By Marilyn Delk
Truthfully, I wondered how junior high kids would receive singer/songwriter Luke McMaster. After all, he is a guy they never heard of singing music they have probably never listened to. As the somewhat squirrelly students seated in Henry St. Clair Memorial Hall on Oct. 20 and 21 for this Arts In Education presentation from Darke County Center for the Arts watched film footage of Luke, his songwriting cohort and keyboardist Arun Chaturvedi, and founder of iconic Motown group The Rascals, Felix Cavaliere, discussing music and songwriting, I was not at all assured that the performance would be accepted with enthusiasm. Wow, was I wrong!
Luke’s friendly and accessible presentation demonstrated how the Motown sound provided not only the basis for today’s music but also underlies the magic of it all. Luke and the other hyper-talented musicians on stage (the afore-mentioned Arun, vocalist Keesha Wint, and guitarist/vocalist Selene Evangeline) opened the show with the Rascals hit “Groovin’ on a Sunday Afternoon.” Although this was well-received by the assembled audience, I still was not assured that this show would be a big hit.
Luke told the audience that today’s music is inspired by soul music from a long time ago, and that the musical icons he so reveres provided the fundamentals now utilized by Bruno Mars, Adele, Harry Styles, and others. He performed a couple of songs that he and Arun had written with Felix, which were definitely received with a great amount of enthusiasm. Luke offered some autobiographical information, including the fact that he had been a member of the “first ever Canadian boy band” whose big hit was entitled “Thank You,” then performed that hit with assistance from the audience. When the song ended, the crowd went wild for the first, but definitely not the last time.
When he performed his biggest hit collaboration with pianist Jim Brickman, “Good Morning Beautiful,” Luke’s audience enthusiastically joined in on the perky tune. Luke then shared some history of the Motown sound, saying that by providing a peaceful link between sometimes warring political factions, the music had a healing effect on a divided nation.
After another brief video featuring Motown songwriting legend Lamont Dozier, Luke journeyed into the audience to perform Lamont’s hit “How Sweet It Is,” once again inspiring a wild response while students sang along on this song that they probably did not know. As the show closed with “My Life Is A Song,” an original song composed with Arun and Dozier, one enthusiastic student shouted “I love you!” while others rushed to the stage. And when the show ended, the crowd went wild one more time!
So when musher Tasha Stielstra arrived in our community this past week for her Arts In Education presentation to fourth through sixth-graders, I did not expect her reception to be quite as exciting as that given Luke McMaster; once again, I was wrong! Of course, Tasha had the advantage of utilizing one of her sled dogs, Percy, to assist in her presentation introducing students to the culture of her profession; elements of science, history, and geography were utilized to explore these core values: Be safe. Be kind. Be responsible.
In a lecture accompanied by delightful doggy footage, Tasha described her puppy farm in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula which annually receives 300 inches of snow, then explained how making good decisions keeps you safe, working together requires being kind, and being responsible includes doing your chores. Tasha enlisted the aid of students to get Percy outfitted for work; next she called up another student to don the boots, coat, and mittens necessary to the life of a musher, then take the handlebar of an actual sled to “lead from behind” as other students undertook the roles of the sled dogs responding to key commands—an apt demonstration of the essential value of teamwork to accomplishing hoped for goals.
As they left the auditorium, the youngsters excitedly crowded around to pet Percy, gleefully embodying the truth that DCCA’s Arts In Education program inspires boundless enthusiasm as well as hopes and dreams while teaching values essential to life.