High school students learn from UMSL experts at Des Lee Fine Arts Festival

by | Feb 10, 2020

Fifteen St. Louis schools were represented at an event designed to connect students through band, choir, orchestra and visual arts.
Band rehearsal Des Lee Fine Arts Festival

Gary Brandes conducts students representing 15 St. Louis high schools in band rehearsal during the day-long Des Lee Fine Arts Festival. (Photos by August Jennewein)

Music seemed to fill every crevice of the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri–St. Louis on Tuesday morning.

Orchestra compositions floated from Whitaker Hall on the lower level while a band rehearsed in Anheuser-Busch Hall above. Nearby, Lee Theater pulsed with four-part harmonies. Even the lobby was a flurry of activity, with supplies spread across tables as students created artwork.

It was all part of the annual Des Lee Fine Arts Festival, an event that connects educators, artists and performers with underserved St. Louis students. Each year, more than 800 students and 100 teachers from 15 school districts attend the festival.

Visual arts, Des Lee Fine Arts Festival

The Touhill Performing Arts Center lobby served as a makeshift art studio during the Des Lee Fine Arts Festival, with students creating original artwork to be displayed at the evening concert.

“The Des Lee Fine Arts Festival has, for many years, brought students to campus to make music, make friends and work toward making our community a more connected and good place to live and learn,” said Michael V. Smith, E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor of Music Education at UMSL and director of the E. Desmond Lee Fine Arts Education Collaborative.

Tuesday’s event catered to high schoolers, with morning and afternoon clinics and rehearsals preparing for an evening concert. The festival gave students the opportunity to collaborate and connect while learning new techniques.

During band rehearsal, Conductor Gary Brandes, UMSL teaching professor and director of bands, inspired students to be confident in their musical abilities.

“This isn’t the time to be shy,” he told a trumpeter, encouraging her to take a more prominent role in a performance.

Choir rehearsal, Des Lee Fine Arts Festival

Local high school students learn from Maria A. Ellis during a vocal music clinic as part of the Des Lee Fine Arts Festival.

Choir students learned from Maria A. Ellis, UMSL alumna and community engagement manager of The St. Louis Children’s Choirs. She ensured lessons were relevant by incorporating pop culture references, such as using “My 600-lb Life” to illustrate why it’s better to breathe from the diaphragm instead of the chest.

Students cheered for each person attempting a solo, encouraging each other throughout rehearsals.

The hard work culminated in a concert, where students performed and displayed their artwork. Beyond simply showcasing the fine arts, the evening served as an example of the St. Louis community coming together through music and visual creativity.

Orchestra rehearsal, Des Lee Fine Arts Festival

Darwin Aquino conducts the orchestra during the Des Lee Fine Arts Festival, an event designed to enrich the St. Louis community through music.

“We in the Des Lee Fine Arts Education Collaborative believe that the arts matter,” said Smith. “The arts – music, drama, visual arts, dance – these are not just frills. They are not extra nor are they simply extracurricular. From research and personal experience, we know that the arts help us all, including these wonderful students, to think more carefully, to feel more deeply and to share more generously, both with one another and with their friends, family and community.”

The difference was clear at the festival, when students from all over St. Louis joined together singing, “In the midst of pain, I choose love. In the midst of war, I choose peace.”

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Karen Holman

Karen Holman

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