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Burb's Eye View: Muir students rock with music legends

We just had our faces melted off by the shrieking guitar riffs and arena-blasting, Prog-Rock stylings of Styx. Then Foreigner took the Greek Theatre stage, wailing on classic ballads 30 years past their Billboard heyday, but no less powerful.

It was the last place I'd expect to encounter a middle-school chorus from Burbank.

The show played like a "best of" collection from every classic-rock station that's ever been cranked to 11. When the beginning chords of "I want to know what love is" rang across the amphitheater, several dozen fans got to their feet.

The keyboardist and Mick Jones, Foreigner's lead guitarist and last original member still playing with the band, began the strong and slow progression that led into the melody. They took the swaying crowd through the first refrain and the second verse before a young chorus took the stage.

Only half an hour before, the students were selling CDs in the aisles.

The entire audience in the packed Greek Theatre united under the ballad of heartbreak: "I want to know what love is / I want you to show me." And we were led by half of the John Muir Middle School chorus.

"It was surreal for the most part," said Lydia Lee, choir director at John Muir Middle School. "It's not like the music they listen to all the time — but they still enjoyed it. They still had a great time."

This isn't the first time this year the group has brushed with rock legends.

A former Muir student now works with Gene Simmons, lead singer of KISS. When a new Simmons song required some "teeny bopper" sounds, they contacted Lee to produce the backup vocals.

"(Simmons) was very professional … contrary to what a lot of people think," Lee said, laughing. .

Saturday marked the penultimate performance in the "Soundtrack of Summer" tour featuring Styx, Foreigner and Don Felder of the Eagles. In each city, a high school choir has both performed on stage and helped sell CDs to benefit Shriners Hospitals for Children, Rock to the Rescue and the Grammy Foundation.

John Muir received a $500 grant for the performance, and the chorus is eligible to enter a competition where every chorus featured on the tour vies for $50,000 in equipment for their school..

"It's a long shot, but we're going to have fun doing it," Lee said. "We totally need that PA system for the auditorium."

She said the pros were impressed with the school's singers backstage, and how quickly they learned their marks and moves during rehearsals. They were expected to perform at the level of guys who had 30 years or more of practice behind them.

And they rocked.

"These kids work really hard and they're good at what they do because they put in the time," said Greg Miller, principal at John Muir Middle School. "Not any middle school choir program could get up and perform with them."

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BRYAN MAHONEY writes about Burbank neighbors and the place they call home. He can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter at @818NewGuy.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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