On a recent afternoon, performers gathered in a conference room at Northern Essex Community College for the fall Performing Arts Showcase. Although there was no grand stage or fancy lighting, the performances were first-rate, products of the school’s newly revamped arts program.
“Our program equals the first two years of any other program,” said Ken Langer, the coordinator of the music program.
Over the past few semesters, the NECC arts staff has been working to make the college’s courses fully transferable. For that to happen, the students must be learning at the same level as their peers in some of the top performing arts schools in the country. This meant a few changes to the program requirements: There is an increased focus on performances (hence, the showcase); music students are required to take private lessons and participate in an ensemble; and there is increased focus on cross-disciplinary learning — dance students taking an acting class, for example.
“We’re working more as a team to interlace the fields of interest,” said Michelle Deane, chairwoman of the performing arts program and the dance coordinator. “It’s great to see students who do a little bit of everything.”
Alisa Bucchiere, a music professor and the choir director, agreed.
“We end up with a lot of multi-strengthed students,” she said.
The results have been just what the staff was hoping for. Students who complete the two-year program at NECC are transferring their credits to schools with well-respected arts programs. Last year, a student was accepted to Berklee College of Music in Boston.
“This is a tough program,” Langer said. However, he noted that students who make it through the courses are reaping the benefits.
Jim Murphy, a theater professor, said that NECC participates in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival every year. As part of the festival, students perform with their peers from other schools, including four-year and Master of Fine Arts programs. Professors from other institutions also attend NECC performances and offer critiques. Murphy said that his students are always impressed when they see their work compared to that of the other schools.