The bright lights of Broadway beckoned to Bennett Chew. The Hillcrest High graduate last week traveled to the Great White Way to learn from the singing and dancing superstars of the stage. 

Chew earned the right to attend the National High School Musical Theater Awards — and to be considered for a Jimmy Award, the student equivalent of a Tony Award — by winning the Best Actor category at the 8th annual Utah High School Musical Theater Awards in May at the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake. 

The University of Utah-bound student, who starred as Jean Valjean in Hillcrest’s “Les Miserables,” which also won the state’s award for Best Musical and Best Scenic Design, spent nine days being coached by industry professionals. Jimmy winners were then picked by a panel of judges.    

Although Chew didn’t walk away with a Jimmy, his final year as a Husky theater kid was full of honors. Not only did Hillcrest earn the top honor at the state musical-theater contest, the Hillcrest drama students won first place at the Utah High School Activities Association’s 6A drama competition and the sweepstakes award at the Utah High School Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City. 

Winning all three honors in one year — the "triple crown" of Utah prep theater — has been done once before. Led by teacher Josh Long, Hillcrest captured all three awards in 2011-2012, when the school’s production of “Aida” earned the Best Musical honor and a national award for its star, Malia Morley. 

“Our students work really, really hard,” says Long, who has directed 50 shows since starting at Hillcrest in 2009. “And they very passionate about what they do. It is great to see them be rewarded for that.” 

Gloria Swenson, who served as president of the school’s theater group, says being in leadership for her senior year, especially in a time full of buzz, applause and recognition, has been “one of the coolest things I have ever got to do … I feel very honored.” 

Swenson recalls with a smile the final performance of “Les Miserables,” which sold out every night of the show’s Nov. 16-20 run. Folks wanted to see the show so badly they were willing to pay for entrance without guarantee of a seat. “I remember the last night,” she said, “and seeing people standing in the back.” 

Three years ago, Gabriel Aina thought his high school goals would be met on the soccer field. Instead, he found his voice on the stage. Without hesitation, Aina, whose favorite production at Hillcrest was “Hamlet,” attributes the school’s success in theater to Long’s teaching style. 

“He isn’t willing to let us drop the ball,” he says. “He teaches us that we can do hard things in life.” One of those hard things, Aina said, was learning to sing in front of a crowd, which he says he “rather dislikes” doing, even though his role as Marius in “Les Miserable” was vocally demanding.

Sterling Larsen lives in the boundaries of another high school but decided to enroll at Hillcrest to be involved in the theater program. Larsen, who was accepted to Brigham Young University, has been in nearly a dozen shows while studying at the Midvale school.  “If I had not done theater,” he says, “I would be a completely different person today.”
Canyons District knows the invaluable impact our art teachers have on students. From music to a multitude of mediums, art gives a voice to those who can’t speak. It can provide a haven for struggling students and enhance the learning process. 

Two of Canyons’ superstar advocates for the arts have received recognition from the Utah State Office of Education — with support from the Sorenson Legacy Foundation — for their contribution to the arts in Canyons District. Arts Consortium Chair Sharee Jorgensen received the 2018 Sorenson Legacy Award for Excellence in Arts Administration, and Sandy Elementary Music Specialist Debbie Beninati received the 2018 Sorenson Legacy Award for Elementary Music Instruction. 
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These educators have been recognized for their willingness to “embrace the arts with excellence in their practice,” according to the Utah State Office of Education.

Jorgensen, CSD’s Fine Arts Specialist, got her start in the classroom teaching middle school and high school band, orchestra, guitar, choir, theater and general music. A decorated educator, she is constantly looking for ways to give back32116505_10155183372271580_7296134139994963968_o.jpg and now serves as Executive Director for the Utah Music Educators Association. “She goes above and beyond her job description, constantly asking what she can do to make our jobs easier,” says Corner Canyon theatre teacher Case Spaulding. “From creating the District costume warehouse to getting set donations….and bringing us treats on our birthdays, she truly cares about each individual person.” 

Beninati models the joys of music for children at Sandy Elementary as a Music Specialist, and when she’s not teaching, she’s advocating for the importance of making comprehensive elementary music education available to all public schools. For her advocacy, Beninati was named Elementary Music Teacher of the Year by the Utah Music Educators Association (UMEA) in 2017. Also, in 2013, the self-described music education “junkie” received the prestigious Huntsman Award for Excellence in Education Award for her work volunteering to head up a 61-student, before-school orchestra at Lone Peak Elementary.

