Savannah VOICE Festival Partners with School System on Musical Education Outreach

Staff Report From Savannah CEO

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

The Sherrill Milnes VOICE Programs and Esther F. Garrison School for the Arts are proud to announce a partnership to implement a comprehensive musical outreach program in the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System.

Garrison, community and VOICE Programs leaders– including the Savannah VOICE Festival and VOICExperience – have been working together to create a detailed plan focusing on the importance of music education for the youth of our community. This new program, which will initially be rolled out at Garrison and Savannah Arts Academy before a later expansion to other schools, consists of a structured curriculum that will be taught by VOICE Program artists during campus visits. Tailored for students from sixth through twelfth grades, the subject matter provides Grade Level Appropriate Anchor Standards within the National Core Arts Standards.  This initiative has gained great success through the SVF’s pilot programs that were launched at Garrison, Windsor Forest Elementary and the Bethesda Academy, a privately funded organization.  Led by Executive Director of Savannah VOICE Festival and VOICExperience, Maria Zouves, and the organization’s Education Coordinator and VOICE Program alum, baritone Chad Sonka, it became clear that the program should be formalized and rolled out to benefit the wider SCCPSS. 

The outreach program, designed to connect and inspire participants of various age groups and grade levels, will include school visits by SVF team leaders, the presentation of opera as an art form, live artist performances, student participation in “mini masterclasses”, question-and-answer sessions, talks on musical and opera history, videos of famous performances and subsequent discussions, study guides, multifaceted musical production engagement, workshops, special projects, roundtables, an art song festival, and more. The VOICE Programs and Garrison have entered into a Memorandum Of Understanding to formally establish their partnership, which has the endorsement and support of SCCPSS.

The official launch of the outreach program is scheduled for the beginning of the new school year as students return to class on Thursday, August 3, 2017.  The launch coincides with the fifth annual Savannah VOICE Festival which begins the weekend of August 5 and runs through August 27 incorporating extensive outreach initiatives in Chatham County schools.

Facilitating connections within classrooms is not new to the VOICE Programs founders and administrators. World-renowned operatic baritone Sherrill Milnes and his wife, soprano Maria Zouves, created the VOICE brand and have been implementing successful outreach programs in schools for over 15 years. They currently are running a similar program in Pinellas County, Florida, and have enjoyed watching students flourish and express serious interest in music under the VOICE leaders’ expert tutelage.

Milnes will be working with Garrison and the Savannah Friends of Music as he will be the emcee at the Prestigious Savannah Sings initiative which runs from February 8-9, 2018.  This exciting initiative involves150 middle and high-school students with Garrison educators and culminates in a performance at Garrison’s new Performing Arts Center which is currently scheduled for opening in September 2017.

Esther F. Garrison School for the Arts is a public school dedicated to the performing arts. The school provides a specialized arts plan for middle school students. The program consists of stringent academic standards and high quality, professional performance. Garrison received the School of Excellence award in 2012 and in September 2015, Garrison was recognized as a National Blue Ribbon School. In addition to their academic studies, students participate in a variety of courses in the fine and performing arts.  Milnes and Zouves also developed the new fundraising initiative to provide the school a baby grand piano for their new performance hall.

“This partnership is the culmination of the hard work by VOICE Programs representatives and Garrison administrators and educators. I commend all involved parties on their dedication to expose our students to high-quality musical education through unique and interactive methods, and I’m proud to support this newfound consortium and their impressive efforts,” said former SCCPSS Superintendent Dr. Thomas Lockamy, who had a hand in bringing the project to fruition before he retired in May.

Dr. Ann Levett who was appointed as SCCPSS Superintendent on Dr. Lockamy’s retirement added, “This opportunity complements the high quality educational experiences our students receive each day.  We recognize the unique, hands-on programming afforded through this partnership which supports Savannah’s vibrant arts community, and facilitates an interest in music, culture and other art forms that are essential in our work to produce well-rounded, community-minded citizens.”

Principal of Garrison, Jim Heater commented,  “I am grateful to SCCPSS for their support, my hard working team at Garrison, Maria Zouves of the VOICE Programs, Charlie Brazil of Old Town Trolley Tours and Lesley Francis of Lesley Francis Public Relations for their commitment to bringing this program to fruition.  We are looking forward to another year of excellence at Garrison.”