Levine Music - Northwest

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Editorial Review

At Levine, a Chance to Raise Your Voice
By Janice L. Kaplan
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, August 29, 2003; Page WE53

On one side of the room are the sopranos. Across the way are the basses. In between are the altos and tenors plus a fidgety kid or two. But when the voices begin to swell -- "The storm is passing over, the storm is passing over. . ." -- everyone in the basement of the Levine School of Music's Northwest Washington campus is either singing or completely mesmerized.

Levine's Community Sing, a monthly singalong led by Ysaye M. Barnwell (best known as a member of the a cappella quintet Sweet Honey in the Rock), attracts a wide variety of participants of all abilities and ages. This is not a singalong of the Mitch Miller variety but rather one in the African American vocal tradition -- it's closer to gospel music than pop tunes.

Levine, an independent community music school, offers many opportunities for serious music students but also bustles with activities for novices and families, whether as audience members or participants.

Twelve-year-old Amber Rounds of Takoma Park has been going to the Community Sings since she was only months old. "Ysaye was so supportive and welcoming," says Amber's mother, Cynthia Carter, who grew up singing in church and school choirs in Illinois. In the early days, Rounds was the only child at Levine's singalongs, which started in 1990 -- always led by Barnwell. Over time, others began bringing their sons and daughters or grandchildren. Today the weeknight events, which draw about 100 people, include many children, from babies to teens. "Ysaye is a great teacher," Rounds says. "She makes everyone learn fast. She definitely has a gift." The preteen has gone on to pursue singing at school and was invited by Barnwell to perform on one of Sweet Honey's children's music CDs, "Still the Same Me."

For some, singing in the African American tradition is unfamiliar. But whether leading the group in a traditional spiritual or an original work, Barnwell puts newcomers at ease with a folksy approach that engages all ages.

"Let's hope this storm is going to pass over," Barnwell said during a spring sing, as the sky grew dark and ominous outside. "Or we'll have to start singing 'Noah Noah.'

"Noah Noah" sounds like the kind of song that would appeal to Gretchen Hoff, who represents the next generation of Levine singers. The 18-month-old redhead is hard to miss. A regular at last season's sings, she frequently shared the stage with Barnwell, parading and "singing" before the audience.

Who knows what your kids will be when they grow up?" says her mother, Jean Hoff. "Gretchen has blossomed musically with this. She has a stage and performance presence that comes out very naturally here."

Levine was founded in the 1970s by Ruth Cogen, Diana Engel and Jaclin Marlin -- three Washington moms who were in search of a full-service music program like the ones in New York City. The school is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and much has changed in the D.C. area during the past quarter century. Today, parents can choose from dozens of programs offering everything from music appreciation for babies to the Suzuki method to opera camp. One of only two independent community music schools in the area accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music (the other is the Washington Conservatory of Music in Bethesda), Levine is the largest and most wide-ranging, serving more than 3,500 children and adults at four locations in Northwest and Southeast Washington, Maryland and Virginia.

Levine gives kids who are just getting started a chance to perform in a formal way in front of an audience and makes them feel like they are real musicians," says Julie Shannon, whose 10-year-old daughter, Rebecca, sings in one of the children's choruses.

Classes are offered for children as young as 6 months and include a wide range of early childhood options and, for older children, private and group instruction in voice and in every instrument, from piano to percussion.

LEVINE SCHOOL OF MUSIC -- In addition to voice and instrument instruction, Levine offers a summer camp in Washington, suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia; registration begins in January. Public programs are offered throughout the year at four locations: 2801 Upton St. NW, 202-686-9772; 3303B Stanton Rd. SE (in the Village of Parklands Shopping Center), 202-610-2036; St. Paul's United Methodist Church, 10401 Armory Ave., Kensington, 301-933-0929; and Westover Baptist Church, 1125 N. Patrick Henry Dr., Arlington, 703-237-5655. <a href="http://www.levineschool.org">www.levineschool.org</a>.

Community Sings -- Sings are planned for Sept. 17, Oct. 15, Nov. 12, Dec. 17, Jan. 14, Feb. 11, March 17, April 14 and May 12 from 7 to 9 . 2801 Upton St. NW. 202-686-9772. $5

Upcoming free programs of interest to families include:

Sept. 6 at 1 -- "Drums Around the World" global percussion demonstration and mini-recital with percussionist Tom Teasley. Westover Baptist Church, 1125 N. Patrick Henry Dr., Arlington. 703-237-5655.

Sept. 13from noon to 1 -- "Clowning Around" family sing-in with songs and face painting. St. Paul's United Methodist Church, 10401 Armory Ave., Kensington. 301-933-0929.

Sept. 30 at 7 -- Master class in which Levine students perform for a master, in this case jazz legend Dave Brubeck, who will speak about music and his experiences. Coolidge Auditorium, Library of Congress Jefferson Building, 10 First St. SE. Seats are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. 202-686-9772.

Oct. 31 at 7 -- Halloween concert with Levine faculty and student groups, who will perform spooky songs in costume. The audience is also encouraged to come in costume. Westover Baptist Church, 1125 N. Patrick Henry Dr., Arlington. 703-237-5655.

Nov. 20 at 7 -- Master class in which Levine students perform for the Juilliard String Quartet. American University's Greenburg Theatre, 4200 Wisconsin Ave. NW. Seats are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. 202-686-9772.

