Changing the world with show tunes.
On the very same day a former teacher and the longest serving speaker of the house was being exposed as a “serial child molester”, another much lesser known teacher was pushing a group of students into one of the scariest situations they’d ever faced — singing show tunes in public.
Dennis Hastert’s former office is walking distance from my home so the headlines of what this man did to children are eerily personal and literally hit close to home.
A former teacher and wrestling coach paying millions of dollars of hush money is mind boggling. And it is the polar opposite of a music teacher with just a piano in an aging Chicago school building putting the fear of god into students by inspiring them into singing show tunes.
Patricia Rusk is the Musical Theatre Department Chair Emeritus for The Chicago Academy for the Arts — a preparatory high school for the performing and visual arts. And while this “Fame-like” high school boasts alumni like Cecily Strong, Justin Tranter and Alan Rifkin it is Rusk’s Lunchtime Singing Class that epitomizes how the Arts can change the world.
The arts have had a long history of battling for it’s very existence. In the town where Dennis Hastert’s office is located, art and music budgets were being reduced in the elementary classrooms, while the school board simultaneously pushing for the construction of a $13 million dollar football field.
So while the majority of the kids attending The Academy are there working hard to become our next generation of film and stage directors, A-list actors, screen writers, musicians, visual artists and company dancers, the truth is that for many, the arts won’t support them. And that has been a challenge for this arts High School in working to create a path for success in a society that invests a majority of school budgets around sports.
And this is why Patricia Rusk’s lunchtime singing program is so indispensable. Every Wednesday, for half an hour, students NOT studying musical theater, skip lunch to learn how to sing. And while Ms Rusk does allow the students to suggest their own favorites, she pushes show tunes.
She knows that the further she can move students out of their comfort zones, the greater the impact on their self-confidence despite their resistance in having to act while also singing.
And here is what this means to a parent of these students. Two of those students are my daughters, both of whom are dancers at the academy.
One of them, I’d never heard sing until that night. We weren’t sure she’d even perform as she threatened not to sing for the final performance. It was her best friend who talked her into joining the lunchtime program, under the condition of not doing the actual recital. Other students in fact had forbid their parents from attending.
But she did sing as did all of the students and while it’s easy to empathize with their reluctance, the genius behind the method Ms. Rusk employs became evident that night. Each student’s courage was clearly on display for all to see while they created a wonderfully entertaining and engaging performance.
And while many of the students will continue to pursue their chosen field of study, and upon graduation will inevitably struggle to make a career in their creative profession, the character-building self-confidence, assuredness, and self-esteem gained from this experience will last lifetime.
So as you watch the video below, pay attention to the little bob of hair over the top of the piano and listen to Ms Rusk’s piano as it dutifully cradles their fears, guides them along when they stumble and simply coaxes them into better, stronger human beings.
While the press will be lit up over the next days and weeks with heinous deeds of Dennis Hastert and the enduring damage he has done to the children he was teaching, I implore you to help counter all that by sharing the story of Patricia Rusk.
The world needs to know that there is at least one Patricia Rusk for every Dennis Hastert.
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