By Marilyn Delk
A cappella quartet Fourth Avenue is performing this week for high school students in all local high schools as the first of Darke County Center for the Arts’ Arts In Education presentations. When I accompanied them to two of those schools, Ansonia and Tri-Village, I was astonished at the reception given to this group of 50-year-olds, without accompaniment other than the melodic and rhythmic sounds emanating from the artists themselves, singing iconic songs not necessarily popular or even particularly known to their teen-age audience. I’ll let the comment of one female student who approached the group immediately following their performance at Tri-Village speak for the audience reaction: “You guys did good!” Yes, they did!
Jim Brown, Rick Bresendam, Ryan Holway, and Scott Dawson met in 1993 while participating in music classes at Wright State University, and have been singing together pretty much ever since. When performing, their obvious love for singing matches the wonder of their amazing voices as they cavort, kid, and wow all within earshot. However, all of the members of Fourth Avenue now have “day jobs,” providing the stability necessary to happy family life. Jim, who sings bass and percussion, is a stock portfolio manager, tenor Rick is a Minister of Music, tenor Ryan is an equity trader, and baritone Scott teaches Graphic Design and New Media at Clark State College; in the meantime, the group continues to be acknowledged for artistic excellence as they perform nationally and internationally.
Although some students took a little while to figure out exactly what Fourth Avenue was doing, others were enthralled from the first note, demonstrating delight throughout the show. Soon, the entire assembled student body was clapping and bouncing to the rhythm, then applauding enthusiastically at the end of each song. The intense engagement of the audience continued when Rick failed spectacularly as he attempted to demonstrate the moonwalk during performance of the Michael Jackson classic “The Way You Make Me Feel;” when Ryan intoned “Houston, we have a problem,” the audience happily responded to the silliness with groans and laughter.
The quartet makes all of their own arrangements, and their set list includes original music including a sweet, lovely ballad entitled “Superman” with a lyric declaring “If I were Superman, I’d be invincible—but I’m not Superman, that’s not who I am—but there is not anything I would not do for you.” At Ansonia, that well-received song by Ryan was followed with a quietly beautiful solo by Rick—a love song used for weddings—sung without microphones and only finger snaps from the other singers as accompaniment. Although the stirring final moment was interrupted by a loud beep over the school’s public address system, the teen-age audience responded with warmth and enthusiasm to the moving performance of a sweet ballad.
Another original by Rick was unveiled at Tri-Village with a plea to “take me away to some terrific not specific somewhere” and including the sage advice that even though “It’s hard to live your life,” you should “just be you” while moving through good times and bad. Rick then explained that change can be difficult and challenging, but sometimes a good, even glorious thing—a sentiment fittingly followed by the group singing “Change In My Life” with warmth and verve.
At both schools the concert closed with a rousing rendition of “Brown-Eyed Girl,” with enthusiastic input from various groups of students, teachers, and administrators as they were called upon and directed by Scott. At Ansonia when the show ended, students spontaneously rose from their seats to offer a standing ovation for the performance, as one student loudly offered a decidedly positive review: “That was awesome!” he said. Yes it was!
Once again, Darke County Center for the Arts’ Arts In Education program provided local students with much more than a brief respite from regular classes, joyously brightening outlooks while inspiring dreams, as well as restoring a sense of wonder at the power of music to uplift spirits and invigorate minds.