Two relatively new groups at the Estevan Comprehensive School's (ECS) have further diversified the school's music program, and they have created opportunities for students to showcase their skills.
Wired is a vocal program helmed by ECS band director Kyle Whitehead and teacher Evanne Wilhelm. Stomp is a percussion program, led by Whitehead, that allows students to make music by striking drums, garbage cans, household items and anything else that they can use to make noise.
Both programs started late in the 2011-12 school year, and have carried over to this year, with strong interest from students.
Whitehead said that anybody in the school can be part of Wired. Rehearsals take place Wednesdays before and after school, which allows students to sing while not infringing on their work or athletic schedules.
“Students come to one of those two rehearsals, and they sing everything from pop to jazz,” said Whitehead. “We've done some Broadway. The kids have some fun.”
About 30 students are part of Wired.
Wired has made appearances at the Estevan and District Music Festival and at the school's year-end music concert. They also performed with Canadian pop-punk stars Simple Plan when Simple Plan was in Estevan in August.
“We've had a few kids that have come out and said 'You guys got to sing with Simple Plan. That's really cool. We'd like to join your group,'” said Whitehead. “Opportunities don't come around a whole lot. But with the new Spectra Place here, too, and the great job they're doing bringing in all these bigger name groups that we haven't had the opportunity to have here, more things like that could happen.”
Wired has some experienced singers, but many its members are new to music. It gives students in Grade 9 the chance to join a vocal group, since the established ECS choral groups are only open to Grades 10 to 12. And Wired runs throughout the year, whereas the choral group is only offered in the second semester.
“Wired isn't here to compete against our choral program, it's there to compliment it,” said Whitehead. “Because choral is only offered for a semester, with the way scheduling works with the high schools, this gives the kids a chance to sing for the whole year, so they can come and sing with us for the first semester, and keep their vocal chops up.”
Stomp has also had a few appearances in the community, including last year's Estevan Fair. The group rehearses on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and it has about 20 members.
Whitehead said that one of the highlights of Stomp is that the students have been able to write some of the music.
“It's a big collaborative effort between the students and myself,” said Whitehead.
Stomp isn't just about smashing items in a musical fashion, it's about drama, movement and dance, Whitehead said. There are also some humourous elements to the group.
It is a fairly unique concept, Whitehead said. He saw a group in Seattle during last year's ECS band trip that was similar to what Estevan now boasts. There are a few comparable percussion ensembles at other schools.
“But I don't know of many other groups like that around in Saskatchewan,” said Whitehead.
Once he saw how the group in Seattle ran their program, Whitehead said he knew it was the direction he wanted for ECS.
“What we had been doing before that was taking some of the elements of Stomp, and using that with already written music,” said Whitehead. “To read Stomp music, you have to be a very good percussion music reader.”
Going in the direction of student-written music has allowed the students to grasp the music and play it more. They're also keeping a record of everything that they have written.
“They'll have something tangible to say 'I was a part of this, and we wrote this show,” said Whitehead.
Feedback for both groups has been excellent, Whitehead said, and the students have enjoyed the experience thus far.
Wired and Stomp already have a few performances booked for the 2012-13 school year. Both groups will be performing during the United Way Estevan's annual telethon on October 12 and 13.
Stomp has a shows scheduled for December 13 to 15 at the school. Each show will last 60 to 90 minutes, Whitehead said, and they will be a chance for the students to show their capabilities to the community.
And both groups will be performing during a February fundraiser that will benefit the school's music programs.