BIG CYPRESS — Pint-sized performers from Ahfachkee School in Big Cypress received wild applause from a packed house March 31 at the first happy (and also hippie) Rock ‘n’ Roll Ahfachkee Spring Extravaganza.
More than 200 family members and friends filled the Herman L. Osceola Gymnasium for the 90-minute showcase that plucked musical hits from the 1960s, 70s and 80s into the spotlight thanks to student singers under the direction of music teacher Ja’Nia Harden.
Starring kids dressed in pop culture costumes drove the audience to clap, stomp and sing along to tunes that included Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog,” and Bobby Day’s “Rockin’ Robin.”
“I don’t think the school had a spring concert in 10 years. We wanted to bring it back in a big way and that’s just what we did; not only to involve the students but involve the entire community,” Harden said.
Spectators were invited to wear era-appropriate clothing like leather jackets, bell bottom pants and tie- dye T-shirts.
Harden, a professional jazz, gospel and pop singer and music teacher, began rehearsals for the show at the end of the last semester under strict time constraints. Because children from pre-kindergarten through grade six get only one 30-minute music class per week, Harden picked an already familiar genre.
“Music is something we all share. It’s everywhere, and everyone loves classic rock. That’s where the theme for the show came from. Some kids knew the words of the songs before we started rehearsals,” Harden said after the show.
Lucee Cypress, 8, remembered “Eye of the Tiger” by singing the 1982 hit song for hours at home, she said. Lucee also made sure she memorized the words by writing them in magic marker on her bedroom door, a surprise to her parents Nanette Cypress and Albert Graham.
“She said, ‘but I have to be ready for the music extravaganza.’ I decided that we have plenty of paint to cover it later,” Graham said.
Lucee’s brother Herbert Graham, 5, who dressed in red to sing the 1972 pop hit “Rockin’ Robin” with his pre-kindergarten class, described his stage experience in one word: “awesome.”
Principal Gwendolyn Coverson launched the musical night by welcoming parents, friends and “all stakeholders.”
“Sit back, relax and enjoy,” she told the crowd.
Harden said participation by elementary and middle school students was mandatory per music course requirements. High school students who chose music class as an elective were obligated to perform.
High school student Eyanna Billie stirred the crowd with a pitch-perfect rendition of “Let it Go” from the Disney movie “Frozen.” Elisah Billie followed with the sentimental ballad “Careless Whisper” by George Michaels.
“I can’t believe everyone said I was good,” Eyanna Billie told Harden during a tight embrace after the show.
Harden said the students all have music ability, but while music can be enjoyed equally with little effort, performing music through song or instruments takes desire, determination and dedication. For high school students, Harden is available for two or three 30-minute classes per week. Because the high school population is small, the time works as if she is a private teacher.
“It’s like having a private studio. The kids learn the song on their own; I check on their progress, teach technique of breath support, how to enunciate vowels. One student learned a piano piece all by himself with just a little guidance,” Harden said. “It depends on what they want to do. I don’t influence their interpretation. My job is to guide their music interpretation and focus on technique.”
Children are also exposed to different disciplines such as mathematics and science while they learn music. Reading music involves learning fractions. Singers get wind of biology while learning how to breath air into their nostrils, through the trachea, into the diaphragm and then releasing the air in reverse.
But when all is said and sung, the result should always be pleasure and joy for the student and the audience, Harden said.
Big Cypress Council Rep. Joe Frank, who wore a tie-dye peace sign T-shirt to the event, gave kudos to the kids.
“Job well done,” he said.