The city of Detroit has produced more than its share of great musicians over the years, thanks in part to high-quality school music programs. But today, with Detroit students scattered between public, private and charter schools, it’s become less likely that music and theater are part of their curriculum.
DeLashea Strawder, music director of Mosaic Youth Theatre’s “Coming Up Taller: The Mosaic Singers in Concert” shows, which run Friday-Sunday at the Redford Theatre, sees a big difference between today and just 15 years ago.
“Quite a few of our young artists, if they weren’t in Mosaic, they wouldn’t be participating in theater and music,” Strawder said.
Some 26 Mosaic singers will perform on stage this weekend, but many more Detroit youth — a thousand currently — take part in Mosaic programs.
Things were different when Strawder, 32 and a Mosaic veteran herself, attended Detroit public schools.
“I had music (instruction) from elementary school, up to high school. Now it’s not a reality anymore, which is kind of scary and odd, in the birthplace of Motown.”
Mosaic president and founding artistic director Rick Sperling echoes that concern.
“The last statistic I’ve heard is that only 30 percent of Detroit schools have music programs,” Sperling said. “That is stunning when you remember that (Motown’s) Marvelettes learned to sight read music at Inkster High School. And (Motown arranger) Paul Riser will tell you that he was doing string arrangements at Motown at the age of 19, based upon what he learned at Cass Tech.”
The numbers are even worse when it comes to drama programs, Sperling laments. And thus, Mosaic Youth Theatre has a job to do.
“We’ll continue to make sure young people have opportunities in music,” Sperling said. “Study after study shows that music and the arts have a tremendous impact on 21st century skills.”
Until now, Mosaic shows have played venues in the center city. Performing at the historic Redford Theatre — a first for the youth group — is a purposeful outreach, Sperling said.
“We have been focusing on trying to connect more to the neighborhoods, especially neighborhoods that are underserved in terms of youth arts,” he said. “We have started doing programming in the Brightmoor neighborhood through the Skillman Foundation.”
While the Redford isn’t located precisely in Brightmoor, Old Redford could be described as being in “greater Brightmoor,” he said with a laugh.
The Mosaic Redford concerts this weekend will be in two parts; the first half will be a traditional chorale concert, with the ensemble singing classical, jazz, spirituals and world music. The second half, Strawder said, will focus on “the resilience of the human spirit and how music has greatly impacted that over the years.”
The concerts are part of an array of activities planned for Mosaic Youth Theatre’s 25th anniversary year. Sperling is particularly excited about the “Detroit Party,” an April 1 fundraiser at the Los Angeles home of songwriter (and former Detroiter) Allee Willis. The party at “Willis Wonderland” will be co-hosted by Detroit natives Lily Tomlin and Motown songwriter/producer Lamont Dozier. The host committee includes a number of Michigan natives, including Claudette Robinson of the Miracles, Ann Arbor’s Mayer Hawthorne and producer Don Was.
The party will feature sing-alongs, live auctions from Willis’ Museum of Kitsch — including vintage Detroit memorabilia — and strolling performances by 10 Mosaic performers from the organization’s most experienced, “Next Stage” group. The Mosaic singers will be a human jukebox, Sperling said, “singing Motown and Allee Willis songs.” Some Willis compositions include Earth, Wind & Fire songs she co-wrote: “September” and “Boogie Wonderland.”
The young Detroiters will also walk the grounds performing the Mosaic Living Brochure that explains the group’s mission in song.
Susan Whitall is an author and longtime contributor to The Detroit News. Contact her at susanwhitall.com.
Coming Up Taller: The Mosaic Singers in Concert
10 a.m. Friday, 7 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday
17360 Lahser, Detroit
Tickets: $25 for adults, $20 for seniors and adult full-time students, $15 for youth age 5-17 and $50 for Family 4-pack tickets. “Mosaic VIP Front and Center” premium seats are available for an additional $10.
mosaicdetroit.org, (313) 872-6910
The Detroit Party, April 1, Allee Willis’ home, Los Angeles.
Ticket information: lamosaic25.eventbrite.com