RACINE — Upcoming performances by Racine’s Belle Ensemble accompanied by Park High School student writers aim to give locals something of which to be proud.
The performances titled, “Two Roads Converged: A Marriage of American Voices,” are to feature music by American composers, accompanied by readings of classic American poetry throughout the concert by members of the Park High School Writers Club.
The Belle Ensemble, a local singers’ collective founded in 2015 that performs live vocal chamber music, has collaborated with other area arts organizations, but this is its first time partnering with a school group.
“It’s so energizing and exciting to collaborate with other performers and with young people,” said Nick Barootian, the Belle Ensemble’s general director. “The enthusiasm just feeds us and energizes our performance.”
Three out of four of the students set to take part in the concerts have done live poetry performances in the past, but these will be their first performances in a professional setting.
Greta Mau, a junior at Park and one of the performers, said she was honored that the Belle Ensemble is giving the students the chance to be a part of the concerts.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking, but I’m just excited to be a part of this in such a professional setting,” Mau said.
Sarah Gorke, Park’s academy coach, helped to set up the collaboration. Part of her job as coach is to make real-world connections between what students are learning in the classroom and their personal passions.
“This is a perfect opportunity for them as students to actually step foot into a professional setting and be treated as professionals and be able to showcase their talents on a broader stage,” Gorke said.
The poetry featured in the performances will come from some familiar authors such as Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allen Poe, Walt Whitman, Countee Cullen and Robert Frost, in addition to others.
“In a bigger sense this program is part of wanting to give the community something that we can be proud of as Americans,” Barootian said. “That’s hard to come by some days.”
The students will have to make quick work when prepping for the performances, set for Sept. 21 and Sept. 23, as they just learned about it last week, after the start of school, Sept. 4.
Samm Marcotte, a senior at Park, said that although she’s studied a lot of poetry, she’s never participated in anything like this before.
“I’m actually excited to see how it goes,” she said.
Amanda Gonzales, a junior and president of the Park Writers Club, said she’ll be working on pronunciation leading up to the event. She’ll be going over all the poetry she’ll recite to ensure she pronounces everything clearly and correctly.
“Two Roads” will be all new for Breanna Collins, a senior at Park, who has never performed poetry before, although she has participated in theater performances.
“I’ve always loved poetry,” she said. “I love the vulnerability of it.
Many of the students view this performance as an opportunity to grow.
“I’m hoping that from this experience, it’ll help me with expressing myself in the future with doing my own poetry,” Collins said.
Marcotte added that doing something new like this gives the students a chance to learn about themselves and what they’re capable of.
Travis Whitt, a Park English teacher and adviser for the writers club, said this was a chance for students to look at poetry from a different perspective, instead of just analyzing it.
“This is a great opportunity to try to transform that type of writing, that type of experience into a performative space that I don’t think a lot of students get the opportunity to do,” Whitt said. “To really step inside of it and experience it as a performative level, rather than an analysis level really gives them the opportunity to kind of live and breathe within the work, live and breathe within history and live and breathe within the voices that kind of shaped the poetry that they write currently.”
Free event, second performance
“Two Roads Converged” are the Belle Ensemble’s first performances of its 2018-19 season. The first performance is set for 7 p.m. on Sept. 21 at the Racine Public Library, 75 Seventh St. This performance will be free, thanks to sponsorship from the Friends of the Racine Public Library. Barootian hopes this gives new people a chance to experience the ensemble for the first time.
A second performance is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Sept. 23 at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, 5900 Seventh Ave., in Kenosha. Admission is $15, and free for children and students with an ID.
“To really step inside of it and experience it as a performative level, rather than an analysis level really gives them the opportunity to kind of live and breathe within the work, live and breathe within history and live and breathe within the voices that kind of shaped the poetry that they write currently.” Travis Whitt,
a Park English teacher and adviser for the school writers club