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Erick Deshaun Dorris

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Chicago Student Artists Showcased at AUSL's Festival of the Arts

Posted: 05/20/11 06:54 PM ET

Nat "King" Cole, Sam Cooke, Dorothy Donegan and Sara Vaughn: famous musicians all, and all famous alumni of what is now Wendell Phillips Academy High School.

Is there a future star to add to this list?

Find out May 21 at the Academy for Urban School Leadership's 2nd annual Festival of the Arts. Students from Phillips Academy and all 19 AUSL schools will perform music, exhibit their own artwork and even display their culinary skills.

Admission is free for the Festival, taking place 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Eric Solorio Academy High School, located at 5400 S. Saint Louis Ave. Refreshments will be available throughout the afternoon. All proceeds will go to support the fine arts programs at AUSL schools.

Phillips Academy, in its first year as a turnaround school, will present its emerging jazz, marching and concert bands.

"We're trying to bring back the history," said Wendell Maclin, the school's director of music.

Maclin is a firm believer that the power of music can be an important anchor for students.

"This is more than a job for me," he said. "It's personal; it's an adventure."

Maclin is famous for doling out nicknames for his students. Everyone has one. The list includes Norbit, Sunshine, Miss Piggy and Potato. Why Potato? The student was originally from Idaho.

Even though virtually none of these students had played an instrument prior to this year, they are quick studies. Many come to school early at 7 a.m. for an hour rehearsal. They stay late, working from 3 to 6 p.m. to prepare for the Festival.

"They have really taken to the family concept," he said.

A Piano Prodigy

Antoine McCant, a seventh-grader at the Johnson School of Excellence, has almost no formal piano training.

But McCant can listen to a piece of music and in one or two takes he can decipher the chords and play it back.

"It's a unique situation," said Chris Cvengros, a general music teacher at Johnson and the choir director. "There are only a couple people that I've ever met who can do this. He's a prodigy."

McCant will accompany the Johnson Choir in, "Seasons of Love", "I Believe" and "This Little Life of Mine."

Orff Ensemble and Barrel of Monkeys

National Teachers Academy will feature its Orff ensemble, the only one of its kind in Chicago Public Schools. Based on drumming, movement and improvisation, Orff is a high-energy and fun method of making music. Holly Mullinex leads the ensemble and has trained with Orff masters from throughout the country.

Another highlight will be a performance from Barrel of Monkeys, a theater and education company that teaches creative writing workshops in CPS schools. Instructors from Barrel of Monkeys worked with students at Morton School of Excellence on their creative writing skills and adapted some of the stories written by students into sketches and songs.