Geneva students bring musical history to life - Catholic Courier

Geneva students bring musical history to life

GENEVA — St. Francis-St. Stephen School’s seventh-graders recently led their parents, siblings, teachers and fellow students on a virtual trip to Hitsville.

“Hitsville ’08” was the theme of this year’s Humanities Show, which is staged annually by the seventh-graders in Jeanette Hernandez’s humanities class. Each student chose and researched one singer, musician or band from the 1960s, ’70s or ’80s and “performed” one of that person or group’s most popular numbers during the show. Most of the students lip-synched along to recordings of their chosen songs, but a few decided to forego the recordings and sing the songs themselves.

Hernandez’s students opened “Hitsville ’08” with a tribute to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, a music video featuring zombies performing a choreographed dance routine with Jackson. The video was released 25 years ago this year, so the seventh-graders dressed like zombies and performed their own rendition of the “Thriller” dance alongside classmate Renaldo Gentile-Rondon, who played Jackson’s part.

The whole show required a lot of hard work, but perfecting the “Thriller” dance was one of the hardest parts, Alana Brand told the Catholic Courier after the show May 16.

Hernandez’s students began working on the humanities show around February, Alana said. After choosing an artist or group, each student spent several weeks researching his or her chosen act’s biographical information, influences and musical accomplishments. They then used that information to create time lines tracing those groups’ and individuals’ lives and careers and drew their own album covers based on what they’d learned about the artists.

They also had to choose one of the artist’s songs and practice lip-synching the song while dancing and moving around the stage. Then came the hard part, according to Tyler Scherzi: They had to recreate one of the artist’s outfits and wear it during the show.

“I think the hardest part was just finding all the wardrobe stuff,” said Tyler, who took the stage dressed as Phil Collins and performed “Sussudio.” His decision to portray Collins was an easy one, Tyler said.

“I’ve always listened to his music, and I really like it,” he explained.

Deciding on an artist to portray also was an easy choice for classmate Jewel McColumn. She selected Whitney Houston and sang “Step by Step.”

“Whitney Houston was my idol,” she said.

Hannah Dean took the stage dressed all in black — except for her hot-pink Converse sneakers — when she and some of her classmates took the stage as Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and lip-synched to “I Love Rock and Roll.”

“I chose ‘I Love Rock and Roll’ because I’ve always liked that song, and also Joan Jett is the exact opposite of me,” Hannah said. “It’s always fun to be up there and playing that part.”

Morgan Kelly chose singer Kiki Dee because one of Dee’s popular songs, “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart,” was a duet with Elton John. Kelly was able to sit on stage next to classmate Richard Beckett-Ansa, who sat behind a keyboard and “performed” John’s part.

“It makes you a lot less nervous. I needed to sing and I didn’t want to do it alone,” Morgan said.

Most of the students were nervous before going onstage, but they faced their fears and performed anyway, said Bernie Lynch, who performed as one of the Blackhearts and a member of the group Heart. The experience was kind of like riding a roller coaster, he said. It was scary at first, but at the same time it was thrilling and fun.

“That’s what it feels like to me,” Bernie said.

Richard, who also performed a complicated dance to James Browns’ “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” said the preparation for the show — and especially that dance — was a lot of hard work, but it paid off.

“Sometimes we had difficulties, but in the end it was worth it,” Alana agreed.

Even though it was hard work, the students enjoyed preparing for the humanities show, Richard said. In fact, they usually enjoy most of the activities they do in humanities class, where they study music, art, film and literature.

“It’s almost a different version of social studies. It’s more about the art and the music and the film,” said Renaldo, who said he enjoys learning about such cultural things.

“You learn to not just listen to music, but to appreciate it and understand it. You learn how hard it was for (the artists) and the road they had to follow,” Richard added.

Having just spent the past few months studying the popular culture of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, Hernandez’s students were looking forward to studying the art, music and film of the 1990s and beyond during the remainder of the school year.

“It’s just fun to learn the history about what you’re listening to or what you see,” said Ann Erdle, who performed Leslie Gore’s “It’s My Party” during “Hitsville ’08.”

“I love it. You learn other things than just what’s in social studies. You learn about the history of different music and film,” Tyler said.

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