Feb 252015

Excerpted from an article by Peter Alexander in the Coastal Journal:

“I was in Boston on Jan. 31 where I attended the Berklee High School Jazz Festival. The festival, organized by the Berklee College of Music, was celebrating its 47th year and drew well over 1,000 young jazz musicians representing 130 high schools from 14 states as far away as Florida and Illinois, including an impressive 18 schools from Maine. I was determined to see as many Maine high school jazz bands as I could. Unfortunately, a few schools, including Brewer and Bangor, were not able to attend, stymied by the weather, and there were scheduling conflicts in the incredibly dense program (a dozen groups performing during each time slot). Nonetheless, I was richly rewarded.

The first group I heard was the Fryeburg Academy Big Band under the direction of Mike Sakash. This band, featuring a full 13-piece horn section, drums, guitar, bass and piano, was REALLY good, especially in ensemble. The horns were crisp and punchy as they executed some heavily syncopated lines while staying so solidly in the groove that my feet started tapping.

The South Portland High School Jazz Combo, under the direction of Craig Skeffington, was next on my agenda. This was a smaller group, with just four horns, drums, bass, guitar and piano. These talented young musicians executed some very challenging passages with all four horns playing lines in perfect unison: not one sloppy entrance, not one missed note.

South Portland HS Jazz Combo, from top left: Alex Quinn, Owen Doane, Kevan Merrow, Cole Lemelin, Julia Stanton, Ansel Hoecker, Anna Foster, Thomas Costin and Vincent Amoroso.

At competitions like this the bands are tempted to focus on wowing the judges with technical prowess, and there was plenty of that in evidence. But there was also some exceptionally fine musicianship. After impressing the standing room only audience with their first number the South Portland group launched into a slower piece that featured many rich and moving harmonic cadences. Hats off to Mr. Skeffington for bringing out the best in these kids!

Next, I heard the “Upper School Jazz Combo” from Waynfleet School under the direction of Ray Morrow. Again, I was blown away. This group played with great sensitivity and superb execution, with some fine work on guitar and keyboards. They positively ripped through their final number. It’s worth noting that all these bands had a fairly even distribution of parts between boys and girls. I was particularly impressed that up to this point all the bass players were girls—and they were really good. I was also impressed that the judges often by-passed soloists in presenting their “judges’ choice” award to one of the players in each group, favoring instead one of the musicians who provided leadership “from the background.” The female first trumpet player from Waynfleet richly deserved this honor.

I then saw in dizzying sequence the Biddeford High School Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Patrick Bolin, the Thornton Academy Jazz Band under the direction of Jennifer Witherell-Stebbins, “Enigma” from Maine Central Institute under the direction of Dean Neal, and the four-piece Biddeford High School Jazz Combo, also under the direction of Patrick Bolin. All were excellent, especially the last jazz combo, which featured bass, guitar, drums, and keyboard. Unfortunately, there was no time between acts to gather the names of the players and they weren’t listed in the program, so I can’t give them by name the accolades they deserve. All four of these players were performing at a professional caliber—not only in their technical mastery of their instruments, but also in the musical feeling they brought to their work.

Tiny Mount Desert Island High School had two offerings toward the end of the afternoon: the 13-horn big band “DARTH,” and the ambiguously named 4-man combo “6 out of 10,” both under the inspired direction of Michael Remy.

MDI High School Big Band “DARTH”

Both groups performed with complete authority and ease. Although, as you might imagine, I was a bit tired by the end of the day, these kids got me to my feet once again. I was especially impressed with the combo’s final number, which started with the piano player (who looked like a young, mop-haired George Harrision) feeling out a series of sparse melodic lines that soon resolved into some absolutely gorgeous harmonic cadences more akin to classical music than jazz. I loved it!

I thought that I had seen and heard it all, but there was more. That evening, following the awards ceremony there was a full concert in the Hynes Center’s huge auditorium (seating capacity: 4,200 and nearly every seat filled) featuring four or five of the best bands from around the country. Every one of these performances was off-the-charts excellent, and I was glad to see Maine well-represented by Fryeburg Academy’s Vocal Jazz Ensemble under the direction of Mimi Rohlfing.

Freyburg Academy Vocal Jazz Ensemble

Lest you have tired of all the superlatives, let me just say that these kids were beyond amazing. The chorus of a dozen young men and women, backed up by a solid instrumental section, completely overwhelmed me with their precision and the emotional power of their delivery. I had never heard anything like it from any age group.”

Peter Alexander, aka Peter Blachly, served from 2012 – 2014 as Executive Director of Maine Alliance for Arts Education.

Jan 262015

We are happy to announce that MAAE’s group Facebook page is now the MAAE Student Arts Collaborative, a place where Maine high school students involved in the arts (any of the arts) can share their work, their thoughts and their questions with each other, with college arts students and with Maine post-grads already pursuing careers in the arts.

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We see this as a place where young artists will find support, encouragement, information and frank advice from their contemporaries and from those who have walked the same path before them.

The page will not only be for young artists but also managed by them. The cover photo designer is high school artist Piper Smith, a junior at Traip Academy in Kittery.
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The other two young managers of the page are Zachary Fisher, a freshman at UMaine in Orono, studying choral music
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and Meredith Crawford, 28, who grew up in Veazie, Maine and who is now a professional violist in Los Angeles.

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Encourage any young artists you teach or know to join the group by directing them to either the Facebook group (MAAE Student Arts Collaborative) or to the Facebook link on this website. Here is a handout you can give to your students.StudentArtsCollaborative

The more students who join and share their work, the stronger the support system will be.

