2014 Archives

Vocal teachers unite to grow choir program at DISD’s Carter High

Excerpt

The following is from the Oct. 17, 2014, edition of The Dallas Morning News/NeighborsGo. Virginia Dupuy is a professor of voice in SMU's Meadows School of the Arts, as well as a professional recital and concert singer. Dupuy also is the liaison and founder of the Emerging Artist Program, a partnership for SMU graduate students and the Dallas Opera.

October 29, 2014

By NANETTE LIGHT
NeighborsGo 

Demetrius Ethley has made a career of resurrecting struggling school choir programs.

Virginia Dupuy
SMU Voice Professor Virginia Dupuy gives instruction to students during a choir practice at David W. Carter High School.
(Photo by Rose Baca/NeighborsGo staff photographer)

It’s a song and dance he’s conducted at three Dallas-Fort Worth area schools.

Now the choral director at Carter High School in South Dallas, he’s brought music back to the choir hall.

But the road ends at Carter, Ethley said after a Friday afternoon practice.

“I am tired of starting over. As far as I’m concerned, this is where I’m going to die or retire,” said Ethley, 43. Previously the choir director at Eastern Hills High School in Fort Worth, Ethley was hired as Carter’s director in January 2010.

His charge was to revive a program that had been dormant for four years.

Four months after his first day, he took the non-varsity choirs — three at the time — to UIL. All scored a one — the highest score — on stage.

“That shouldn’t have happened,” Ethley said.

In the last four years, he’s doubled the number of choir students to more than 100. He also added a women’s advanced chorus . . . 

But he said he owes the growth of the program to Virginia Dupuy, a professional recital and concert singer and voice professor at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School for the Arts. A plaque near the choir door marks her service.

“It’s become a pet project of mine,” said Dupuy, who met Ethley in 2010 at a workshop for Dallas ISD choir directors.

Struggling to coach students individually, Ethley asked for Dupuy’s help recruiting voice teachers. But there wasn’t any money.

According to the Texas Education Agency, more than 76 percent of students at the high school were classified as “at risk” during the 2013-14 school year.

On average, Dupuy said weekly private voice lessons run about $40 per hour.

“Voice teachers are expensive,” said Dupuy, who has performed with orchestras in seven U.S. cities. “There was so much talent at this school, but these kids were floundering. There was no ability to help them one-on-one.”

To raise money, Dupuy connected with Rogene Russell, co-founder of Fine Arts Chambers Players, which offers free classical music concerts and educational activities throughout North Texas.

While they worked to raise the money, Dupuy visited the school on Fridays to coach students before the Texas Music Educators Association’s All-Region and All-State choir auditions.

“I think [the students] couldn’t believe we were really coming out to help,” Dupuy said. “It had to do with a feeling that I’ve been very privileged in life to have a music career and a wonderful job at a wonderful university. I wanted to extend that opportunity to others.”

Russell worked to raise grant money to launch the pilot program in fall 2011 to place professional, private lesson teachers at the school such as Arielle Collier, a graduate student at Southern Methodist University pursuing her performer’s diploma.

For the last three years, Collier has visited the school twice each week to coach 10 choir students such as Jones.

Since then, she’s joined the choir on their yearly caroling trip in December and their annual trip to Six Flags. She also works with students throughout the summer and leads sectionals when needed.

“It’s a way for me to have fun, too,” said Collier, who takes voice lessons from Dupuy.

The students are among 20 total — 16 voice and four piano students — chosen to receive free private music lessons through the four-year, in-school program

Fine Arts Chambers Players leads a similar program for 10 students at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

Ethley said the lessons are valued at about $600 per week for the students.

“Over the course of time, just because of the success, we’ve been able to build the funding,” Dupuy said. “Word has spread. I think they’re ambassadors for this part of Dallas.”

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