His conducting gestures weren’t textbook, but bent on one knee to be at eye-level with his choir, Gary Lee coaxed a command performance from the dozen tykes standing before him.
Lee, a music instructor at the North Light Community Center in Manayunk, was an integral part in a talent show held on Tuesday at the Green Lane center.
He coordinated various musical performances, played bass and led the 3- to 5-year-olds in what he termed “American classics,” such as “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.”
The performance became commanding when an unintentional soloist jumped a cue, commencing an unaccompanied version of “Row, Row, Row your boat” that prompted Lee to shout, “Not yet!”
North Light is wrapping up its 2013 summer program this week, with the talent show serving as the dramatic finale to eight weeks of instruction and recreation for about 50 campers.
The theme of this year’s summer camp was “Eating Healthy and Living Stronger,” which included cooking lessons, circuit training and trips to farms, orchards and arboretums.
Building on last summer’s theme of sustainability, the campers also grew their own vegetables in a micro-garden.
The exercise curriculum was also designed to help kids rethink what it means to be healthy, with arts education being a means of encouraging an active lifestyle.
In addition to music lessons with Lee, North Light partnered with Manayunk-based Merge Dance Studio to offer age-appropriate dance and movement coaching.
“I believe that the arts are part of a well-rounded enrichment program,” said Executive Director Irene Madrak.
Made possible by corporate and individual donations, North Light accepts state subsidies and charges tuition for its summer program on a sliding scale based on a family’s income.
According to Jacobs, 90 percent of the campers pay a subsidized fee for the program, which dates back to the 1950’s.
North Light has had its share of financial troubles in recent years. According to Madrak, the community center has changed its fundraising strategies. The center is holding smaller, but more frequent, fundraising events to encourage more individual donations, even as they pursue grants and corporate sponsorships.
Partnerships, which are a key component, range in scope from neighbors who donated costumes for the talent show to Bridging the Gaps, a Philadelphia-based program that places medical and health service students in the field to work with various nonprofit community organizations.
There is also an ongoing internship program for high school-aged students with Villanova University.
Back to the show
For the dance segments of Tuesday’s talent show, campers received instruction from Christa Campbell, artistic director of Merge Dance Studio.
Campbell taught creative movement sessions for the younger kids and Zumba, hip-hop, jazz and modern dance classes for the older campers.
She also spent time each week preparing her students for the talent show by teaching them basic choreography.
Campbell explained that many students were beginners and were somewhat timid at first. However, she noted they responded well to the instruction which connected to this year’s theme of healthy and active lifestyles.
“It showed them that they could get a good workout while dancing and having fun,” she said.
Show and camp reactions
After the culminating performance of the morning — a rousing rendition of The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” — campers retired to classrooms and the outdoor playground for well-deserved snacks.
With the summer program coming to an end, the kids reflected on their performances and their participation in the program.
Allison Laumeister, 8, and Tamika Hayward, 7, were both participants in the talent show.
Laumeister said her favorite part was when the dancers were able to form a semi-circle and perform their own choreography; Hayward relished the chance to move about.
With two days left in the program — all that remained after the talent show was a trip to the shore and a Friday barbecue — staffers also reflected on the strides made by both the campers and the program.
Referencing the talent show, now in its third year, they looked forward to making to continuing to expand their offerings and their relationships with the participants.
As Childcare Programs Director John Jacobs said, “It gets better every year.”