Ottawa Citizen

School of Rock, grand finale. Hit it

Choir wasn’t always a big draw at Churchill school, but today it rocks

- BY CASSANDRA DRUDI

Ameanderin­g line of about 125 students marched down the quiet tree-lined streets of Westboro on a field trip. Walking in twos, they wore matching T-shirts of kelly green.

Usually, they are elementary school kids in Grades 4, 5 and 6. Yesterday, they took their rightful places onstage as the Churchill School of Rock.

In Nepean High School’s auditorium, after the entire student body of Churchill Alternativ­e School had filed in and activated their glow sticks, the choir sang a 13-song set that included hits from acts like Chuck Berry; Crosby, Stills and Nash; Guns ‘n Roses and Green Day.

“How it’s taken over our school in the last couple of years is phenomenal,” says Shawn Smith, 40, an educationa­l assistant at Churchill and director of the choir’s accompanyi­ng band.

The first tentative notes of the Churchill School of Rock sounded about four years ago, when choir director Maggie Kerkhoff invited Smith to accompany the students’ voices with his acoustic guitar.

Since then, student participat­ion in the choir has exploded. For the first School of Rock performanc­e in April 2006, the number of students singing shot from 19 the previous year to 66. In 2007, that number grew to 75, and in yesterday’s two performanc­es, 103 students from Grades 4, 5 and 6 stood onstage in the auditorium lined with stu- dent-painted rock posters, headbangin­g and dancing along to the music.

Ray Kalynuk, who teaches Grade 5 and 6 and together with colleague Tiiu Tsao helps Kerkhoff direct the singers, remembers that things were different when he started teaching at Churchill five years ago. “We couldn’t scrape together 15 people,” he said.

Students would even miss their final recital for things as mundane as piano lessons, he said.

But this year, an entire ball hockey team chose singing over the playoffs. The reason is obvious. “It’s School of Rock, man,” said Cheryl Brouse, whose two sons are both on the ball hockey team and in the choir.

“It gets so many kids singing that would not usually come to choir,” said Churchill principal Nicole Turpin.

Since the shift to rock format, the choir has gone from having only one male singer to being about a 50-50 split of girls and boys this year, says Kerkhoff.

Even students not old enough or musical enough to add their voices to the choir took part in Friday’s event. A group of five Grade 1 and 2 girls stood guard at the door, swimming in oversized yellow “Security” T-shirts. A pair of Grade 6 boys called out to passersby, attempting to scalp tickets for the free show.

Aziza Eckert, 12, designed the Tshirt graphics and hopes to join School of Rock again next year, even though she will no longer be a Churchill student.

“We’re hoping to come back to sing another School of Rock and see how it goes,” she said.

“Yeah,” agreed Mead Johnston, 12, nodding.

Friday’s performanc­es marked the second year that Churchill rented space and technical equipment from Nepean High School for the performanc­e. The School of Rock outgrew Churchill’s gym with its very first performanc­e.

The show has grown so quickly that the organizers joke about getting the School of Rock stage time at city festivals. “We could quit our jobs teaching and take these kids on the road,” laughed Smith.

Given the gusto with which the School of Rock singers threw pages of notes into the air with the final notes of Alice Cooper’s 1972 hit School’s Out, the singers would likely jump at the chance to do just that.

 ?? WAYNE CUDDINGTON, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN ?? This is no ordinary elementary school choir — it’s the Churchill School of Rock. In yesterday’s two concerts, 103 students from Grades 4, 5 and 6 treated their audience to a 13-song set of rock favourites.
WAYNE CUDDINGTON, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN This is no ordinary elementary school choir — it’s the Churchill School of Rock. In yesterday’s two concerts, 103 students from Grades 4, 5 and 6 treated their audience to a 13-song set of rock favourites.

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