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After this weekend, the “once-in-a-lifetime” bucket lists of the singers in Hillcrest’s Vocal Ensemble and their director are a little lighter. Travel together to New York City? Check. Perform with a Grammy-winning composer and conductor? Check. Sing in Carnegie Hall? Check, check, and check. 

After more than a year of planning and practicing, Hillcrest choir director RaNae Dalgleish and her 33 vocal ensemble students took a red-eye to New York City during Spring Break to prepare for a performance in Carnegie Hall on Sunday, April 8. They were joined by high school choirs from Dubai, New Jersey, Tennessee, Canada, Wisconsin, Texas, Ohio, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and California for the Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) performance of The Music of Eric Whitacre. 

The opportunity to perform in Carnegie Hall is a remarkable experience, but to perform composer Eric Whitacre’s music with him as the conductor is even more significant, said Dalgleish who also performed with her students on Sunday. “This is huge,” she said. “This is a once in a lifetime experience for the kids. I knew that going in, just to work with Eric Whitacre alone is monumental because he is a rock star in the music world.”

Dalgleish responded to an advertisement on Facebook more than a year ago when she saw the potential for her students to have such a unique experience. Her choir from the 2016-2017 school year auditioned for the performance, and they found out in December 2016 that the 2017-2018 choir had been accepted to perform at the event that was described by BBC Music as the “No. 1 North American Live Event Choice for classical music.”



“The Vocal Ensemble received this invitation because of the quality and high level of musicianship demonstrated by the singers,” said Dr. Jonathan Griffith, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor for DCINY, in a news release about Hillcrest’s participation. “These wonderful musicians not only represent a high quality of music and education, but they also become ambassadors for the entire community.”

The choir began working on nine pieces for Sunday’s performance right away, recording and sending videos intermittently to the organization to ensure they would be prepared for the big stage. The students performed “The Rumor of a Secret King” by John Mackey, three spirituals by Moses Hogan, and several songs composed by Whitacre, including “Seal Lullabye,” which was originally written for a Disney movie that was later cancelled.

Whitacre is a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music who has conducted choral and instrumental concerts around the globe, including with the London Symphony Orchestra.
In this digital age of distraction and social isolation, a few dozen Brighton High artists found connection and meaning in the deep human themes depicted in the ancient wall art and petroglyphs of Nine Mile Canyon.

Their trip through the dusty wilds of southern Utah was an educational journey through time, serving as artistic inspiration for a mural they unveiled on Wednesday. For some, the hours spent surrounded by sandstone monoliths and aromatic sagebrush was a restorative break from the hectic pace of an urban high school. Others found connection in communing with voices from the past. Many remarked on how the scope, importance and lasting nature of the art project gave them a sense of purpose.

“The making of beauty, the investing of yourself into making beautiful things in your landscape knowing that they’re going to endure beyond you, knowing that they’ll be there for the next generation, for your grandchildren…is a commitment,” says Lakota/Plains Apache storyteller Dovie Thomason. “If not sacred, we’d certainly call it a top priority.”

Brighton is the fifth Canyons District high school to create a Sacred Images mural as a monument to indigenous peoples. The piece will be permanently installed at the school after the campus is rebuilt with proceeds from a general obligation bond approved by voters in Nov. 2017. The project was made possible by the Center for Documentary Expression and Art and its “Sacred Images” artist-in-residence program, which paired students with Thomason, Ute spiritual leader Larry Cesspooch and muralist Miguel Galaz — guides whose role was to empower students to express themselves.  



Before entering Nine Mile Canyon, Ute Elder and Spiritual Leader Larry Cesspooch gathered with students to bless them with an eagle’s wing. He also shared the Ute creation story and several other tales that have become part of Ute oral tradition over the centuries. 

To hear these and other familiar tales retold by Cesspooch and Thomason “gave the stories a voice that I had never heard before,” said Brighton English teacher Ron Meyer. “It was such a beautiful thing, and I think my students really appreciated that.”

Funding was provided by the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts and Parks Program. Board members and District administrators and dignitaries, including Shirlee Silversmith, Director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, were on hand for the unveiling to celebrate the achievement. 

