Area Music Students Visit White House
Program Emphasized Arts & Education
August 10, 2009Three members of the Mountain Empire Children's Choral Academy (MECCA) recently participated in First Lady Michelle Obama's "Country at the White House," an educational workshop and an evening concert held in late July and featuring country music stars Alison Krauss and Brad Paisley. The program emphasized arts education and country music's role in American culture.
Claire Morison of Bristol, Va., a member of the Highlands Youth Ensemble (HYE), and Avery Deakins of Johnson City, a member of the East Tennessee Children's Choir (ETCC), as well as HYE newcomer Isiah Porter of Bristol, Va., were among more than 125 students from Tennessee, Virginia and Pennsylvania invited to participate in the event.
Being in the White House for such an event "was sort of overwhelming, really cool and exciting," said Morison.
"I was psyched out," Deakins said. "Words cannot describe what it's like to be inside the White House and not have paid tons of money to go but to be invited. It's a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing."
Though the President and First Lady did not attend the afternoon workshop that the students participated in — "they probably have got a lot of stuff to do being who they are," Deakins said — the time spent with Krauss and Paisley was fun and informative.
The two professionals shared their stories of developing their music careers and performed briefly for the students, who then had a chance to ask questions.
Morison said she asked Krauss if she had studied classical violin as well as fiddle (she did), and Deakins asked Paisley, who had talked about the first guitar his grandfather had given him, if Paisley still had that $50 Sears model (he does). They also heard Krauss and Paisley answer questions about songwriting.
The invitation to attend the event came to MECCA through its performance history at the Rhythm & Roots Festival held each fall in Bristol, TN/VA. The Birthplace of Country Music Alliance, which was first contacted about the First Lady's event, contacted Rhythm & Roots personnel about students who might be available to participate.
Morison, Deakins and Porter were able to attend, and both Morison and Deakins say being a part of MECCA is what made their attendance possible.
"I doubt if I would have had an opportunity like this if I wasn't in the choir," Morison said. "It was really fun."
Deakins echoed her comments. "I've gotten so many things because of ETCC....I've had so many experiences I wouldn't have gotten anywhere else."
Many other opportunities await MECCA members for 2009-2010. The choral ensembles will participate in a number of regional concerts.
* HYE, which consists of high school students, will travel to New York in June 2010 to be part of a MidAmerica Productions Concert Series at Carnegie Hall featuring famed composer John Rutter conducting his own "Requiem," which HYE will sing.
* First up, though, the ETCC, which consists of children in fourth- through eighth-grade, and the Bristol Choristers, which consists of second- and third-graders, will perform at 10 a.m., Sept. 19 at Rhythm & Roots.
* In addition, ETCC and HYE will perform with the Symphony of the Mountains Youth Orchestra on Nov. 16 in Kingsport, and with the professional orchestra in its Christmas concert on Dec. 5. Both the ETCC and the HYE will again perform at Biltmore Estate for its Candlelight Christmas concerts in December.
For more information, visit www.meccacademy.org.