On October 4, over 200 students from partner schools St. Thomas the Apostle School, St. Mark the Evangelist School, and M.S. 529 attended a matinee performance of the musical “Ella” which tells the story of jazz vocalist Ella Fitzgerald, at the Queens Theatre.
When Bank of America sponsored student matinee tickets, Queens Theatre contacted ETM.Field Supervisors Meryl Cullom and Allison Mickelson thought it would be a wonderful experience for middle school students.
Teachers at St. Thomas prepared students before the show in order to provide them with background information on Ella Fitzgerald and the development of jazz in New York City—some students were unfamiliar with jazz music and Fitzgerald’s contributions to the genre. The students wrote short biographies of Fitzgerald, watched video of her “scatting,” and viewed the clip of Ride ‘Em Cowboy where she sings “A-Tisket, A-Tasket.”
The trip almost fell through when no school buses were available the day of the show to drive the students to and from the theater. Thankfully, Queens Theatre Board member Linda DeSabato donated three buses from her company, Vallo Transportation, which resolved the dilemma.
The students filled the first and second rows of the theater, and, according to Ms. Cullom, “they were the best behaved students in the whole audience.” At the end of the show, the audience gave two standing ovations. ETM Music Teacher Charlie Ortiz, who accompanied his students from St. Thomas the Apostle, said that they were very impressed. “For many of them, it was their first interaction with jazz, and they said that now they like jazz.” The caliber of the musicians also stood out to them, Mr. Ortiz said, the trumpet and bass players in particular.
Rachel Bidwell, the ETM music teacher at St. Mark, noted that students responded to Ella’s courage and perseverance. “Ella Fitzgerald had many challenges in her life but she overcame them,” 8th grader Khalik told her. “We can all learn from the way she lived.”
The 7th and 8th graders from St. Thomas also sent thank you cards to ETM, sharing their enthusiasm for the show.
“I have to say that performance of Ella was amazing,” wrote 7th grader Chasstidy. “The music made me tap my foot. This was a once in a lifetime performance. Thank you for making that possible.”