Get your jazz hands ready: the Capri Theater is starting a new free vocal program called Capri Glee! With three new choirs for elementary students, high school students, and adults — plus a summer community musical program — the North Minneapolis theater, which is owned and operated by Plymouth Christian Youth Center (PCYC), adds to its educational programming aimed at building community through song.
James Scott, the interim director of the Capri Theater, says the programs have been in the making for over two years, based on interest by students who were involved in other programming at the Capri and PCYC. The organization received a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board to get the program started, but Scott said the hope is that Capri Glee! will be a long-term addition to PCYC's programming. "It meshes nicely into the larger agency programming," Scott said.
While many of the participants will come out of the pool of young people (and their families) who are already involved in PCYC's out-of-school programming, Scott said the choirs will be open to anyone who wants to participate.
"It's a unique opportunity," Scott said of the program. "Many of the students have not had an opportunity like this." The program fits in with recent research that stresses the importance of music to learning and education, he said, adding that it's a great community-builder for young people and adults.
Participants in the choirs won't need to read music. Rather, the program is "more about the joy of music," Scott says. And the Capri is a perfect venue for the program, he added. "It's such a phenomenal space as a performance venue — now it will be a place where people of all ages can sing together, learn together and bring their communities together."
The two youth choirs will be led by Greta Oglesby and Dennis Spears, while the adult choir will be led by J.D. Steele, who also has led a successful community choir run on Saturday mornings, funded by the McKnight Foundation for the past five years. The summer theater program will be directed by Kevin D. West and Sanford Moore.
Steele, who will be leading the choir in the Glee! program, says he'll focus on jazz, soul, gospel, East African and South American music. Before he gets to the music, however, Steele's style starts with building a community within the choir first. "We all get to know each other," he said.
After that, Steele teaches warm-up exercises that become consistent with each rehearsal. He teaches the different parts by singing them himself, a method he says works much faster than reading music at teaching people the music. "I don't even bring lyrics in," he said. "People don't realize how fast their brains can learn when they're connecting their heads and heart."
Finally, Steele works on performing the songs, complete with choreography. While it's not anything like the Glee television show, "I tend to do a little dancing," he said.
Steele directed his first choir at 16 years old. He started his career as a singer in Gary, Ind. with a group made up of his brothers and sisters during the Motown era. He went on to organize and direct the African American Cultural Center ensemble during his time at Purdue University, where he began writing and arranging his own songs.
Since moving to the Twin Cities, Steele has had a long and fruitful career, both with his family group the Steeles and on his own, notably composing numerous works for theaters such as Mixed Blood, the History Theatre, and Zorongo Flamenco. He also has developed a choir for children based in Nairobi, Kenya, where he has learned Swahili and brought back music that he'll use in the Glee! program.
Passionate about music, Steele looks forward to collaborating with the other artists in the program and helping fill the Capri with song. "Music has a very succinct and distinct way of bringing people together," Steele said.
The Capri Theater is a historic landmark in North Minneapolis. Originally built in 1927 as a movie theater, the venue has the distinction of having hosted the first-ever solo show by Prince.
Capri Glee! begins with two six-week sessions: Feb. 2 to March 11, and April 6 to May 14 — followed by the summertime community musical theater production. The first session will conclude with a public performance on March 12. To register for any of the choirs, visit thecapritheater.org or call 612-643-2024.
Interested in writing about classical music for Classical MPR? Have a story about classical music to share? We want to hear from you!