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Something magnificent is coming to the Max M. Fisher Music Center next week when Detroit’s music ambassadors, The Mosaic Singers, hit the stage with “Magnificat,” their 10th anniversary concert celebration.
“I wanted to do something to really test these young people’s chops this year and show people what’s really possible with them,” said Kenneth Anderson, Mosaic Youth Theatre’s artistic director and founder of The Mosaic Singers.
Not only will the concert feature such difficult works as “The Creation” by Joseph Haydn and a Mendelssohn piece, the show will also incorporate African World Music – drumming and dance included. Plus, the troupe will perform songs of their own creation. “It’s our normal hodgepodge of stuff,” Anderson noted, “but what will make it stand out is that you’ll clearly see the past, but you’ll also notice the direction for the future.”
Anderson, an openly gay man who initially came to Mosaic as an inaugural member of the now internationally famous youth theater, left after high school to pursue a degree in music education from Jackson State University in Mississippi. A return visit, however, changed his life – and the lives of hundreds of others – forever. “I came back up here and got sucked into the Mosaic vortex – and I’ve been here ever since,” he laughed.
What prompted him to stay – and to create The Mosaic Singers – was an attempt by a few of the young actors to branch off into music. “I was completely uninspired by what they were doing,” he recalled. So he approached Rick Sperling, Mosaic’s founder and then-artistic director, with an idea. “We should have a world class singing company that rivals the acting company. So I convinced him that we should start the singing company as something totally separate from the acting company, with the same kind of aggressive push towards excellence.”
It’s been Anderson’s mission ever since.
That first year, 12 kids auditioned – and 11 made it into the troupe. “They weren’t very good, but we worked really hard, and I started to see a glimmer of what this could be.”
The company soon expanded and performed at its first national event. In attendance were representatives from numerous colleges and universities – and (then) Vice President Al Gore. “The kids somehow sang really inspired that day,” Anderson recalled. “Suddenly we had the country’s attention. And 10 years later, here we are.”
Infusing the unique Mosaic brand of spirit and excellence into a large group of hormonal teenagers isn’t easy – for the instructors or the students. Nor is it all fun and games. “It’s pretty rigorous,” Anderson said of the program. “They have to rehearse 10 hours a week; it’s like a part-time job. They come in and learn music theory, they learn sight singing and ear training, and they learn to expand their musical horizons. You might not be surprised at how most of their musical influences come from whichever radio station is popular at the time.”
But the first – and biggest – lesson they learn, Anderson believes, is how to deal with different people from around the city.
Eighteen-year-old Kelsey Hubbell agrees. A senior at Regina High School in Harper Woods, Hubbell joined Mosaic Singers in her sophomore year and plans to master in social work at Wayne State University after graduation. She believes her years with Mosaic have already prepared her well for her chosen profession. “Here, everybody’s different. We all come from different schools and parts of the area. It’s helped me relate to people that are different from me. I’m a minority here, so it helped me to find a common ground with others.”
It’s also the friendships she’s made that Hubbell will carry over into her future life. “I’ve made some of the closest friends here I could ever ask for. At school, there’s so much drama and conflict, but here you can just throw that aside. Everyone here loves music, so everyone has something in common.”
No matter what skill level a person brings to Mosaic, Hubbell says everyone finds a place to fit. “You’ll find people that love you and appreciate you. You just have to give yourself a chance.”
Anderson believes the key to Mosaic is its inclusiveness. “It’s a safe haven for a kid who’s normally an outcast for some reason,” he said. “You’re just not weird here. The only thing not cool here is to say somebody’s not cool; the only thing that’s not accepted here is not accepting. It’s weird how that dynamic plays out: When a kid is totally comfortable, they’ll totally lay themselves on the line. So what they give to it and what they get from it multiplies.”
That’s especially true for LGBTQ youth. “This is the first place that I know of where gay kids can be completely out; where they don’t have the pressures at home or at church – and the straight kids are accepting of that. It’s like this huge melting pot where the only thing that matters here is how well you do what you say you can do.”
Such a welcoming and nurturing environment is important to Anderson – especially since LGBTQ kids are now coming out at earlier ages. “As we all know, many kids in the arts struggle with issues of gender and sexuality. We can give them the resources to deal with things. There’s an awareness here that doesn’t exist at school. They’re empowered here.”
They also have an excellent role model in Anderson. “It’s not always the most comfortable thing to be in this kind of position – an openly gay man working with kids – but my utmost integrity is this group, and my utmost integrity is being honest and open – and giving the kids something I didn’t have [while growing up]: a gay role model. It makes a big difference for kids to see an openly gay man in a committed relationship and say, ‘Oh, man! Maybe I’m not going to hell because my mother told me I am.'”
Unlike at school, the gay boys have nothing to fear from the straight boys, Anderson said. “Our straight boys are like, ‘We’ve got it made with the gay guys: It’s like 10 girls for every guy.’ That’s that OTHER dynamic we deal with,” he grinned.
The nearly 100 members of The Mosaic Singers – ages 12 to 18 – will be joined on stage by a host of alum who are returning to sing the final few selections of the evening. “Every night there will be a different group of alumni doing solos and singing those last few numbers with the group,” Anderson said.
In all, the program has trained nearly a thousand singers. Some have gone on to Broadway, such as Celia Keenan-Bolger who earned a Tony Award-nomination for her role in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” Others have returned to teach at Mosaic.
Current member Hubbell will debut an original song she wrote called “It’s Over.” “It’s not really from a personal experience or anything,” she said of the composition she wrote with the help of a friend and her father. “I just write about depressing stuff sometimes. It’s easier to write than happy stuff.”
This year has been particularly nostalgic and emotional for Anderson. “I’m getting a lot of kids coming back who say, ‘This really changed my life.’ I’ll try to get through [the show] without any tears,” Anderson laughed. “Here’s hoping!”
Mosaic Singers 10th Anniversary Concert in The Music Box at the Max M. Fisher Music Center, 3711 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Feb. 9-10. Tickets: $18. For tickets: (313) 576-5111 or http://www.mosaicdetroit.org