Dec. 14 at 3 -- Handel's Messiah singalong led by school and community choruses. Westover Baptist Church, 1125 N. Patrick Henry Dr., Arlington. 703-237-5655. ON ONE SIDE of the room are the sopranos. Across the way are the basses. In between are the altos and tenors plus a fidgety kid or two. But when the voices begin to swell -- "The storm is passing over, the storm is passing over. . ." -- everyone in the basement of the Levine School of Music's Northwest Washington campus is either singing or completely mesmerized.

Levine's Community Sing, a monthly singalong led by Ysaye M. Barnwell (best known as a member of the a cappella quintet Sweet Honey in the Rock), attracts a wide variety of participants of all abilities and ages. This is not a singalong of the Mitch Miller variety but rather one in the African American vocal tradition -- it's closer to gospel music than pop tunes.

Levine, an independent community music school, offers many opportunities for serious music students but also bustles with activities for novices and families, whether as audience members or participants.

Twelve-year-old Amber Rounds of Takoma Park has been going to the Community Sings since she was only months old. "Ysaye was so supportive and welcoming," says Amber's mother, Cynthia Carter, who grew up singing in church and school choirs in Illinois. In the early days, Rounds was the only child at Levine's singalongs, which started in 1990 -- always led by Barnwell. Over time, others began bringing their sons and daughters or grandchildren. Today the weeknight events, which draw about 100 people, include many children, from babies to teens. "Ysaye is a great teacher," Rounds says. "She makes everyone learn fast. She definitely has a gift." The preteen has gone on to pursue singing at school and was invited by Barnwell to perform on one of Sweet Honey's children's music CDs, "Still the Same Me."

For some, singing in the African American tradition is unfamiliar. But whether leading the group in a traditional spiritual or an original work, Barnwell puts newcomers at ease with a folksy approach that engages all ages.

"Let's hope this storm is going to pass over," Barnwell said during a spring sing, as the sky grew dark and ominous outside. "Or we'll have to start singing 'Noah Noah.'

"Noah Noah" sounds like the kind of song that would appeal to Gretchen Hoff, who represents the next generation of Levine singers. The 18-month-old redhead is hard to miss. A regular at last season's sings, she frequently shared the stage with Barnwell, parading and "singing" before the audience.

Who knows what your kids will be when they grow up?" says her mother, Jean Hoff. "Gretchen has blossomed musically with this. She has a stage and performance presence that comes out very naturally here."

Levine was founded in the 1970s by Ruth Cogen, Diana Engel and Jaclin Marlin -- three Washington moms who were in search of a full-service music program like the ones in New York City. The school is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and much has changed in the D.C. area during the past quarter century. Today, parents can choose from dozens of programs offering everything from music appreciation for babies to the Suzuki method to opera camp. One of only two independent community music schools in the area accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music (the other is the Washington Conservatory of Music in Bethesda), Levine is the largest and most wide-ranging, serving more than 3,500 children and adults at four locations in Northwest and Southeast Washington, Maryland and Virginia.

Levine gives kids who are just getting started a chance to perform in a formal way in front of an audience and makes them feel like they are real musicians," says Julie Shannon, whose 10-year-old daughter, Rebecca, sings in one of the children's choruses.

Classes are offered for children as young as 6 months and include a wide range of early childhood options and, for older children, private and group instruction in voice and in every instrument, from piano to percussion.

-- LEVINE SCHOOL OF MUSIC -- In addition to voice and instrument instruction, Levine offers a summer camp in Washington, suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia; registration begins in January. Public programs are offered throughout the year at four locations: 2801 Upton St. NW, 202-686-9772; 3303B Stanton Rd. SE (in the Village of Parklands Shopping Center), 202-610-2036; St. Paul's United Methodist Church, 10401 Armory Ave., Kensington, 301-933-0929; and Westover Baptist Church, 1125 N. Patrick Henry Dr., Arlington, 703-237-5655. <a href="http://www.levineschool.org">www.levineschool.org</a>.

Community Sings -- Sings are planned for Sept. 17, Oct. 15, Nov. 12, Dec. 17, Jan. 14, Feb. 11, March 17, April 14 and May 12 from 7 to 9 . 2801 Upton St. NW. 202-686-9772. $5

Upcoming free programs of interest to families include:

Sept. 6 at 1 -- "Drums Around the World" global percussion demonstration and mini-recital with percussionist Tom Teasley. Westover Baptist Church, 1125 N. Patrick Henry Dr., Arlington. 703-237-5655.

Sept. 13from noon to 1 -- "Clowning Around" family sing-in with songs and face painting. St. Paul's United Methodist Church, 10401 Armory Ave., Kensington. 301-933-0929.

Sept. 30 at 7 -- Master class in which Levine students perform for a master, in this case jazz legend Dave Brubeck, who will speak about music and his experiences. Coolidge Auditorium, Library of Congress Jefferson Building, 10 First St. SE. Seats are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. 202-686-9772.

Oct. 31 at 7 -- Halloween concert with Levine faculty and student groups, who will perform spooky songs in costume. The audience is also encouraged to come in costume. Westover Baptist Church, 1125 N. Patrick Henry Dr., Arlington. 703-237-5655.

Nov. 20 at 7 -- Master class in which Levine students perform for the Juilliard String Quartet. American University's Greenburg Theatre, 4200 Wisconsin Ave. NW. Seats are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. 202-686-9772.

Dec. 14 at 3 -- Handel's Messiah singalong led by school and community choruses. Westover Baptist Church, 1125 N. Patrick Henry Dr., Arlington. 703-237-5655.