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THURSDAY, MAY 3, 2007
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BRAC already having impact on local school arts programs

By Patrice Stewart
pstewart@decaturdaily.com 340-2446

You could call it a BRAC attack for the arts.

The arts is one major recruiting tool that the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce and school systems are using to entice people who may be transferred to this area through Base Realignment and Closure.

Two events this weekend will show how BRAC already is making an impact (for tickets, see adjacent story).

Austin High School has been fine-tuning its Performing Arts Department as a recruitment technique and will showcase the talents of its Chamber Choir and Symphonic Band in a different type of concert Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts.

On Sunday, Decatur will get a taste of the music of its prospective new neighbor: the 40-piece 389th U.S. Army Materiel Command Band. This group, directed by Chief Warrant Officer 3 Frederick Ellwein, is expected to be transferred to Redstone Arsenal.

At 3 p.m. Sunday, the Army band will play the national anthem under the Princess Theatre marquee to kick off the final race of the USA Criterium Southeast Series cycling event through downtown Decatur. At 6:30 p.m., the band will give a free public concert inside the theater.

The directors of Austin High's Chamber Choir and Symphonic Band wanted to try something different "to demonstrate in the community the quality of performers we have not only at Austin High, but throughout the Decatur City School System," said Terry Moore, director of choral music.

Teachers banding together to strengthen the Austin Performing Arts Department and help each other with shows include Susan Thompson, drama; John Cooper and Clay Sloan, instrumental music; and Moore, choral program. They credit the Decatur City Schools administration and board with providing support from elementary music, art and drama programs through middle and high schools.

Artistic growth

While Decatur wants to encourage people to live here because of its quality of life, Moore said many will be coming "from major metropolitan areas with both professional and amateur arts communities and are not willing to let those aspects of their lives go by the wayside.

"They will be looking at not only community events but those in our schools for artistic growth and development of their families," Moore said. The fact that Decatur now has a Youth Symphony will help, too.

This year, Thompson has 78 in Beginning Drama and 76 in Applied Drama. They produced "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," as well as a drama honoring veterans and "The Wizard of Oz." Next year, Thompson said she will add advanced stagecraft for set design, costumes and backstage.

The Choral Department includes 155 students in four choirs, with the Chamber Choir, which performed at the North Texas Jazz Festival in Dallas, as the top group. A gospel choir is planned, as well as an advanced music theory class; an International Baccalaureate music class for choral and instrumental students is available at two levels, according to Moore.

A symphonic band, jazz band and combined marching band are offered, as well as seven periods of instrumental music where students can polish skills or learn a new instrument. Along with football games and marching competitions, the marching band has performed in Hollywood, San Antonio, New Orleans and Orlando and will play in the Philadelphia Thanksgiving Day parade in November. Bands give concerts and perform for civic groups.

Working together

The arts programs work together, with the Chamber Choir providing music for some plays and the instrumental students forming orchestras for musicals and sometimes choral works.

The public doesn't think high school arts events are high quality, Moore said, "so we are trying to enhance not only the quality but the presentation of Austin High and Decatur City Schools as the city recruits for BRAC."

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