But the mural was wholly conceived and created by students. “I’d like to take credit, but seriously these students, they did it,” said commercial and AP art teacher Derek Chandler. “We got hands-on and spray-painted, we masked, and we did different art forms that we hadn’t done before.”

The mural, with its bright orange and blue hues, has a characteristically Bengal flair. But beneath the neon paint is a layer of sepia-toned historical photographs depicting people and places who been unifying forces in the students’ world. “When we created the background, we tried to focus on things that brought us together as a community and as a nation,” said student artist Jessica Brunt. “I’m really grateful to have been a part of this project. It was something I’ll never forget and that has helped make me a better person.”

Video courtesy of the Center for Documentary Expression and the Arts.

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  • From the first American production of an epic war play to a tale told with fog, gun shots and strobe lights, high school students in Canyons District are hard at work to bring a variety of stellar performances to the stage this spring. You don’t have to travel all the way to New York City to experience the magic of the theater, just head down the street to your closest high school and see one of these timeless plays:

    "Dunsinane"
    Originally premiered by the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre of Scotland in 2010, David Grieg’s sequel to Macbeth will experience its first all-American production this spring at Hillcrest High School. The play has been performed in the United States, but it was a touring production by the National Theatre of Scotland. Written in modern vernacular, it starts right where Shakespeare left off as a British idealist invades Scotland with his army of young men to establish peace in a foreign country. Peace, however, is not as easy to create as they expect. With a cast of over 120 actors portraying male and female warriors, this modern epic with surprising twists will be performed with a company of students from throughout the school, with a thoughtful exploration of the idea of peace in the modern era. Tickets are $10, though sometimes discounted tickets are available in advance on the school’s website.
    When: March 16, 17, 19
    Where: Hillcrest High School

    "Macbeth"
    This classic tale from Shakespeare tells the story of choice and consequence. It chronicles the tale of Macbeth, a Scottish Lord overcome with ambition. He kills the king and takes his place, only to find himself sick with paranoia about maintaining his position. Because of the mature themes of the play, only those age 10 and above are invited to attend. The performance will allow the audience to sit on stage with the performers in the style of a black box theatre. Time period and gender roles are removed to give new perspective to the story, which will be told with fog, gun shots, sword fighting, strobe lights, live sound effects and lots of fun. Tickets are $9.
    When: Feb. 21-24 at 7 p.m.
    Where: Alta High school auditorium

    "The Comedy of Errors"
    This Shakespearean play tells the story of Antipholus and his servant, Dromio, who go looking for their long-lost twins, from whom they were accidentally separated at birth. When the pair ends up in the same town as their siblings without knowing it, suddenly everyone is seeing double in this fast-paced comedy of mistaken identity, which ends with the happiest of family reunions. Tickets are $5.
    When: Feb 22-24 and 26 at 7 p.m.
    Where: Jordan High School

    "The Crucible"
    "The Crucible" is Arthur Miller’s masterful retelling of the witch trials in Salem Massachusetts. This chilling and poignant story is as relatable and relevant today as it was in 1693 when it occurred and in 1953 when it was written by Miller. All are invited to enjoy this unique and intimate production of this timeless tale. Tickets are $9 for adults and $4 for students and children.
    When: March 9, 10, 12 at 7 p.m.
    Where: Brighton High Auditorium 

    "Dr. Faustus"
    "Dr. Faustus" is the story of a man who sells his soul to the devil in order to get whatever he wants. Viewers of this play may be inspired to ask themselves, how far would you go to achieve greatness? The performance will also include a presentation of individual pieces used in competition, including monologues, scenes, songs and pantomimes. Tickets are $5.
    When: March 16-17 at 7 p.m.
    Where: Corner Canyon Little Theatre

    "The Beautiful Game"
    This rarely performed musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber will have its Utah high school premiere this spring at Hillcrest High. The musical sets rioting in 1970 in Ireland against a backdrop of a high school soccer team, telling a tale that’s part West Side Story, part Newsies. With soaring ballads, an intense narrative and incredible choreography, the performance will feature an incredible evening of dance, soccer, and the fight for a world without violence. Tickets are $10, though sometimes discounted tickets are available in advance on the school’s website.
    When: May 17-19
    Where: Hillcrest High School
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