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The Effect of Glee

It comes as no surprise to students who are or were ever a part of a school choir; singing has always been cool. The success of the hit television show “Glee”, which has refocused the national spotlight on school music programs, has only served to reinforce the charm found in band, choir and chorus groups throughout the country. At John Burroughs High School in Burbank, California, the “Powerhouse” glee club and choral teacher Brendan Jennings are the real life inspiration behind the hit show. The set for the show was crafted based on the actual band room at Burroughs High School where the pilot was filmed. 

Powerhouse, which is one of three competing glee choirs at the school, has performed with the “Glee’ cast on the “Oprah Winfrey Show”, the season two premier cast party at Paramount Studios and “Dancing with the Stars”. The accomplished group has won the 2008 Chicago Show Choir Championship and the 2009 National Show Choir Championship in New York. They have performed internationally in Hong Kong for the Cathay Chinese New Year Night Parade and have been featured in concert with Foreigner at the Gibson Amphitheatre in 2010 and at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Resnick Pavillion opposite Christina Aguilera and the Canadian Tenors.

Despite the enormous success of the group, the members are average high school students who juggle the demands of choir practice with rigorous academics. Unlike the show which portrays instant flawless performances, the fifty four member choir spend weeks and months practicing and perfecting their craft. Along with extensive fundraising and parent contributions, the group performs four big shows each year which help raise money for the program. Ninety nine percent of the program’s budget is generated through fundraising with about one percent coming from the school.

The aspect of the show “Glee”which most accurately mirrors the Powerhouse choir is the idea that a glee club is a place where everyone is welcome regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. Brendan Jennings believes that music is the common denominator that brings all the kids together allowing them to learn tolerance and acceptance in the face of diversity. He feels that programs such as his which allow students to become invested and excited about being a part of something bigger than themselves are essential to a successful high school program. In his interview with “Educator” magazine (June, 2011), he said, “The kids are not only learning to be great singers but great people. Students in my program will be pushed to reach for, and achieve, excellence. Understanding what that takes and developing a desire for it will last a lifetime and help my students go on in any field they choose.”

Thanks to Fox network the average television viewer can enjoy the vicarious delights of life as a member of a glee club- with the usual addition of angst, drama and comedy necessary for successful television entertainment. But the real thanks goes to the student choir members of John Burroughs High School and their dedicated teacher for being the true inspiration behind “Glee” and the ongoing inspiration to their school and community. T.V shows come and go, but high schools and students remain. The Powerhouse choir can serve as a reminder to us all of the kind of impact an arts education program can have on kids, schools, communities and the world. 

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