Mare, Sonata de Chiesa VIII, and much more.

Sandra has grown the guitar program from scratch into a significant class with thirty one students on the roster. Many of the students have truly blossomed into musicians and have discovered their dormant talent, passion for their instrument, and a  genuine camaraderie of the group. The group performed a beautiful and intricate arrangement of the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and La Rhumba Loca at the Winter Showcase in December. Their performances were very well received. Sandra teaches guitar all day to all the small groups and insists on their learning how to read music, so they can also be exposed to, and more importantly, interested in music theory. The students also generally perform altogether better in school, as they demonstrate and understand the need for dedication, rigor, discipline, and showmanship. The music program is expanding and will soon include a Mariachi component, including the guitarrón, vihuela, and all other traditional mariachi instruments; the program will eventually be available throughout the district levels, from elementary to high school.

Besides Sandra Kelly, another Madera educator was honored at the conference: Diego Zarate-White was selected as the outstanding elementary music instructor of the year, recognized at a banquet during the CASMEC event.

A Successful Music Instructor

In 2002, Sandra Kelly launched Madera’s high school guitar program, with a beginning band approach. With no music stands or funding available, she used overheard projectors to teach music, pointing to the notes on the wall. Sandra took on the challenge and took off with it, transforming a catch-all group of students into a dedicated, focused, and passionate ensemble of music lovers. Thanks to her success, guitars, strings, music stands, are now available to all the children who take her courses. The students’ repertoire ranges from baroque music, all the way to modern compositions, Latin music, music by locally renowned Fresno City College musician, guitarist, instructor, and composer Dr. Kevin Cooper. Just about all of Sandra’s kids stay with the program for the full four years, and the group has now grown to thirty one students. Last year, to her surprise, the Madera South guitar group won the Fresno City College competition, against long-established programs from schools such as Lindsay, Kerman, and Central guitar programs. The group also won Unanimous Superiors at the prestigious California Music Education Association’s orchestral festival.

Exposure to music can be truly transformative. A few years ago, one of Sandra Kelly’s students, Fernando Brahms, came to her class as a freshman. At the time, he was far more concerned with his family’s immediate economic viability than with his academic success; Fernando was a single child living with his struggling single mother, with little interest in the promise of education. He took up guitar playing, and it clicked. He stayed with the program all 4 years in high school. He is now going to college and working hard towards a career in music education. He is currently teaching in his local after-school program. He was the first guitarist to play at the memorial segment of his high school graduation ceremony, a new tradition started that day at Madera South High School, which now features a guitar soloist playing mournful music as the names of lost community members are respectfully announced. Fernando won Superior at the CMEA music festival and, upon receiving his award, insisted on giving his medal to his music mentor, Sandra Kelly. Fernando wanted to express his deep gratitude to his guitar instructor for introducing him to music, expanding his vision, his goals, and, above all, for believing in him.


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