I Knew Him When …

Ever have a student who showed special music talent? NAfME member Debra Kay Robinson Lindsay remembers Brian Paul Mendoza, who has gone on to direct and choreograph plays in theatres across the country, including Broadway. Lindsay remembers his special spark.

“Brian had a remarkable presence,” Lindsay says. “I noticed it when giving him a singing evaluation shortly after he arrived. He learned the song quickly and added some pizzazz and style.” Later, when Brian performed a dance he’d created, Lindsay saw the thought and creativity he put into it. His classmates enjoyed it so much, they asked him to perform it throughout the year.

Today, Brian has won accolades and an Ovation Award for his choreography.

When Lindsay worked with Brian as the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, “He knew his lines before anyone else, created his own choreography, and performed his vocal solos and dances with no signs of nervousness,” Lindsay says. “It was a breeze for him, and he was an inspiration to his classmates.”

Brian remembers that Lindsay made music “really, really fun.” Later, she encouraged him to audition for the local high school production of Amahl and the Night Visitors, an opera by Gian Carlo Menotti. “I was cast in the play, and that started me on my way to a life in the theatre,” he says.

Brian has this advice for students who’d like to pursue musical theatre: “You have to love it. If you don’t love it (and “it” can be anything you do), if it doesn’t fulfill, thrill, and/or cause you to say, ‘Be still my beating heart,’ then why do it? If you’re caught up in its magic as I was at a very young age, then do whatever you can to be a part of it.”

Doing Musical Theatre

The Wizard of Oz was Lindsay’s first experience with leading a student musical. “Inspired by my students,” Lindsay says, “I gained confidence in my abilities to write, direct, and produce musicals and dramas.” She now runs the Crestwood After School Theatre (CAST) group at her school.

“The bond between my music/drama students and me becomes very close,” Lindsay says. “As young performers, they depend on you for everything—help in reading and understanding the script, learning the music and choreography, timing, stage presence, learning from their mistakes, learning to laugh when unexpected things totally break up tense moments, etc. It’s a bond created through mutual trust.”

“Opening night (day) is the best,” Lindsay continues. “The students’ newly found confidence, self-pride, and their families’ accolades give them artistic sensations they’ve never experienced. It’s so fabulous that it makes for up for all those sleepless nights and questions about whether the cast will be able to make opening night.”

Have you had a student who stood out? Share your story below.
Read about the Glee Give A Note Campaign to donate $1 million to school arts programs across the country. Submit a video on why your school deserves a grant at www.GleeGiveANote.com.
Debra Kay Robinson Lindsay teaches at Crestwood Elementary in Springfield, Virginia. She is the author of Lessons in American Music, Volume 1 and Volume 2.

Learn more about Brian Paul Mendoza.
—Linda C. Brown, September 28, 2011, © National Association for Music Education (nafme.org)