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Seeing Stars

Posted By on April 25, 2012

by Teri Ong

My daughter Katherine performed in the Greeley Kiwanis “Stars of Tomorrow” program March 10th. I haven’t been to a “Stars” program since one of my violin students was selected as a finalist several years ago. On the whole, I greatly enjoy local color and appreciate student talent. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have lasted as a music teacher for as long as I have. But I had forgotten how much some of the acts resemble children “acting” like grown-up performers, rather than looking like performers in their own right.

This distinction is probably lost on younger people, but to those of us who are old enough to remember vintage child performers, there is a decided difference between Alfalfa (of the old “Our Gang” series) singing an operatic aria for a children’s talent show that was the subject of a particular episode, and Shirley Temple singing “Animal Crackers in My Soup” as an integral number in a musical film. Sadly, this year’s Stars of Tomorrow show was peppered with “Alfalfa meets Lady Gaga.”

In a show that is purportedly about encouraging young performers to develop their talents, I was a little disquieted by a troop of eight year olds slinking around on stage bumping body parts in the face of the audience and by eleven year olds singing about needing to be released from passionate relationships gone bad. This kind of play acting is creepy. It goes way beyond wearing Mommy’s high heels and carrying her purse. It should have made the adults in the audience feel a little bad that that is the way children look when they are copying “grown-up” behavior. But judging by the way a large percentage of the members of the audience were grooving and clapping to the music, I don’t think they understood the import of what was happening on stage.

We were also treated to children imitating adult philosophizing and emoting. We learned from one sweet little girl (who told us she only lives to dance), that we are all beautiful because, well, because we are– no matter what anyone else says. And that it is good to follow your passions because, well, because it just is– no matter what anyone else says.

Several of the “dancers” had choreographed (I use the term broadly) their own numbers. The choreography, when it wasn’t play-acting versions of the slinky/sensual moves popularized on music videos and “Dancing with the Stars,” was about as interesting and artistic as a Denise Austin exercise routine. None of it made me think there were any young Fokines or Duncans in the group.

Another youngster treated us to profound bits of “13″ year-old philosophy (undoubtedly written by a well-meaning adult) that urged us not to expect too much of teenagers, to get the pressure off their backs, and give them more time to study life since no one has gotten all the answers right yet. He kept singing about looking in the back of the book for the answers, but I don’t think he had the right Book.

I don’t generally listen to much pop music so I don’t have a very good basis of comparison for judging if what was presented that night was typical or if it only represented a tiny slice of pop culture that is within the reach of young performers. But the vacuous and repetitive (Did I say “repetitive?”), I mean to say repetitive lyrics and tunes made the worst of the 7-11-style “praise” choruses performed in evangelical circles seem like something out of Wagner.

The evening was made bearable by the young performers who actually performed (as opposed to those who play-acted). They were all the students who had been classically trained. As a musician myself, I know that it is impossible to “play-act” performing high level classical pieces. For example, Victor Borge had to really know how to play the piano first in order to be able to play around with the piano. The assorted pianists, flautists, cellists, and serious singers in the “Stars” show had honest-to-goodness, well-trained and well-disciplined skill, not just a combination of youthful energy and parental ambition.

Just when we were getting ready for the announcement of the awards, we were made to endure an old “Stars of Tomorrow” contestant who was supposedly now a “Star of Today.” Hunter Hall (along with a bass guitarist and a drummer) came out on stage and “treated” us to two rock numbers performed in the decibel range somewhere between “painful” and “permanently damaging.” All of the young performers had been pleasantly and adequately miked, but now a loud-mouthed adult had to be amped up into the stratosphere. Fortunately, the judges only needed two numbers during which to tally their scores. The icing, however, was when the lady emcee encouraged all of the youngsters to aspire to be as professional as Hunter Hall!

Was it worth sitting through? It was, but only because we got to see the triumph of “truth, justice, and the serious way.” Nathan Kenigsberg, a Christian homeschooler, won the elementary division with a classical piano number. Ellie Disselkoen, a Christian homeschooler, won the middle school division with a classical flute number. And Katherine Ong, a Christian homeschooler, won Best of Show with a classical-style piano number.

I came away hopeful that our children will have the skills to impact their culture as salt and light. I also came away understanding even better how much their culture needs them.

Here are two prayers for our children:

Ephesians 6:10-14

10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (NKJV)

God of love, that hearest prayer,

Kindly for Thy people care,

Who on Thee alone depend;

Love us, save us to the end.

Save us, in the prosperous hour,

From the flattering tempter’s power,

From his unsuspected wiles,

From the world’s pernicious smiles.

Cut off our dependence vain

On the help of feeble man,

Every arm of flesh remove;

Never let the world break in;

Fix a mighty gulf between;

To the admiring world unknown,

Prized and loved by God alone.

Let us still to Thee look up,

Thee, Thy Israel’s strength and hope;

Nothing know or seek beside

Jesus and Him crucified.

Charles Wesley (1707-1788)

Post Script

It is now April 22. It was my intention to post this at the beginning of April, but my computer died right in the middle of a meeting of the Northern Colorado Inklings. I now have a new computer and my son Brandon has salvaged everything that I still need from my old computer.

It is ironically fitting that I should post this today because today was the day that the “Best of Show” contestants competed in the Kiwanis tri-state regional Stars of Tomorrow. Katherine Ong was chosen as the “Best of Show” contestant from Greeley, but she had a very difficult decision to make.

The regional competition was held on a Sunday. When she first found out that the award winner was eligible to compete but that the competition was on Sunday, she told one of the officials that she hoped she didn’t win that prize. But when it turned out that she did win, she struggled for a night and a day making her decision. We told her that we could see how it could be the Lord’s will for her either way – to compete or not to compete.

On the day she had to notify the local club of her decision, she told us that she had come to the decision that NOT to compete was the path of more faith in her Christian life.

She did not compete today. She faithfully fulfilled her normal duties in church and helping with the evangelistic Sunday afternoon Sunday school. From a human perspective, her extreme exercise of faith slipped by unnoticed (by all except me, I think). But I am sure that the cloud of witnesses in heaven were cheering their heads off!

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you SHINE AS STARS in the world. Philippians 2:12-15


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