BIG CYPRESS — Planning for the Ahfachkee School holiday pageant basically began at the same time Ja’Nia Harden started her first day as the Big Cypress school’s new music teacher.
“I walked into a room filled with instruments and instantly wanted every child to experience every one of them,” Harden said. “We’ve been planning the show since August.”
She picked “Golden Christmas Concert” as the show’s theme and title to encourage the children to shine.
On Dec. 11, inside the Herman L. Osceola Gymnasium, about 110 students decked in holiday patchwork and dresses that glittered gold and silver lifted horns, drums and strings with confidence in a program that included 11 musical and choral acts.
Harden credited art teacher Ivette Lopez for helping children from kindergarten through eighth grade produce artwork that adorned each table where parents, grandparents and other loved ones sat to enjoy the show. Lopez said the children worked diligently to conceive and create the works that served as metallic gold centerpieces.
At the front of the gymnasium, guests were greeted with a large high school student-made Christmas card, also with golden highlights, that featured a crèche with only the hint of Baby Jesus beaming from the manger under a golden halo. Dalton Koenes created a nearly 6-foot stained glass painting inspired by French artist Henri Matisse.
Songs filled the room during the one-hour recital. Classics included “Little Drummer Boy” featuring pre-K and kindergarten drumming solos; “Au Clair de la Lune” by the fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade band; “Away in a Manger” with Sarah and Illiana Robbins; and “Aura Lee” starring Matthew Bluebird with backup high school guitarists.
Johnnie Sue Russell said she was “scared” at first to perform in front of the audience. Sarah Robbins admitted that she was also a little apprehensive.
“But the best part for us is when the people started clapping. It made us feel special,” Sarah said.
Harden, a Miami mother of three, became a music teacher 10 years ago after graduating from Florida A&M University. A gifted singer and performer, her teaching “gig” began in Indianapolis where last year she directed a student cast in a production of “The Wiz” at Fall Creek Academy.
For Harden, leading children toward interests in music is always a welcome challenge. Some kids are more capable, talented or compelled than others. Almost every child needs reminders that practice makes perfect – or even good enough.
Ahfachkee students in pre-K through sixth grade take music class once per week for 30 minutes. High schoolers can get up to three 75-minute classes each week.
“At first, it’s hard to get the kids to take the instruments home for practice, but it slowly happens and they say, ‘I want to get it right and shine,’” Harden said. “Tonight was the great teaching moment come together. Everyone just clicked.”