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The show must go on!  That’s the message Susie Parker is preaching to her students… rather, the message she is singing to her students.  Parker is the Department Head for all Fine Arts at Artesia High School.  COVID-19 has changed schools across the country.  For the last several months, Parker has been working on new, creative ways to teach her students.

“It’s had its challenges,” she said “My heart breaks a lot for the kids.  Our programs missed out on so many things last spring.  But this August, the kids reached out immediately asking what are we going to do.  I told them, ‘I’m going to learn new things.’”

And away we go.

Artesia High School produces a big show every year called ‘Bulldogs On Revue’.  In spite of being distanced from each other because of a pandemic, they started preparing for this year’s performance in the hopes they have the opportunity to share the production with their community in the spring or early summer. “We are aware that we may not be able to, but the hope keeps us going,” she said.  “The students need an outlet of expression and something to create as a unit.”

Parker has been able to rehearse virtually every day.  She has live sessions with her choir students and an accompanist comes in to assist.  A choreographer helps with the dance numbers. “It has been amazing for the kids to have the opportunity to participate in choir and make music,” said Parker.  “It is not ideal, but I will do anything to keep music alive in our schools.”

Parker says she has 219 students in their secondary programs and estimates that over 200 show up on a consistent basis all week.  That’s quite an accomplishment considering the restrictions of virtual learning. “Sometimes we have to teach the group in halves because it’s too many,” Parker explained. “Sometimes we divide it into fourths for Wi-Fi purposes so it doesn’t lag so much.”

The sopranos log on and Parker will teach them for 20 minutes, followed by dance. Then the altos come on for sight reading, PowerPoint, and musical literacy skills. Practice, practice, practice.

However, the lessons come with their own hurdles. “Wi-Fi is an issue, it takes a lot of bandwidth for these rehearsals,” she explained. “Sometimes kids will lose their connection and have to contact us through Facetime, watching and participating on their phone because they just want to be a part of something.”

“It’s difficult not being able to hear them all at once. It’s a challenge trying to figure out a way for the students to keep up with the speed of the music, the delay can be a problem. They can get very frustrated very quickly.”

Parker keeps pushing ahead, trying to give the kids hope and something to be a part of.

“I don’t know what tomorrow looks like, but I know I can teach and I know we can sing. We can still create every day,” she said.

This year’s theme for ‘Bulldogs On Revue’ is Disney.  The show will include songs from Moana, Lilo & Stitch, Mulan and Coco.  In the latter animated movie, Ernesto de la Cruz says I have to sing, I have to play. The music, it’s not just in me, it is me. When life gets me down, I play my guitar. The rest of the world may follow the rules, but I must follow my heart. You know that feeling, like there’s a song in the air and it’s playing just for you.”  It’s a fitting message for the Artesia High School students.

Follow your heart and the things that make you happy.  The show must go on.

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