Harmony Foundation: Barbershop changing lives at Democracy Prep Middle School

Harmony Foundation: Barbershop changing lives at Democracy Prep Middle School


My name is Douglas Carnes, and I teach 6th,
7th and 8th grade choral music at Democracy Prep Middle School right here in Harlem. So when I first got to Harlem and Democracy
Prep Middle School, it was a very tight and rigorous academic structure that they had
here. The principal shared with me that they wanted
to bring choral arts into the school, and I thought, “How am I gonna do this?” I had the idea to start bringing barbershop
in, and the first thing I did was I brought my quartet in. I just wanted them to see what a barbershop
quartet was. I wanted to blast a couple of tags in their
face and see kids get excited, and immediately, you saw the whole school light up. We had an assembly and taught them what barbershop
was. Our principal, Mr. Rahman, let us do a half-hour
speech. We did it three times, for the 6th, the 7th
and the 8th grades. So Mr. Carnes is our music teacher, he came
and did a quick music presentation. He was talking about a barbershop quartet. And me, I’m thinking, “I get my hair cut. What is this Boyz II Men, Cooley High harmony? What are you talking about?” When he brought his actual quartet to school,
I saw the power in how you have four people in unison making a great song, great music
for everyone. It was fantastic performed for 6th, 7th and
8th graders. Everybody was really enthusiastic about the
program. Once I saw that, I said, “This is something
we’ve got to bring to our kids.” So at the end without telling Mr. Rahman,
what we did was, I brought him up on stage and — mind you, I have never heard him sing
before. I have no idea if he can sing. I have no idea if he’s going to go flat,
sharp, if he’s going to hold the pitch, if he can breathe. And this guy comes up and he posts this tag. He’s blasting it and we’re singing around
him, and literally the kids went crazy. I mean, we had to have teachers calming kids
down. “Bring it back, bring it back! Everyone sit down!” I mean, they loved it. Immediately, I had scholars come up and ask
me if they can do it, if they can sing. Of course, my response was yes. I started incorporating barbershop lessons
into my curriculum. Anything that involved the Barbershop Harmony
Society and just singing in general, I brought it into my lessons. From the day I started doing that, the kids’
lives changed if you ask me. (Westminster Chorus singing) I do one lesson where we talk about how to
act professional on a riser and how to be enthusiastic. So we have this “glows and grows.” What that means is that I want everyone to
take notes on the video and gives me two glows, something that the chorus did great. And two grows, something that they could do
better. I want you to say the whole thing again, what’s
barbershop? (student) They wear the stripes and canes. Stripes and canes? Do some of them have bad voices? We’ll talk about that in a minute. They need a bigger stage. Bigger stage, I’ll bring that up with them. (student) They need better clothes. Homophony. (class repeats) Homophonic. (class repeats) Anyone know what those mean? (student) They’re all singing together. They’re all singing at the same time. That’s called homophonic. (student) They’re in perfect unison. They were in perfect unison, that’s really
important for what we’re about to talk about. So we had: Some of them sang really well. We had: great choreography and a lot of energy,
the word he used was pride. I like that. They moved very organized, good. So they’re organized. So now let’s talk about some grows. What could this chorus do better? Marcus. I said they could have a solo. You think there should be a solo section? OK. They should make their words clearer when
they’re singing so that the audience can understand. All I heard was, “Bah dah bah doo bah bah.” What’s the word that starts with a P? So I can understand you, what do you have
to do? Project your voice? Not only project, but … Pronounce! There you go. They could have put their dancing moves, possibly
work on more movement. The glows are always fun, because they love
to watch it. They love the singing, they love the attitudes. So we decided to watch a video, and we’re
watching. This great, big video. They’re doing all these things great. I said, “All right, scholars, give me two
grows.” And one of the scholars says, “Mr. Carnes,
I have a question.” I said yes. She says, “Why are there no black people?” I didn’t really have an answer. So I’m bringing four of our scholars to
New Orleans for the Youth Chorus Festival, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without
the Harmony Foundation. My first scholar is academically incredible. He has, I think, a 3.9. He has no deductions. Every day, he never gets sent out of class. That’s Nick Pinero. Then we have Sean. When Sean came to Democracy Prep, he struggled
academically with his reading levels, his study habits, his math levels. And he was just really struggling to fit in. What happened is, I brought him to East Coast
Sound and all of a sudden, he had 30 best friends surrounding him. What’s happened is, his study habits are
going up. He’s spending extra time in homework club
that he isn’t required to spend. He’s finishing all of his homework, he’s
not going to detention. His reading levels are going up. He learned all three songs in a two-hour time
period at East Coast Sound. Something that I never thought was going to
happen, and it was incredible to watch. Richard Diaz-Tucker is one of the quietest
gentlemen you’ll ever meet until you get him into a barbershop crowd, for some reason. Richard Diaz has a great GPA, great in schoolwork,
but he is just opening up and becoming an enthusiastic person and really finding himself
through the barbershop society. Last but not least, we have Denzel Rodriguez. He is the tenor, go figure. But he full-voices everything because he doesn’t
have a falsetto, which is incredible. Again, Denzel was probably the one that struggled
the most with the culture here. Getting sent out of class, getting deductions
during class. And I looked at him one day and I said, “I’m
going to take you to New Orleans. If I do that, you have to promise me that
we’re going to be able to correct this behavior.” Since I told him that, he hasn’t had one
send-out in about a month. He hasn’t had deductions. And his entire attitude has kind of flipped
and turned upside-down. He’s super excited to come with us. The whole concept of our school is to dream
big. And we’ve kind of developed five really
important things to follow in order to do this, in order to stay an important citizen
and to go out in the world and change it. It just happens to be the word “DREAM.” Which is discipline, respect, enthusiasm,
accountability and maturity. The school breeds this into our children. They’re here from 7:30 in the morning, they’re
here until 5:30 at night. Our math scores beat out all of New York City’s
math scores. Our English scores are higher than they’ve
ever been before. 100 percent of the last two graduating classes
went to college. Not only does that not happen in Harlem, but
it hardly happens anywhere. I went to the Youth Chorus Festival two years
ago, and it changed my life overnight. I get the opportunity to take these four kids
and watch the same exact thing happen to them. Day in and day out, we try to change their
lives here. We try to make them work hard and go to college
and change the world here at Democracy Prep, and sometimes it just is so hard. Sometimes you just can’t get through to
them. Every once in a while with a scholar, all
it takes is a simple song. It’s four-part harmony. It’s being around kids their age that they’ve
never met before. It’s incorporating dance and emotion into
songs that these guys sing in front of hundreds of people at the Youth Chorus Festival. Their lives are going to be changed by this
Youth Chorus Festival, and I am so excited to watch it happen. Singing makes me feel elated, because I’m
singing with my friends and stuff. I didn’t really know I was going to be their
friends. I was a little nervous coming into this group. Singing helps me have a goal. Like, when I sing, it’s just — I let it
all out. I don’t sing for other people usually. I sing to myself. And I just can let all the stress from that
day out. Even though I don’t like to read, whenever
I go to the risers, singing makes me feel better.

3 Comments on "Harmony Foundation: Barbershop changing lives at Democracy Prep Middle School"


  1. Another reason to support Harmony Foundation and their support of the Youth in Harmony program.

    Reply

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