By Kelly Burch
---- — 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.
“They know that what we do is quality work,” he said. “Our stuff is just as good.”
The more in-depth arts program is attracting students from farther away who are willing to travel to NECC for their classes.
Lindsey Michaud of Lowell is in her first semester at NECC. Although Middlesex Community College is close to her home, she was wowed by the courses offered at Northern Essex.
“The music program here is a lot better,” said Michaud, who plays the trumpet in the Jazz Ensemble. “I saw the huge list of courses and met the teachers, and I knew that I wanted to go here.”
Chris Douglass of Salisbury plays the drums in the Jazz Ensemble. He said that although classes are hard, he can see the benefits to his education.
“There’s a lot of critiquing,” he said. “It’s tough.”
For Ashley Igartua of Haverhill, NECC is the perfect place to explore her passion for dance while she also completes a nursing degree.
“The program gives me the opportunity to grow as a dancer at a comfortable pace,” she said. “It feels like home.”
Students’ dedication to the program is helping drive the success, Deane said.
“It’s small, but there is so much energy and life,” she said. “The students work really hard. They make friends and build the community. Our students are always around doing stuff.”
The NECC arts program will put on a number of performances in the next couple of weeks. Here are some of the upcoming events:
Zombies and ‘Grease’
Zombies will rock the stage at this student dance performance titled “Forward Leap.” The zombie-inspired hip-hop dance was choreographed by Deane. The inspiration for this dance came from the “overall popularity of zombies with shows such as ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘Being Human,’” she said.
Another piece choreographed by Deane has the students performing to “You’re the One That I Want” from the musical “Grease.”
The dance showcase takes place today and tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. in the Sport and Fitness Center on the Haverhill campus, 100 Elliott St. Tickets are $7 for adults, $5 for students and seniors, and $3 for children under 12. They can be purchased at the door.
The Jazz Ensemble will perform tonight at 6 in the technology center on the Haverhill campus. The concert will feature classic jazz standards from composers including Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane.
Tomorrow at 6:30 p.m., the Small Ensemble Concert will take place at the same location.
Admission to both concerts is free.
Songs of the season
The NECC Chorus Holiday Showcase will feature centuries of music performed by local soloists, including James Clark Jr. of Methuen and Jenny Weiss of Amesbury. Clark will perform “Corner of the Sky” from “Pippin,” and Weiss will sing an aria from Handel’s “Messiah”
“The chorus’s repertoire includes a 600-year span,” Bucchiere said. “You can expect to hear everything from George Frideric Handel to Irving Berlin.”
The concert is Sunday at 2 p.m. in the Hartleb Technology Center on the Haverhill campus. Tickets are $5 and may be purchased at the door. For more information, contact Bucchiere at email@example.com.
‘A Christmas Carol’
The Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol” is a tradition at NECC. The cast is composed of an eclectic mix of NECC students, faculty, staff and alumni, as well as their family members.
Local actors include Zoe Glenn, Thomasina Glenn and Dustin Kelly of Amesbury; Coty Lennon Markee of Byfield; Tori Lessard of Georgetown; Skye Augustonovich of Merrimac; Karl Chambers, Marilyn Johnson and Colin Sarff of Newburyport; Chip Bliss of Rowley; and Alex Canning of Salisbury.
The play will be performed in the Chet Hawrylciw Theater on the third floor of the Spurk Building on the Haverhill campus.
Performances are Friday, Dec. 13, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 14, at 2 and 7 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 15, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 for general admission, $8 for students and seniors, and $5 for children age 6 and under. They can be purchased at the door or through www.mvarts.info.