Jan 182015


For high school students involved in visual art and interested in exploring possibilities for college and beyond, the Maine College of Art in Portland, MECA, has been offering a three week intensive residential summer program. Now, MECA and Portland Stage have announced a partnership to set up a program for theater students as well.

For more information, see the Bulletin Board page.

Photograph by Cynthia Farr-Weinfeld of CFW Photography (http://www.cfwphotography.smugmug.com/)

Dec 222014

Maranacook Community School’s Bee Sculpture Project – a Student’s Voice

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“I didn’t like bees at all before creating this sculpture with my class. After learning about them and what’s going on with them, I definitely care more than I did before. Not only did I learn how to create a sculpture, or evaluate the meaning of another artist’s sculpture, I also learned how sculptures can impact your life or how you view a certain topic.”
Kaleigh Parks, freshman.

For the rest of Kaleigh’s artshare, see Artshare/latest shares or click here

Nov 242014


This November, Bangor HS teacher Angela Domina’s two Junior English classes hosted BCTA dance
residencies with teaching artist Katenia Keller. The two college-preparatory classes had been
studying several texts in medieval British Literature. The dances they created and performed at the Orono conference
explored the universal themes the students saw represented in those texts. The symbolic capacity of dance allowed the students to render the large and abstract themes visible and creating the dance focused the students on shaping them into a narrative story. Performing for an audience gave the classes the opportunity to have
their ideas impact others. The students in one
class aimed to show the audience the essential balance between humans and nature. The second
class attempted to give to the audience a sense that a powerful force, Love, is given to them to
care for and to carry into the world.

For more photos and excerpts from the students’ own description of their dances see
MAAE Programs/BCTA – Latest News. Interested in bringing BCTA residencies to your school? Contact Susan Potters at spotters@maineartsed.org.

Nov 102014

Students Perform on Nov. 19th.

Students watching a BCTA dance performance last year in Orono

Students watching a BCTA dance performance last year in Orono

Five high school English classes – three creative writing classes in Brewer and two junior English classes in Bangor – have been working with professional Maine performing artists this month. Each class is creating an original drama or dance piece – about either their own self-identified social themes, or themes they draw from their curriculum. The classes will be performing their original works on Wednesday, November 19th at the Church of Universal Fellowship, 82 Main Street in Orono. The performances – each about 15 minutes in length – begin at 9:30 and end at noon. The public is invited to come to any and all of them. Admission is free.

The students’ performances are part of Building Community Through the Arts (BCTA), an MAAE program now in its fifteenth year. Initiated just after the Columbine High School tragedy, BCTA uses group creation in the arts to generate trust and break down social barriers among students. Audience feedback and support is also an important element in the program and time is given for discussion after each performance. We encourage parents and community members to come to Orono on the 19th and see the students’ work.

MAAE is grateful to the Bangor Savings Bank Foundation and Jane’s 1983 Charitable Trust for their help in supporting BCTA this year. If you’re interested in bringing this program to your community contact Susan Potters at spotters@maineartsed.org.

Oct 152014

While arts educators are the backbone of a strong school arts education program, students and teachers alike benefit from meaningful contact with professional artists – those who come to the school, those whose art the students may experience in field trips, and those whose art the students may be assisted to experience during non-school hours. The organization, logistics and funding support for all of this enrichment can take considerable time, and it is not always easy. The Arts Enrichment Nuts and Bolts section of our MAAE website will be devoted to helping with those challenges and also to finding the people who have both the willingness to take them on and may have more time than busy teachers.

In the coming weeks we will begin to post this information on the Nuts and Bolts website page. We welcome and will post your ideas and tips as well. Let us know what has worked for you at your school. We also want to hear about your problems and questions. Please send it all to me at spotters@maineartsed.org. For more extended help, MAAE members can call our “help desk”… which is 207 439-3169. We look forward to speaking with you!

Sep 172014

Stephen Wicks, president of the Maine Alliance for Arts Education (MAAE), has announced that Education Director Susan Potters of Kittery has been chosen to head the non-profit as Executive Director, taking over from retiring director, Peter Alexander. “The board is plePhoto on 9-17-14 at 9.44 AMased to have a director of Potters’ experience and we look forward to working with her” said Wicks. Potters, a former teacher from New York City, has been involved with MAAE since the early 1990’s, first serving as a board member from Veazie. After organizing the successful 1997 “Arts in Our Schools K-12” conference in Bangor, Potters was tapped to direct the organization’s first regional office in Greater Bangor, a post that was later expanded to include the two-county Penquis Region. Since becoming MAAE’s statewide Education Director in 2003 Potters has been most closely associated with “Building Community Through the Arts” (BCTA), the creative theater and dance high school residency program she designed in 2000, just after the Columbine High School tragedy, to generate trust and support among students. Outgoing Director Alexander, who helped to promote BCTA during his two-year tenure at MAAE, is enthusiastic about the board’s selection: “I am delighted that the board has chosen Susan Potters to take on the role of Executive Director,” said Alexander. “She has the qualifications, connections, experience, and most importantly the passion to take the organization to the next level in fulfilling its mission.” Potters sees a vital role for the arts in education: “The arts develop and engage all students as motivated and joyful learners, “ she said. “Making the arts a thriving reality in young people’s lives means providing lots of opportunities to be creative – in the home, the school classroom and the community. MAAE is here to help show what those opportunities look like and to help make them happen.”

Aug 222014

Students watch a BCTA Dance Performance in Orono

Students watch a BCTA Dance Performance in Orono

Building Community Through the Arts program at MAAE will be continuing this fall at Bangor and Brewer High Schools. Keep posted for updates!