ROCKINGHAM — Magic was in the air at 415 Wall St. Monday morning as the students and staff of Rockingham Middle School gathered inside of Kate Finley Auditorium for the school’s annual Fine Arts Festival.
Originating under the leadership of Dr. John Langley, former principal of the then-Rockingham Junior High, this festival was born out of an observed necessity to expose area students to arts and culture that existed in surrounding areas of North Carolina and across the globe.
The original festivals spanned two weeks throughout the year, one week in the spring and one in the fall, and featured a variety of visual arts performances and hands-on classes.
Although the Fine Arts program offerings have been substantially downsized in recent years as a result of budgetary restrictions and the pressures of high-stakes testing, the sentiment of Langley’s vision is as true today as it was many years ago, making the inclusion of this festival a priority for RMS administration.
Shortly before 9 a.m., following an overview of the rules and expectations for behavior during these days of performances from Assistant Principal Joey Moree, performer Bryan Saint took to the stage.
Saint, an award-winning entertainer from the Charlotte area, kicked off this year’s festival with a series of mind-boggling magic tricks. Beginning with a seemingly impossible rope trick, Saint left the audience mesmerized by his card trick skills, slight-of-hand, and ability to predict seemingly impossible information from randomly selected audience members.
Scotland County native Tyris Jones was next to grace the Kate Finley stage. An actor and storyteller, Jones’s animated performance included the telling of three stories, each containing a valuable life lesson for the audience to ponder.
An advocate for education and lifelong learning, Jones concluded his performance by engaging the audience in the chanting of the statement, “A great education will take you places you’ve never been before.”
The intensity of the festival was stepped up a notch as members of the North Carolina Youth Tap Ensemble took the stage for the performance of their show titled, “Percussive Dance Review.”
Comprised of performers ranging in age from 11 to 17 years old, NCYTE introduced audience members to the art of tap dancing. Beginning with an overview of the dance’s origins in Africa and the British Isles, the high-energy performance traced the progression of tap dancing through the decades and across continents.
The ensemble performed several numbers, including an Irish jig, a clogging number, a stomp — which was performed in rubber boots adorned with bells — traditional American tap, and a number that created the illusion of being on a train. NCYTE’s performance was concluded by the display of the “National Anthem of Tap Dancing” and a standing ovation from the audience.
A brief intermission ensued before a group of Rockingham Middle School staff took to the stage to perform last year’s crowd favorite, “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran. Although brief, the performance engaged the crowd as students clapped and sang along, and served as an opportunity for the Richmond Senior High School Choir, the fourth featured performance of the day, to prepare backstage.
The RSHS choir performed an acapella version of the national anthem, followed by two numbers from their upcoming Christmas concert which will be held Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. in Cole Auditorium. The choir concluded their performance with a goosebump-inducing rendition of Andra Day’s “Rise Up,” followed by a high-energy feature performance by select members from the RSHS drumline.
The festivities were paused for the students to eat lunch before returning to the auditorium for the fifth and final performance of the day from Blue Sands Music.
A string quartet comprised of members from across North Carolina, Blue Sands Music introduced students to the art of jazz. Performing a variety of classic jazz numbers and covers of today’s top 40 hits, the quartet strived to educate audience members on the progression of jazz music and the versatility of classical instruments.
Blue Sands Music concluded with an invitation for students to come to the stage and test their hands at playing the instruments themselves. And while several students took advantage of this opportunity, it was 8th-grade student Fred Garcia who stole the show with his keyboarding skills during a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition.”