- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 15, 2001

If angels sang in an earthly chorus, they would surely harmonize with the Eastern High School Choir of Northeast. Through the years, the choir has performed with professional musicians such as Diana Ross, Michael Bolton, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, James Taylor, Carole King and Yolanda Adams. It has sung for all the presidential administrations since 1988 and won the 1988 silver medal at the International Youth and Music Festival in Vienna, Austria.
The 82-member group celebrates this holiday season with the release of its third CD, "Let There Be Peace." The singers also participated in this year's Kennedy Center Honors Gala on Dec. 2 and the "Christmas in Washington" concert Sunday night at the National Building Museum, both attended by President Bush and first lady Laura Bush and taped for television airing.
"Most of the choir members gained experience singing at their local churches," says Joyce Garrett, the artistic director, who founded the choir 30 years ago. "We take what they bring to us and develop and expand it to all genres. During auditions, we make sure students can match pitches and are not tone deaf."
Mrs. Garrett instructs sopranos during a daily afternoon rehearsal: "Sing more from the chest. You're singing too much from your head. Bring it down."
Patrice Edwards, a 17-year-old senior and a first alto, says she has sung at church since age 3. She serves as choir president.
"I sing all the time, every day walking up and down the hallways at school," she says. "We sing in class and throughout the day. That's how we retain our music."
After graduating from high school, she hopes to attend Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Va. Scholarship money is available from the choir to help defray the cost of her college education.
Mrs. Garrett says the proceeds from the choir's performances and projects benefit the Eastern Choral Society Scholarship Fund, created in 1989. The society's after-school, arts-intervention program, Excellence Without Excuses, seeks to instill core values, a positive work ethic and the pursuit of higher education.
When Mrs. Garrett started the scholarship program, only three of the seniors in the choir planned to attend college. Last year, the choir gave about $71,000 to 18 of its 19 seniors. The other member joined the Air Force.
Advertisements for the program hang on the walls at Eastern High School. Signs read: "Come earn money for college."
The number of years students participate in the choir determines the amount of money they receive. A four-year member should earn at least $3,500. Other criteria determine if the amount increases. Last year, two four-year members received $5,000 each.
"Whatever money is left in the treasury, we give back to the kids," says Mrs. Garrett says, who founded the choir in 1972. "We use the vehicle of choral music to teach a lot of things other than music. We teach about teamwork, perseverance, loyalty, dependability, commitment and high achievement."
Senior Keturah Dickerson says she enjoys being a part of the choir. The 17-year-old aspires to study pre-med courses at West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon.
"Mrs. Garrett brings out everything you have from the pit of your stomach," says Keturah, an alto. "Once you get out onstage, it becomes your home."
Kaelen Coleman, another senior, sang for the Children of the Gospel Mass Choir sponsored by the Washington Performing Arts Society, which Mrs. Garrett helped to direct, before he started singing in the Eastern High School Choir. The 17-year-old dreams of attending the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania and becoming a pharmacist.
"James Hall & Worship and Praise is my favorite group," the first tenor says. "I've been singing all my life."
Gerald Scott, 16, is another first tenor in the choir. A junior, he is interested in studying criminal law one day. He says his favorite song performed by the choir is an arrangement of "Rejoice Greatly, O Daughter of Zion" from George Frideric Handel's "Messiah," which appears on the group's new CD. The choir is also known for performing "Go Tell it on the Mountain," "O Come All Ye Faithful," "I Believe I Can Fly" and "The Star-Spangled Banner."
"People see the inner city as so down, but our choir shines brightly," Gerald says. "We do a lot of community service. We are one of the high points of the school."
Although most of the singers in the group are of professional caliber, music director Patrick Lundy, says he encourages the students to fulfill their destiny, even if it's not musical.
"Some of them aspire to be doctors, mathematicians or engineers," he says. "We want to inspire them to be what they were put on this Earth to be."

WHAT: "Christmas in Washington." The Eastern High School Choir performs as part of the American Family Choir.
WHERE: TNT
WHEN: 8 p.m. tomorrow
WHAT: Kennedy Center Honors Gala
WHERE: WUSA-TV (Channel 9)
WHEN: 9 p.m. Dec 26

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