May 052017

McDonogh 35 Gospel Choir energizes the crowd gathered under the Gospel Tent at Jazz Fest on Thursday (Claire Byun).

By Claire Byun

A slew of local schools showed off their skills to crowds at Jazz Fest on Thursday, ranging from Gospel choirs to circus acrobatics. Through the chilly wind and dark clouds, students wowed crowds with their talent and athleticism.

Performances from other schools are scheduled throughout the remainder of Jazz Fest. You can check the full festival schedule online.

Lake Area High brings the crowd to their feet

Lake Area New Tech Early College High School, in Gentilly, closed out their performance with a familiar song made famous by the movie “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit.” Soloists took turns at one of three microphones praising, rapping and belting “Joyful Joyful” while the choir danced in the background. For Jasmine Kaufman, junior, performing at Jazz Fest was everything she had hoped.

“I felt energetic, I felt like the crowd was responding, and I think we did a good job,” Kaufman said.

The “Singing Leopards” were told they were performing in January, so choir director Jessica Harvey jumped into gear immediately. Students spent months practicing for their time under the Gospel Tent, rehearsing nearly every day.

Crowds cheer during the closing performing of Lake Area Early College’s Gospel Choir (Claire Byun).

Harvey sung under the Gospel Tent when she was in high school and, now that she has her own choir, wanted to give her kids the same experience.

“You can’t even describe it,” Harvey said. “Just being up there, in front of all those people and their energy, there’s nothing like it.”

Once on stage, Kaufman said was focusing on just a few things: not tripping; not falling; and not messing up. She – and her fellow students – nailed the performance.

“It was a wonderful experience,” she said.

McDonogh 35 High keep the Gospel Tent tradition alive

McDonogh 35 High School’s gospel choir knows how to draw a crowd.

The oldest New Orleans public school – and the first ever high school Gospel choir to perform at Jazz Fest – has been a staple under the tent for years, especially under the direction of Veronica Downs-Dorsey.

Downs-Dorsey has been with McDonogh 35 for 26 years. She said she’s stuck with McDonogh – and the choir – because of her love for music, children and, almost more than anything, the Jazz Fest.

Downs-Dorsey attends the festival every year and spends most of her time under the Gospel Tent. The crowd’s reaction to her music is what keeps her coming back year after year.

“I’m like a kid in a candy shop at Jazz Fest,” she said. “When the crowd reacts, it’s my way of ministering, and if it affects at least one person, it’s worth it.”

Davida Blatcher, junior at McDonogh, said her favorite part of performing was looking into the crowd and realizing the audience was smiling back. Feeling the excitement from the audience – which gave the choir a standing ovation – made all the practice worthwhile, she said.

“We don’t get to see this often, so when we do perform, it’s exciting,” said junior Denesha Gray.

Student acrobats bring the circus to Jazz Fest

The International School of Louisiana’s Circus Arts Kids troupe wowed the Kid’s Tent with their stilts, tumbling and juggling despite the clouds and fierce wind. The Spanish and French Immersion School, opening it’s third campus in Dixon this fall, has performed inside the Kid’s Tent for 10 years.

“It’s really the highlight for us every year,” said teacher artist Meret Ryhiner. “Everybody knows Jazz Fest.”

More than a dozen students in middle and elementary grades tumbled across tarps, seamlessly rode unicycles and showed off their balancing skills on bright balls. The crowd cheered for the group of clowns in full face paint while acrobats readied themselves for feats of flexibility. Irina Layne, a seventh-grade clown, said performing at Jazz Fest “is a feeling like no other.”

ISL’s Circus Arts Kids juggle through wind and rain at Thursday’s Jazz Fest (Claire Byun).

Layne touted the Circus Arts program’s uniqueness and ability to draw students out of their regular routines to do something athletic and – she admits – a little silly.

“It gets people out of their comfort zones and pushes people to go further in their [athletic] skills,” Layne said.

Johnnika Summers, also in seventh grade, said students in other schools tell her how silly the circus arts program seems, but their attitudes change whenever they see a performance.

“It’s difficult and it’s fun, but it’s also different,” Summers said.

Ryhiner – who performed in the circus for 12 years – kickstarted the program after she realized students responded to the athleticism and creativity allowed through performing arts. By focusing on the act itself, students tend to forget their differences and become a team, Ryhiner said.

That teamwork leads to an entertaining show for adults and children alike.

“It’s athletic, it’s artistic, it’s not competitive,” Ryhiner said. “Everyone has to work together.”

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