Mayor honors Hartsfield chorus with proclamation
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer
At the end of each of two songs performed by the Hartsfield Elementary School Chorus, the audience responded with resounding applause.
The performance of Janet Gardner’s “Shine your light” and “This is me” from the soundtrack of the Greatest Showman was exhilarating.
“Absolutely amazing,” said Mayor John Dailey.
He was there last Tuesday to present a proclamation to the chorus for its body of work, which includes winning several major chorus competitions locally, statewide and regionally.
“I guess you will agree with me that the future of Tallahassee is standing right up here,” Dailey said, pointing to the stage.
“This is just the beginning.” said chorus director Arnekua Jackson.
Actually, the performance in the school’s cafeteria was just a sampling of the kind of harmony that got the Hartsfield Chorus a second invitation to perform at Carnage Hall next year. They were invited to perform earlier this year but missed the opportunity because fund-raising fell short.
Their list of other accomplishments is length. Since they began performing in competitions, they’ve captured multiple first-place trophies in Orlando and have captivated audiences in Atlanta and Valdosta.
Jackson has been grooming the chorus for nine years at Hartsfield, where she is a music teacher. Although the personnel have changed over the years, the chorus has shown consistent improvements.
She wasn’t sure what to expect when she introduced the idea of forming a chorus after arriving at Hartsfield nine years ago. Jackson, who holds a doctorate degree in music education from Florida State, said she simply wanted to develop a music culture at the school.
Students were reluctant at first. However, 30 of them showed up for the first practice.
“I was blown away from that day,” said Jackson, who this year was named distinguished educator of the year. “I realized that the Hartsfield chorus was going to make a difference.”
More than 80 percent of the members are honor roll students. Interest in the chorus has grown to a point that Jackson has had to form a beginners’ chorus.
Being in the Hartsfield Chorus was a life-changing experience for her, said Taleah Thomas, an alum who occasionally returns to assist Jackson.
“When I got here I was very shy,” said Thomas, now a sophomore at Leon High School. “I didn’t want to do anything with anybody. But when you join the chorus, it’s like a family; everybody here is like brothers and sisters.”
The chorus is opened to students in third through fifth grades. Beyond that, Jackson’s other criteria is good grades although it’s not one that she is hard and fast on as she has made tutoring and study hall mandatory.
Practice time takes 90 minutes twice each week. The payoff makes it worthwhile, said Aster Frances Templin, a third-year member of the chorus.
“It makes me really proud of that I’ve accomplished over the past few years,” said Templin. “It makes me happy that people want to listen to the music and they like it.”
Logan Tew, another third-year singer with the Chorus, said it took some urging from his parents to join.
“I was like; they just wanted me to do this because they want me to,” he said. “Now my attitude has completely changed because I love this chorus. I’m glad to be here.”
As fabulous as the chorus has become, it’s safe to say what it’s doing for Hartsfield is far more than expected at a Title 1 school.
Even Principal Rhonda Flanagan said she was amazed at what she discovered when she arrived at Hartsfield two years ago.
Especially because of her background in the performing arts and what Jackson was already doing.
“I saw how expansive the chorus was and I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, my vision and her talent we could take it as far as we could.
“There is no limit to what we can do here. With their talent, the support, the resources and the right attitude the sky is the limit to where we can go.”