An Oct. 21 column by Courtland Milloy about a music and dance scholarship awards program for Washington area high school students misidentified the school attended by award winner Caitlin Netherly. The school is Urbana High. The column also misidentified one of the scholarship presenters, WJLA-TV anchor Horace Holmes. (Published 10/22/02)
I was seated comfortably in the audience at the Warner Theatre on Saturday night, watching a music and dance scholarship awards program for area high-schoolers, when my turn came to present an award.
All I had to do was go on stage and say, "The award goes to . . ." Or, "The winner is . . ." But what I said was, "The award winner goes to . . ."
I had actually experienced a pang of stage fright and had flubbed my one-liner. Pride aside, however, I could now better appreciate the student performances unfolding before me.
You could see a youngster such as Noam Elsner of Walter Johnson High sitting calmly in the spotlight at a grand piano, performing J.S. Bach flawlessly and without sheet music. But what you could not see were the butterflies, racing heart and twitchy fingers that somehow had to be stilled before the show could go on.
And there was Chandini Gilchrist of Bishop McNamara High in a dance routine, "My Life, My Love, My All," that required so much grace and balance that even a cat would have watched in awe. One frayed nerve or a too-tight tendon, and she could have ended up like a broken pretzel on stage. But she seemed to just float through her heavenly routine.
In welcoming the audience, D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams expressed his appreciation for those who had come in spite of the dangers posed by a sniper on the loose. Even as he spoke, another shooting was about to take place near Richmond. It would surely have been understandable if parents had decided to keep their children home.
But as the young performers so ably reminded us, all the world's a stage, and you can either waste your showtime quivering in the wings or make the most of it by stepping into the limelight and playing your part.
"Everyone talks about the jitters," said Rickey Payton Sr., who produced the show. "It never goes away. But the best performers find ways to convert that nervous energy into a positive force that conveys their enthusiasm."
Backstage, I met Westlake High's Jennelle Engleson, who was about to perform a dance routine. But she wasn't even thinking about that. She was enjoying Caitlin Netherly of Urban High, who was on stage singing a version of "At Last" that would have made Etta James weep with joy.
"Caitlin is amazing," Engleson said. And therein lay a powerful antidote to her stage fright: Forget about self; think about others. As it turned out, Engleson's performance of "I'll Forget You" was absolutely beautiful and unforgettable.
When WJLA-TV anchor Horace Grant, also a scholarship presenter, saw Netherly after her performance, he asked by way of a compliment when her CD would be out.
"I hope to get a recording contract soon," she replied. It was the kind of optimism that leaves little room for fear of the future.
Students from 50 schools across the Washington area had competed for 12 music and dance scholarships of $1,000 apiece. The event was sponsored by The Washington Post with help from more than a dozen other area businesses and organizations, including the Kennedy Center, Freddie Mac Foundation, the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, Giant Food Inc. and Safeway.
And the winners were:
Melanie Ferraro, cello, Oakton; Jesse Wildman, dance, Bishop Ireton; Tyler Christesen, guitar, West Springfield; Caitlin Netherly, singing, Urban; Noam Elsner, piano, Walter Johnson; Ashley Seldon, tap dance, Bishop McNamara; Chandini Gilchrist, dance, Bishop McNamara; Katherine Johnson, ballet, Holton Arms; Jennelle Engleson, dance, Westlake; Todd Culbertson, pipe organ, Sherwood; Abel Seyoum, singer, Bell Multicultural; and Tiffany Jones, singer, School Without Walls.
Producer Payton's Urban Nation Hip Hop Choir set the tone for the night with a gospelized rendition of Bill Withers's song "Lean On Me." And the audience's joyous response to those words of caring was proof positive that art, as Payton put it, "transcends all human barriers, real and imagined."
But to make that art requires a free spirit, and to live it out on stage a special courage. For the young and talented who showed us how it's done, a standing ovation to you all.