By Kelly Burch
---- — On a recent afternoon, performers gathered in a conference room at Northern Essex Community College for the Fall Performing Arts showcase. Although there was no grand stage or fancy lighting, the performances were first rate, products of NECC’s newly revamped arts program.
“Our program equals the first two years of any other program,” said Ken Langer, the coordinator of the music program.
Over the past few semesters, the NECC arts staff has been working to make the college’s courses fully transferable. For that to happen, the students must be learning at the same level as their peers in some of the top performing arts schools in the country. This meant a few changes to the program requirements: There is an increased focus on performances (hence, the showcase); music students are required to take private lessons and participate in an ensemble; and there is increased focus on cross-disciplinary learning — dance students taking an acting class, for example.
“We’re working more as a team to interlace the fields of interest,” said Michelle Deane, chair of the performing arts program and the dance coordinator. “It’s great to see students who do a little bit of everything.”
Alisa Bucchier, a music professor and choir director, agreed.
“We end up with a lot of multi-strengthed students,” she said.
The results have been just what the staff was hoping for. Students who complete the two-year program at NECC are transferring their credits to schools with well-respected arts programs. Last year, a student was accepted to Berklee College of Music in Boston.
“This is a tough program,” said Langer. However, he noted that students who make it through the courses are reaping the benefits.
Jim Murphy, a theater professor, said that every year NECC participates in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. As part of the festival, students preform with their peers from other schools, including four-year and Masters of Fine Arts programs. Professors from other institutions also attend NECC performance and offer critiques. Murphy said that his students are always impressed when they see their work compared to that of the other schools.
“They know that what we do is quality work,” he said. “Our stuff is just as good.”
The more in depth arts program is attracting students from further away who are willing to travel to NECC for their classes.
Lindsay Michaud, of Lowell, is in her first semester at NECC. Although Middlesex Community College in Lowell is closer to her home, she was wowed by the courses offered at Northern Essex.
“The music program here is a lot better,” said Michaud, who plays the trumpet in the Jazz Ensemble. “I saw the huge list of courses and met the teachers and I knew that I wanted to go here.”
Chris Douglass, of Salisbury, plays the drums in the Jazz Ensemble. He said that although classes are hard, he can see the benefits to his education.
“There’s a lot of critiquing,” he said. “It’s tough.”
For Ashley Igartua of Haverhill, NECC is the perfect place to explore her passion for dance while she also completes a nursing degree.
“The program gives me the opportunity to grow as a dancer at a comfortable pace,” she said. “It feels like home.”
Students’ dedication to the program is helping to drive the success, said Deane.
“It’s small, but there is so much energy and life,” she said. “The students work really hard. They make friends and build the community. Our students are always around doing stuff.”
The NECC arts program will be giving many performances in the next few weeks. Here are some of the upcoming events:
Zombies and ‘Grease’ at dance performance
Zombies will rock the stage at this student dance performance titled “Forward Leap.” The zombie-inspired hip hop dance was choreographed by Dance Program Coordinator Michelle Deane. The inspiration for this dance, says Deane, came from the “overall popularity of Zombies with shows such as ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘Being Human.’”
Another piece choreographed by Deane has the students channeling their “Sandy” and performing to “You’re the One That I Want,” from the musical “Grease.”
The dance showcase takes place on Friday, Dec. 6, and Saturday, Dec. 7, at 7:30 p.m. in the Sport and Fitness Center on the Haverhill campus. Tickets are $7 for adults, $5 for students and seniors and $3 for children under 12, and can be purchased at the door.
The Jazz Rock Ensemble will be performing on Friday, Dec. 6, at 6 p.m. The concert, in the technology center on the Haverhill campus, is free. The following night, Saturday, Dec. 7, at 6:30 p.m., the Small Ensemble Concert will take place at the same location. That concert is also free.
NECC Chorus’ Holiday Show
NECC’s chorus holiday showcase will feature centuries of music performed by local soloists, including James Clark, Jr. of Methuen and Jenny Weiss of Amesbury.
“The chorus’s repertoire includes a 600-year span,” says Alisa Bucchiere, NECC chorus director. “You can expect to hear everything from George Friedrich Handel to Irving Berlin.”
The concert is Sunday, Dec. 8, at 2 p.m. in the Hartleb Technology Center on the Haverhill campus, 100 Elliott St. Tickets are $5 and may be purchased at the door. For more imformation contact Bucchiere at firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘A Christmas Carol’
While some may think of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” as a classic, at Northern Essex Community College it is a tradition. The cast is comprised of an eclectic mix of NECC students, faculty, staff and alumni as well as their family members.
The play will be performed in the Chet Hawrylciw Theater on the third floor of the Spurk Building on the Haverhill campus, 100 Elliott St.
Performances are Friday, Dec. 13, at 7 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 14, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 15, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 for general admission, $8 for students and senior citizens and $5 for children 6 and under. They can be purchased at the door or through www.mvarts.info.