Monday, January 17, 2011

"Yale Glee Club Instructs and Performs at Piney Branch Elementary"

An article on YGC outreach in Takoma Park, Maryland, from Kristi Tousignant at

Yale University junior, and Glee Club member Claire Paulson of Iowa City, Iowa (third from left) teaches Piney Branch Elementary school fifth-graders and chorus members (from left) Erin Obaonrin, Kira Goo and Nardos Chanyalew, all 10 and from Takoma Park a song the Yale Glee Club sings frequently on Friday afternoon. The Yale Glee Club performed a concert for the entire school that day. Photo: Raphael Talisman

Yale University brought a little glee to Takoma Park last week.

The Yale Glee Club performed at Piney Branch Elementary School Friday and taught the school's third and fourth grade choirs a few Ivy League tunes.

The glee club held an hour-long workshop with the kids, teaching them how to breathe and warm-up before singing. The kids in the choir filed into the school's gymnasium and sat on the bleachers. Some leaned over their neighbors to whisper not so quietly to their friends, others sat with their heads propped up with their hands, waiting.

Director of the Yale Glee Club, Jeff Douma, began by directing the college kids in a warm-up.

"Here we go," Douma said.
Then the glee club hissed.
Douma had the elementary school students join in and each age group faced each other, loudly hissing. Douma told the kids to relax their shoulders and breathe in deeply and quietly.

"I learned how to like make your voice go high and then really low," Elijah Busse, 9, of Takoma Park said. The club sang a few traditional Yale songs for the kids then broke them into groups of 10 to practice another song from the university.

"We love to sing," Douma said. "We love music. And we think it's really cool when kids are into music, too." The kids sat in a circle with a couple of the glee club members as they taught them the words to the song. "It's fun because they let you do fun stuff like sing," Kayla Armstrong, 10, of Takoma Park said.

The glee club tours the country every year for a week during the winter. This year the 65 singers traveled to Chicago, Ann Arbor, Mich., Cleveland, Ohio and Washington, D.C. They usually visit schools and then perform concerts in the evenings at venues or churches. After visiting Piney Branch, the group sang at the Strathmore Music Center in Bethesda Friday night.
"The kids learn there is more to music that what's on the radio and on the TV," Principal Bertram Generlette said.

After the lesson, the kids climbed back onto the bleachers, this time, joined by the glee club. The rest of the school sat cross-legged on the gym floor for the performance. The audience fidgeted and twisted around to talk to their neighbors and squirmed while introductions were made. Then the glee club started singing. And the kids went quiet.

The glee club's voices rose and fell with the song. Each put up their arm while they were singing and pulled it down when they were not. Their voices got quiet at parts and the drama rose.
When they were finished, a second of silence was followed by screaming and clapping from the young audience.

Douma announced it was time to sing the song the kids had practiced and the third- and fourth-graders pumped their arms, some whispering, "Yes!" The kids sang with the glee club, complete with hand movements.

"I really like the singing and being able to meet these good singing people," Alya Fawal, 9, of Takoma Park said. Generlette hoped interacting with college kids would get the kids interested in higher education at a young age.

"Our expectation is that we are getting them college-ready," Generlette said. "And not only college-ready, but life-ready."