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'Believe' is the theme for summer youth program

Kids from alternative high schools grow with help from music program.

August 01, 2013|By Michael Miller
  • Artistic director Bill Brawley, standing third from right, leads a group of teens during a Summer at the Center program held in the Segerstrom Center for the Arts on Monday.
Artistic director Bill Brawley, standing third from… (KEVIN CHANG, Daily…)

The exercise wasn't on the schedule, but Bill Brawley had learned to read the eyes of kids and improvise when the moment required it.

Monday morning in a rehearsal room at the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, 40 young vocalists were working on R. Kelly's ballad "I Believe I Can Fly," and Brawley abruptly turned the song into a group exercise. Or maybe therapy.

As pianist Jarod Sheahan played softly, Brawley, the director of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts' annual Summer at the Center program, had each participant stand and utter a sentence that began with the words "I believe." None of the students, who came from alternative high schools and had assembled at Segerstrom for two weeks of musical theater training, had trouble coming up with one:

I believe in dreams.

I believe that everyone is beautiful in their own way.

I believe in giving someone a second chance.

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It was about the mid-point of a hectic program: week two, day one. The students had spent the last week donning their green Summer at the Center T-shirts and practicing show tunes, pop songs and dance moves, and now they had two milestones ahead.

One was a CD of the rehearsal, which they would record that afternoon for each participant to take home. The other was the public performance in the Samueli Theater, which was coming up Saturday. On Wednesday, the group would leave its rehearsal space and try out the confines of the theater for the first time.

In the meantime, it was time to hone the tunes. With Sheahan's piano in the center of the spacious, wood-floored room, the singers ran through "Defying Gravity" from the musical "Wicked" and a medley of songs with mostly wordless choruses: "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye," "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It" and more.

As the group members harmonized and sometimes took turns with solos, they sounded at least as capable as any high school choir. But Segerstrom Vice President of Education Talena Mara, sitting in the corner, said technical proficiency isn't the main point of the program.

"The arts and the creative process itself, all of the discipline involved, all of the sort of courage it takes, all of those great things, are really part of our lives and go with us from here into our jobs and into our lives ahead," she said. "So the process is much more important than the outcome."

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I believe Jesus loves me.

I believe in my parents.

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