Students make creative connections at DODEA arts symposium

By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: November 16, 2016

OBERWESEL, Germany — More than 160 students from DODEA-Europe are spilling their creative juices this week at a symposium that celebrates the visual and performing arts.

Creative Connections has been an annual event for more than 30 years. It gives the best student artists, performers and musicians attending U.S. military schools in Europe an outlet to express themselves and hone their craft.

Since arriving at a lodging facility on the Rhine River late Sunday, the students have been working intensively, preparing for a performance and art show scheduled for parents and the public on Thursday.

“I say it’s like creating a magnet school for a week,” said Hope Matthews, Creative Connections’ project officer. “You just float from room to room and you hear show tunes and you hear symphonic tunes; you hear garage band and you see the kids working with all different mediums of art.”

Students auditioned in September for a spot in the elite program after submitting applications with samples of their work or performances. A Department of Defense Education Activity-Europe committee selected 169 students from about 455 applicants, Matthews said.

“We wanted to give as many kids the opportunity to do this because, as you can see, they’re eating it up,” she said. “It is such a unique experience for them and honor for them to come here and have the best materials to work with and experts who are really teaching to their specialty.”

Students applied to and were selected for 10 different workshops, mostly in the traditional arts, such as dance, string ensemble, oil and pastels and musical theater.

But the symposium also made room for more contemporary artistic pursuits and interests such as video production and “garage band” — the latter a workshop requiring pupils to compose their own music and lyrics and not just head-bang.

The instructors are DODEA Europe art, music and drama teachers. Two guest instructors were former teachers with the DODEA.

With a paintbrush in her hand and a messy mixture of watercolors spread out on a desk in front of her, Audre Balanda, a senior at Wiesbaden High School, said Creative Connections was both motivating and humbling.

“It’s really challenging because you go from being one of the best in your school to just mediocre, because everyone else is like the best in their school,” she said. “Everyone here is really talented.”

Attending Creative Connections last year for oil and pastels helped Balanda figure out she wants to further her education in art and perhaps make it a career.

“Going to school for art would be like going to Creative Connections every day,” she said. “That’s pretty awesome because it’s so fun and you learn so much.”

Andrew Barnes, a sophomore at Stuttgart High School, wasn’t afraid to dive in during his first Creative Connections, performing a bullet-fast rap from “My Shot,” a song from the Broadway musical “Hamilton,” during rehearsals Tuesday.

“I heard the song a couple of times before,” he said, speaking of his efforts to memorize the lyrics. “The night before I just listened to it over and over and over.”

For the garage band group, memorizing lyrics would come after first writing them down.

On Tuesday, members from one of two six-piece garage bands said they were working on two songs. One, which they described as “more uplifting and happy,” didn’t have a name yet, but they were thinking of calling it “Sunshine.”

The other song is “grungy and darker,” said Gabe Contino, a drummer from Stuttgart High School.

“Yeah, it’s very ’90s,” said Gabriella Moghaddam, a freshman vocalist from Naples High School, Italy.

Besides producing original music, the workshop is a real-life lesson in collaboration, the band members said. “It teaches you how to work with other people who have different ideas than you.”

“We all just met each other … on Sunday night,” Moghaddam said. “We were pretty much strangers and we had to write this song together, so it’s been pretty cool.”

In her second year of costume design, Ashley Freundner, a senior at AFNORTH High School, Belgium, hunched over a sewing machine while stitching a jumpsuit with ruffles she designed for one of the actors in musical theater.

A year ago, “I had only touched a sewing machine once,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else,” she said of Creative Connections.

Mixed media instructor Jessica Spencer, an art teacher at Alconbury Middle/High School, England, said she hopes her students at Creative Connections see where they can “push themselves, take risks and be surprised and be like, ‘Wow, I created that.’ ”

“A lot of kids come back from Creative Connections so inspired” and excited about art, saying, ‘I wish this could be my every day school,’ ” she said.

The Creative Connections performance can be watched via live-streaming on Thursday, Nov. 17, starting at 5:30 p.m. at: https://goo.gl/qYtNzb


Dance instructor Tammie Grimmage, foreground right, and members of the Creative Connections dance workshop discuss how to end a piece they were rehearsing, Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016.

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