Youths in workshop to make singing debut Music course teaches life skills


Idesha Powell is matter of fact about her debut as a concert soloist this week.

"He picked me to do it," says the 13-year-old, gesturing with a smile toward music director Keith Rowel.

Idesha is one of about 50 youngsters, most recruited from Annapolis public housing projects three months ago, who will appear tonight in the premiere performance of Youth Music Workshop of Annapolis.

Idesha and her fellow singers from Newtowne 20 -- Triva Jones, Vanessa Cain, both 13, and Anissa Jones, 16, joke with Mr. Rowel as to the reason for the music workshop.

"It's keeping me off the streets," says Vanessa.

"He was working us real hard," says Anissa, as the others laugh.

Mr. Rowel blends modern gospel with life skills for children who are neighbors to drugs and violence. The workshop is striving to create "good positive nature types of activities," he says.

And he hopes these youngsters, ages 8 to 18, will urge others to participate. "Almost like a domino effect," he adds.

"My aim is to reach them before they get to the age" of drug abuse, "open up some new avenues for them," says Mr. Rowel, 36, a coordinator with the Anne Arundel County Head Start Program who directs two choirs at his church in the Washington Suburb of Capitol Heights.

The workshop was the brainchild of the advisory committee on multi-culturalism at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, a private nonprofit organization in Annapolis.

"We were looking for a project this past winter," said Susan Still, director of outreach programs for Maryland Hall.

The Annapolis Boys and Girls Club offered transportation, and the workshop picked up $2,250 from the City of Annapolis' Drug Reduction Grant Program.

During the spring, youngsters from the public housing communities were encouraged to get involved.

"You have to be creative when you're dealing with kids," says Mr. Rowel, who offers videos as part of the instruction. "We took one of the songs and added a rap. They all came alive."

"We laugh, we joke and we get the job done," he says.

About 35 of the choir members are girls.

"The guys want to do it," says Mr. Rowel. "But now that it's hot they have other activities."

Mr. Rowel hopes to plan other concerts for the fall and expand the workshop to 100 youngsters. "There's no limit to what can be done," he says.

Besides a three-song repertoire from the choir, the concert also will feature dance and comedy from the public housing communities.

The concert, which is free and open to the public, is to start at 7:30 p.m. at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts Auditorium, Constitution Avenue and Greenfield Street.

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