Few of us are lucky enough to hang out with superstars. But don’t tell that to the students at The Detroit School of Arts, a Detroit Public High School, where interaction with household names happens regularly.
On Saturday afternoon, December 1st, about 25 DSA students spent an hour with legendary jazz singer Al Jarreau in Orchestra Hall as he rehearsed for that night’s performance with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. During microphone checks and sound level adjustments, Jarreau shared advice gleaned from his stellar music career spanning four decades.
“It was wonderful to see how personable he was with the students,” said DSA vocal music instructor Cheryl Valentine. “He would start rehearsing and then turn around and talk to the kids. His stage manager would try to get him to rehearse and Mr. Jarreau would say, ‘In a minute. I have to finish talking to them.’”
What advice did Jarreau give? “Be sure to laugh,” said DSA sophomore Symone Barber. “He said, ‘Laughter is the heart of your life.’ It was so inspiring.” Miss Barber, who sings and is learning to play piano, added, “He was so joyful. Nothing could bring his mood down.”
DSA junior Ivontae Corbin was similarly impressed. “It was nice to see an artist on stage interacting with his band and crowd that was there and be in total control,” said Ivontae. “It made me think that I should have a business mindset if I’m going to go into the music business.”
As an educator, Ms. Valentine appreciated Jarreau’s emphasis on academics. “He told them to make sure their grades are good,” she said. “What we see a lot of times is that kids in the arts excel in art class, but not so well in academics because they don’t see the need of it. Mr. Jarreau told them to take care of academics first and then add music and other arts onto that.”
The Detroit School of Arts, with is proximity to The Detroit Symphony Orchestra in Midtown Detroit, has been visited by many prominent musicians, such as cellist Yo-Yo Ma, soprano Denyce Graves, rapper T.I., to name only a few.
Seeing the sound check and spending time with a legend such as Al Jarreau was thrilling for students and teachers alike. Miss Barber succinctly summed up the experience when she said, “It was so… wow.”
The Detroit School of Arts is located at 123 Selden in Detroit. 313.494.6000. Ahna Felix-Brown is Principal. Joining Ms. Valentine and the students for the visit with Al Jarreau were Monica Drake-Howard, attendance agent, DeLois Cooke-Spryszak, assistant principal, and Patricia Moore, counselor.