The Franklin School chorus will be appearing on a stage a little larger than the school auditorium this month. On May 22 they’ll be at Madison Square Garden to open a New York Liberty basketball game by singing the National Anthem.
It’s a rare honor, and one they scored after competing with over 100 contender schools in a video audition.
“We have been singing for New York Liberty game for about the past four years,” said Dr. Armine Irving, the music director at Franklin School who teaches chorus.
The difference this time is that in the past they sang in the afternoon during “school day” at the Prudential Center in Newark. Now that NY Liberty has returned to the Garden, it’s a whole new ball game.
“A lot of New York schools want to get that gig,” said Irving. “So even though they know my kids and we sang [at Prudential] and everything, we had to audition all over again.”
“Singing with the chorus, the eighth grade chorus, it makes me feel special.” Melissa Lugo
This is not the first time the Franklin School chorus has performed at special events. “They sang the opening act of the Christmas Spectacular Show at Radio City Music Hall,” said Irving. “They had the children’s program. We opened up the entire show. We sang two a cappella Christmas carols.”
“It’s huge,” said student Melanie Garcia about that experience. “There’s lights everywhere. It’s really pretty. We got to go backstage and there was all the props there. It was pretty cool to look at all the stuff.”
“It was really fun,” agreed fellow student Alejandra Aguirre. “It was a lifetime experience. Famous people perform on that stage. That made me feel special.”
“And we got a shirt that says ‘I sang on the great stage of Radio City,’” added classmate Brenda Sierra. “Nobody gets that shirt. Like, hello.”
“I just wanted these children to perform outside the school and see other things,” said Dr. Irving. “Singing in a school is really important but when you take these students and you give them a Radio City experience, a Madison Square Garden experience, it’s a whole different setting and they’re exposed to things that they will probably never get exposed to.”
In addition, last year the entire eighth grade took a trip to the Statue of Liberty to sing “God Bless America” and the National Anthem.
The art of song
“Dr. Irving has been with us 15 years now,” said Principal Peter Clark. “She started this program basically from scratch when she got here. And she built it into not only a performing program but an academic program, because she teaches at Fordham University.”
“I like songs where they actually learn about musical components of a song,” said Dr. Irving, who chooses all the material they sing. “It’s about the important band or important composer. We do a lot of classical music.” With a side of Beatles.
To support the academic aspect, Dr. Irving partners with Beatrice Buccos, an English language arts teacher at the school. Buccos focuses on the lyrical content of the material.
“I teach grammar through the music that we do,” said Buccos. “It’s a different way of teaching. I’ll pick out parts of speech, prepositions, verbs, things of this sort.”
She also brings attention to the themes, discussing song content and the writers’ intentions.
“It connects the subjects together, which is really important,” said Dr. Irving. “They’re not going to the science room to just learn science, the music room to just learn music. We’re globally looking for students to connect subjects together. They’re more successful that way. They think out of the box.”
One big family
Make no mistake, singing is hard work. “We literally have hundreds of kids trying out for the chorus at Franklin School, and of course we can only take so many,” said Principal Clark.
“They give up their lunchtimes to come here and practice,” said Dr. Irving. “They give up their afternoons. They behave extremely well. They’re never in trouble. Because they know if they are they will not be here the next day.”
So why do they do it?
“Singing with the chorus, the eighth grade chorus, it makes me feel special,” said student Melissa Lugo. “We’re like one big family and I’ve been a part of it since fifth grade.”
“I’ve been in the chorus since the fifth grade and to me singing is someplace that I can get lost,” said Abigail Espinoza, who performed as a soloist at the school’s spring concert. “I can express my feelings through song. It just lets me be me, like that’s the place where I can escape. Dr. Irving knows that I loved to sing since like the first grade. She always knew that I had a talent for it, so as soon as I got the opportunity, I was begging her to audition and she let me in and I got the opportunity to sing in front of my parents and my classmates.”
“We at Franklin School, all of us, the staff, the parents, the community, and the administrator, are so proud of our chorus program,” said Principal Clark. “I really believe we have the best chorus in the state of New Jersey.”
The following Franklin School chorus members will be singing the National Anthem at Madison Square Garden on May 22:
8th grade: Alejandra Aquirre, Israel J. Albino, Kalyn Cuesta, Ismail Elasmai, Cassandra Espejo, Abigail Espinoza, Ely D. Folch, Luis Fuentes, Melanie Garcia, Rosanna Garcia, Brianna Gavilan, Giovanni Gonzalez, Jaritsa Javier, Melissa Lugo, Jahnav Patel, Daniel Perez, Cindy Ramos, Rachel Salinas, Soham Shah, Brenda Sierra
7th grade: Israel Abreu, Gianna Corbiscello, Darren Dwyer, Charisma Garza, Christopher Lopez, Katherine Medford, Sid Patel, Destiny Vasquez
6th grade: Crystal Andia, Lupita Coate, Jasmyn Cuate, Andrea Farino, Ethiana Gonzalez, Yoswany Gonzalez, Angie Gradiz, Maile Lainez, Amy Moquete, Melanie Moran, Nathaly Suquinagua
5th grade: Angelie Albino, Angie Andia, Alexia Arnero, Gabriela Castillo, Alberlin Diaz, Erika Espejo, Michelle Guillen, Casandra Landry, Stephania Marquez, Mya Martinez, Alyssa Matos, Brandon Ortega, Roberto Perez, Camilla Torres, Julianne Yecora
Art Schwartz may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.