Port Townsend teens take their songs on the road

PORT TOWNSEND — You’ve probably heard all about the “Glee” TV show ­– and while that fiction is well and good, glee PT is the real thing.

Right after Thanksgiving, composer and jazz piano teacher Linda Dowdell got the job at Port Townsend High School: forming a choir or glee club.

About 20 students showed up and started rehearsing — and next thing they knew, they were warming up the crowd for “The Nutcracker” at Seattle Center.

Jennifer Nielsen, who teaches English and directs plays and musicals at the high school, alerted Dowdell to the fact the Pacific Northwest Ballet, presenter of “The Nutcracker,” offers student groups free tickets to performances in exchange for singing holiday songs in McCaw Hall’s grand lobby pre-show.

“I jumped at the offer, immediately rerouted our repertoire toward songs of the season that could be learned quickly, and we performed at last Wednesday’s matinee,” Dowdell said.

That was Dec. 22; Dowdell also got the gleeful ones a gig at the holiday bazaar Dec. 18 and 19 at The Undertown, a coffeehouse at 211 Taylor St. in Port Townsend.

The singers proved a hit at both venues, said their leader, a veteran of musical theater in New York City, Los Angeles and Seattle.

Director’s experience

Dowdell, who moved to Sequim last year, was music director for, among other groups, Mikhail Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project and worked with the Mark Morris Dance Group in Belgium and New York.

Shortly after she relocated from Manhattan to Sequim, Dowdell co-directed Port Townsend High’s production of “Oliver!” and was co-creator and accompanist for “Here’s to the Ladies!” at Key City Public Theatre.

Dowdell reveled in those productions — and is now relishing her work with the glee teens.

“They deserve great musical education and experiences,” she said.

“They are the people who will be leading our state and country in the near future, so I say give them great professional training in anything, especially the international language of music.

“I had the good fortune to be in a group like this when I was in high school in New Jersey, and I imagine that’s where my arranging skills began developing, as well as ‘people skills.'”

Glee clubber Rose Burt, 18, is also delighting in the opportunity to be part of an ensemble — something that hasn’t been available at Port Townsend High.

Adding dance

She looks forward to mixing in some dance moves with the singing and performing with the club in the new year.

Dowdell “is, like, really legit. She knows what she’s doing,” Burt added.

The glee club, which meets after school one or two times a week, put together a 25-minute holiday program.

And “in addition to singing, we have Taylor Mills on French horn [on ‘White Christmas’], John Reid on snare drum [for ‘Little Drummer Boy’] and various students playing maracas and finger cymbals,” Dowdell said.

“We’ll begin rehearsing again in January, revisiting some nonholiday areas of our repertoire,” she added.

“We had to put aside songs like ‘Lean On Me’ by Bill Withers and some Beatles favorites in order to focus on the holiday-only mandate” from the Pacific Northwest Ballet.

Burt, for her part, is putting an encouraging word out there to newcomers.

“You don’t have to be an experienced singer” to join the club, she said.

“It’s more about having fun and learning what you can do with your voice.”

________

Features Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3550 or at diane.urbani@ peninsuladailynews.com.

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