Aspiring singers, many of whom wish to embark on a career in entertaining, eagerly await six-time Grammy nominee and internationally renowned singer and songwriter, Nnenna Freelon. Students at James Hubert Blake High School, in Silver Spring, Maryland, were about to participate in a workshop conducted by the Jazz songstress.
Telling students to "Check all closed minds at the door," Freelon smiles and shares short stories with the students around her as they file in. Animated and full of energy, she teaches thru the arts; using song and modulation to illustrate the many ways the voice can develop song interpretation. She shares funny vignettes about various stops on her train ride in life. She shows students that what she does as a singer is about the journey, not the destination, underscoring the importance of being in front of them by saying, "I remember when I was in fourth grade I got exposed to music. Everyone got exposed to it and now that is not the case. Not everyone is exposed to it and we have to make connections between artists and students"
Freelon is conducting the workshop as part of an ongoing partnership Blake High School, a Fine Art and Humanities influenced high school, has with Bowie State University. The university plans to open a new performing arts center in January and has committed to a new program of study in the performing arts. Freelon who was the ambassador for the National Partners in Education for four years, has made hundreds of similar workshop presentations all over the country to spread the word of the importance of the performing arts in education.
Freelon's own path to music came about slowly. Exposed to jazz and big band music she started to sing in her church in grade school. Freelon went to college and got a degree in health care administration. It wasn't until she was married with children and in her thirties that she continued the journey and began a music career. "I saw my children, these little human beings who saw me as a role model. How could I tell them to go live and pursue their dreams when I knew I wasn't doing that for myself," says Freelon.
More than forty students from two music classes are involved in the workshop. Students interacted with Freelon by asking questions ranging from the music process to personal organization. Her presentation also included an inspirational element; encouraging students to follow their dreams. "What I'm going to try to do today is teach thru the arts. We are going to show what I do as a singer is about the journey and not the destination. The journey is more important than the destination," she explains. The students nod in affirmation. She adds, "Music makes me feel more powerful, stronger, taller, and it empowers me."
Most of the students Freelon interacts with have plans to be involved in the performing arts after high school. "When she [Freelon] was singing, it sent chills up my spine because I realized that her incredible talent is unique to her and that myself and everyone else in the room also has a talent that only they can do and therefore we have something in life we are meant for," says senior Neva Gakavian.
Sophomore Allana Dawkins is similarly impressed. She becomes fast friends with Freelon. Dawkins sits quietly making eye contact with Freelon as she patiently weaves through a series of questions. Dawkins smiles when Freelon talks passionately about her role as a bridge between generations. "I'm here to show kids that life in the arts is a possibility and a very wonderful path," says Freelon who looks directly at Dawkins. They both smile as if sharing a secret. "You are my future. If I ever wanted to time travel all I have to do is go to any high school and look at your faces and I can see the future. You are going to be my audience, you are going to be my elected officials, you are going to be fully immersed human beings in the arts and you are going to know how important that is in life."