Thursday, April 23, 2009

Spring BITS Educates Over 1,200 Students

Over 1,200 students in Northern Illinois were treated to some great blues music this past week! The Crossroads Blues Society once again brought talented musician-educators into four area schools to give our youth a great introduction to the blues. Veteran Blues in the Schools (BITS) educators and performers Glenn Davis and Westside Andy Linderman were in the area with Crossroads members to deliver the blues message to four assemblies of students. They began on Tuesday morning, April 21st at Harlem Middle School, worked their way to Rock Cut Elementary School in the afternoon, then out to Eastland Middle School in the morning on Wednesday the 22nd and eventually to Pearl City Elementary School. All four programs were well attended and quite lively.

Harlem Middle School was rocking to the beat of the blues on Tuesday morning in Loves Park. The staff and principal John Cusimano came out in force with virtually the entire student body of about 300 seventh and eighth graders to listen to Glenn and Andy. We have visited several of the elementary schools in the past in the Loves Park area, so many of these student may not have been newcomers to BITS. Everyone there seemed to have a rocking good time.

Rock Cut Elementary School, also in Loves Park and part of the Harlem School District, was host to the afternoon session and about 300 first through sixth graders attended the program. Principal Jean Akright and her staff seemed to also enjoy the show, with the performers taking them from roots music to rock and roll. The Rockford Register Star also attended this program and covered the performance with a great article in their Wednesday, April 22nd and on-line editions. Thanks go out to them for their coverage!

Eastland Middle School is in Shannon, Illinois, just west of Forreston and south of Freeport. Principal Darcy Feltmeyer and her staff were gracious hosts; the students ranged from third to eighth grade and numbered over 300 in attendance for the BITS program. The kids were quite good singers and beat keepers. This Carroll County school serves Carroll, Ogle, and Stephenson County students in the vicinities of Lanark and Shannon. The blues were quite alive out there in Shannon!

The final session on Wednesday afternoon was in Pearl City, to the west of Freeport and south of Lena in Stephenson County. The large facility contains all three levels of schools (elementary, middle and high school); while the entire elementary school was in attendance, we got several classes of middle and high school students who also came in for the session. There were about 350 students at this show, ranging form pre-K to sixth grade along with many middle and high school grade students. Principal Chris Wallace and all the staff and students thoroughly enjoyed the program! All in attendance were attentive and very into the music.

In addition to the four school programs, Davis and Linderman performed along with the Basement Blues Band at the Just Goods Listening Room on 7th Street in Rockford on Tuesday evening. The Basement Blues Band features Bob Schmidt on drums, Steve "Spider" Leigh on guitar, and Rich Gordon on bass. Their acoustic set was outstanding and was capped off with an acapella sea chanty. Glenn and Andy followed with a great set of their own, and then the Basement Blues Band joined them for a jam session at the end. About $200 was taken in by the Society at the show to help with BITS costs. Thanks to all who planned, ran and attended this great show!

Also in attendance at the show and for the Wednesday programs was Amanda Huskinson, a doctoral student from the UK’s Nottingham University. She is working on her thesis, "Blues, Identity and Place: Blues in the Schools Programs in the United States". She is in the States for a year to research and study the topic and found out about us from our website. We were excited to be able to accommodate her and look forward to becoming part of her important work. She will be attending many of this summer’s blues festivals and we hope to cross paths with her again!

Glenn Davis and Westside Andy did a great job with the students at each school. Their material was age appropriate and kept the students attentive and actively involved. Our thanks go out to them for their support of our program!

We now have had over 20,000 students attend our BITS programs since their inception in 2002. The Crossroads Blues Society is proud to have reached this milestone and will continue to attempt to grow and expand these programs as funding allows. It takes a significant amount of money to run these programs. This program is partially supported by a grant from the Rockford Area Arts Council which receives support from the City of Rockford, the Illinois Arts Council, and its members. They are one of our long time sponsors for these programs whom we dearly thank for their continued support! Membership dues and other fund raising also go to support our BITS efforts. Our costs to plan and conduct these programs remains at about a dollar per student who has attended, which is a great bargain in any periods’ dollar value measure.

We are negotiating with Saffire, The Uppity Blues Women, to get them to conduct a day of BITS for us. If successful, we plan to have Ann Rabson, Gaye Adegbalola and Andra Faye each conduct BITS programs individually in two schools (an AM and PM session each), and then join forces to present an evening performance for the public. We are teaming with Charlotte’s Web for the Performing Arts in this effort. We are currently scheduled to attempt this in late September, so stay tuned for up to date information on this event in the making. We will also be holding a Blues in the Schools fundraiser this summer, so watch out for information on that event, too!

No comments: