Glee grant money helps young talents at Burroughs

Drama, music programs split $10,000

Glee grant money helps young talents at BurroughsBack in 2011, plucky Burroughs High School students entered the “Give a Note” contest, sponsored by the “Glee” TV show.

Our local high schoolers were vying with schools all across the nation for a share of $1 million earmarked to help save struggling music programs in schools. The BHS entry was whipped up in a mere four days, using the talents of teachers and students in the music and theater departments and involving the participation of most of the school’s student body, with a notable cameo appearance by the school’s top administrators.

In December 2011 the BHS entrants learned that they had won $10,000. Burroughs is one of only 73 schools nationwide to win a grant from this source.

And now the funds have been received, divided up and mostly spent. Here’s how the money benefited the students. Music Teacher Simon Austin and Drama Teacher Tristan Kratz decided to split the $10,000 down the middle.

The Drama Department has its spring show in rehearsal. It will be a musical, called “All Shook Up,” which uses the story line of William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and is set in the 1950s with music made famous by Elvis Presley.

Kratz realized she needed to bring in an expert to help the students with voice training. “I cannot teach my singers to sing, so I have to bring in reinforcements,” she said. “We’re the only high school in the nation whose theater department got part of the grant.”

She arranged for multitalented Franc D’Ambrosio, best known for his role in the Broadway version of “The Phantom of the Opera,” to come teach a three-day workshop to ignite the students’ enthusiasm and improve their skill levels.

“They learned so much for the upcoming play,” said Kratz. “One student had a small voice and went to a big voice in just one day.”

Band Teacher Austin split the Music Department’s half of the grant with Mark Hatter, who teaches orchestra. Both are using the funds to buy some much-needed new musical instruments for the school.

Austin beamed as he described one band student, Andrew Christison, a ninth grader. “He had to audition to get into the ‘Music for All’ Honor Band, and he did it in the eighth grade, when he was a student at James Monroe Middle School. He got to play with the Honor Band in the Rose Parade on the first of January this year.”

Yamaha provided the instruments for the band’s performance in the parade. Andrew played a mellophone, which is the marching-band version of a French horn.

“After the parade was over, that same horn became available to purchase. So we’re in the process of purchasing it through the school district now. I knew Andrew would love to have that same instrument available to use here at the school,” said Austin. “It was significant that we had a Burroughs bandmember in such a prestigious event. It would be very expensive to buy this horn any other way.”

In addition, Austin plans to purchase a new oboe and possibly several other instruments if the money stretches far enough.

“Our students are very fortunate. I’m thrilled this money is available for us to do specialized ordering. We couldn’t do it otherwise. The budget is very tight,” he said.

Hatter said he plans to buy two new cellos and some nice new bows for base viol, cello and violin. “We’ve had a bigger cello section the last couple of years than before. So we’ve been short on cellos, and have had to borrow them from the middle schools in order to accommodate the high school kids who want to learn to play them.

“The kids are really excited about the new instruments. This is going to be great!”

Back in the Drama Department, D’Ambrosio described the students as “Really, really good. They are progressing beautifully. They are sponges. They went beyond my expectations. Because they’re getting really good instruction, they were primed for the experience.”

D’Ambrosio, who often teaches workshops, said he really enjoys teaching. His workshop covered voice lessons, acting, movement and chorus.

“It was so worth it to bring him in. I wish we had more time,” said Kratz.

“What he taught us is a choir sounds so much better when our vowels match. He taught us to blend our vowels so we all sound the same. It’s really beautiful,” said Sara Ornbaun, 16.

“I like died when I met him!” said Krista Castillo, 17. “‘Phantom’ is my favorite! He showed us how the way you use your voice can affect your overall performance in a huge way.”

“I learned how to use my diaphragm in order to support my voice to make it louder. I’m really excited about this play and glad that my character is finally showing up,” said Marley James, 16.

“All Shook Up” will open in early April.

For more information on D’Ambrosio, see the website at or check him out on wikipedia.

Story First Published: 2013-01-30