by Heather Colley
Interviewing Gail Persad, who is both the chorus teacher and the fall drama director at Sleepy Hollow High School, was a little difficult because of the euphony of singing coming from every corner of the chorus room.
As she instructed students on how to hit a particular note, Persad simultaneously gave me insight into why the Performing Arts departments in the high school are so renowned. She explained she reaches out to the community with different groups of singers in order to both promote the arts and spread the joys that music brings.
“I bring students to Blythedale, a local children’s hospital, every year around the holidays. The music makes the kids happy in a way no one else can, and that is the most rewarding thing for both myself and my students,” Persad said. “Plus, the department itself is a family. The kids are extremely talented and hard-working; their goal is always to use their talents in music and theatre to provide happiness and entertainment to others.”
This cohesive goal within the school’s Performing Arts program was exhibited in an extremely moving way at the chorus’s recent winter concert. Zoe Kaplan, who is a regular star in the school’s dramas and musicals, as well as a member of the Select Singers group, described the experience:“A little while before the concert, the chorus hastily learned the lyrics to John Lennon’s Imagine, without really knowing why. But at the winter concert, Mrs. Persad invited the audience to stand and sing with the chorus; the whole auditorium was singing together, and many were moved to tears,” Kaplan said.
The students and the chorus wished to spread the message about how everyone must stand together and be more accepting and kind than ever before, in light of recent world events. Such a performance is just one example of the Performing Arts Department’s successes this year, but there are more: students travel to nursing homes to sing for senior citizens, perform for younger students in the district, and create a small, accepting community within the larger school population.
But perhaps the most impressive feat of the Sleepy Hollow Performance Department is its ability to provide opportunity and guidance to students that struggle to find their place in the typical school environment. Francis Pace-Nunez, a senior, had the lead role in the school’s fall drama this year, Our Town.
“When I was younger, I struggled with mental disabilities. The Sleepy Hollow Theater Program provided me with a second family and a support system. I feel like I have a home now within the school, and I cope with challenges better because of it,” Pace-Nunez said.
Pace-Nunez has performed in every drama and musical production since he began high school, and was so inspired by the program that he will be majoring in Theatre and Performance at SUNY Purchase this fall, while continuing his active career in rapping and songwriting.
The rapidly growing program inspires its performers beyond the school walls. Staffed with caring administrators that seek to help students perform their very best show every time, the Sleepy Hollow Music and Theatre department is not to be overlooked. This spring, the students will stage what they expect to be their best musical production yet, Seussical the Musical; with continued support from the community and school, the performing arts departments and students are certain to go above and beyond, creating another amazing production.