23 Aug 2014
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Even Without School Funds, Glee Club Still Hits High Note

Despite a shaky start last year, group attracts more than 70 members.

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More than 70 people sat in the choir room at Bridgewater-Raritan High School a few weeks ago, waiting for the countdown to begin.

As soon as Choir Director John Wilson cued them, the students began their rendition of "Higher and Higher," with the men singing the lower tenor parts and the women lifting their voices as altos and sopranos.

After that rehearsal was completed, they pulled out "Don't Stop Believin,'" an always popular song, and, because of the FOX show, a possible new anthem for all Glee clubs.

But for members of Bridgewater's own Glee Club, they are just excited to have another outlet to exercise their singing voices.

"I really like to sing and was unable to do choir," senior Akil Patterson said. "I enjoy the different songs and working with my fellow members."

It wasn't easy to get the club going, and much of that struggle was not due to the district's budget cuts that eliminated teachers and programs, particularly in the high school, and required a new pay to play policy that does not affect the Glee Club.

"I was surprised they were able to start the club because I thought they would have to cut choir," Patterson said.

The club was initially conceived by now seniors Tara Simpson and Esther Jean-Baptiste for the 2009-2010 school year. But it never fully got off the ground.

"It started out because we really love the show, 'Glee,'" Simpson said. "But we always wanted to be in a show choir. Esther and I talked about it, and we were serious about it."

After bringing Wilson on board, the pair decided to set up the club, but conflicts with the people already attached to the school musical, and other participation issues, shut down the start of the club.

So, Simpson said, they moved forward with an official launch for the club this year with administrative support so long as they didn't ask for any money.

"Last year, before the budget cuts, we went to organize the club," she said. "This year, we didn't have a problem, but the administration said we have to make our own profits through ticket sales and other means."

Simpson said she is looking into possible fundraisers for the future so that the club can participate in competitions, which she believes cost between $15 and $20 per student. The upcoming Broadway Night on Nov. 17 will cost guests $7 per ticket.

But students are excited for the opportunities being offered by the new club. The Oct. 14 rehearsal attracted about 70 students, and that's about the number they have had since they first started practicing.

"At the first informational, the response was overwhelming," Simpson said. "It is really encouraging that a lot of kids want to be in the club, and they've stayed."

Sophomore Jaime Bartolett said the best part of the club is meeting all the different people, and having the opportunity to sing songs familiar to her generation.

"Music has always been a way to express myself," she said. "And I didn't think the club would last this long."

Freshman Nina Di Marco said she has a real passion for singing, so knowing that this club was available when she began at the school presented an exciting opportunity for her.

"I love to sing, and I'm also in the women's choir," she said. "Singing is my life, and I do it every second and every minute of my life."

But for these students, they know there is still the chance that it could be taken away if budget cuts continue to affect the district in the future, and more programs have to be eliminated.

For her part, Di Marco said, she was a little concerned entering the high school this year after all the issues she had heard about previously.

"I think every freshman knows that what happens in high school you may want to do for the rest of your life," she said. "I did have a concern that they would cut choir because of the budget, but if they cut it now, I would be shocked and amazed."

For a club like Glee, Di Marco said, she would not even object to having to pay the $25 activity fee that has been instituted for participation in certain clubs, including marching band.

It seemed the overarching concern was that the budget cuts would affect the arts departments, but Wilson said he hopes the club's upcoming Broadway Night and other performances might cement the department's fate and keep the program alive.

"I am hoping Broadway Night will be a way to reinvigorate parents," he said. "I don't want the parents to feel sorry for the kids, I want them to be inspired by having their kids there."

Wilson said the high school still has its six choirs, as well as all instrumental programs because there is more of an investment in that when the parents have to buy instruments.

Still, Wilson said, he feared that choir would be one of the first things to go, and the district already lost a fourth grade choir.

"We had the fear of losing it in the intermediate," he said.

Wilson said he was glad to take part when Simpson asked him to be part of the Glee Club during the 2009-2010 school year.

"I said yes, but that she had to shoulder the responsibility," he said. "I wanted to facilitate a student-run organization."

While it was nice to see an interest in Glee Club-type music, Wilson said, he saw the club falter in that first year, and decided to take a different approach.

"I said, how about I run the club, and [the founders] direct two small numbers," he said. "I take care of the 80 kids and do the organizational stuff, and I think that's more manageable."

For many students, Wilson said, being part of the Glee Club provided a chance to participate in a choir despite not being able to enroll in curriculum choir.

"That motivation and excitement transfers," he said. "I can give them a balanced diet in Glee Club. They can sing pop music or stuff from Broadway, while classical and similar styles are required in regular classes."

Of course, Wilson said, there was also the popularity of FOX's "Glee" that propelled the club forward.

"I feel we would have been foolish not to bank on the popularity of the show," he said. "We know the kids already like that style there. It helps build credibility with the club, and I am validating what they like."

And with the budget cuts, Wilson said, he was going into the club this year with no expectations of monetary assistance.

"This is not something I expect to be paid for, I just think my program can benefit from it," he said. "If they have a good experience and find something they like, it's great."

"And I didn't ask before we started," he added with a laugh. "I figure we can always apologize. What's most important is the kids are getting a valuable experience."

But for the most part, despite the shock that the club has been able to thrive, many are not focusing on concerns about budget cuts leading to the end of the new Bridgewater-Raritan High School Glee Club.

"As long as we could fund ourselves, we could do it," Simpson said. "If you have time to spend, you should spend it on something like this."

This story is part of a nationwide Patch series probing the economy's effect on local schools. For more more information, see here.

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