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MHSA Vocal Jazz Ensemble performs in the State Capitol

 Vocal Jazz Ensemble performs for State of Education address The voices of the Milwaukee High School of the Arts Vocal Jazz Ensemble filled the State Capitol Rotunda in Madison on Thursday, September 21, as the MPS students performed at the annual State of Education address.  

State Superintendent Dr. Jill Underly’s office invited the ensemble to perform at her annual address. The students also were invited to attend a reception afterward at the Executive Residence, known as the Governor’s Mansion, where they mingled with officials. 

“Everyone said we did amazing at the Capitol, so we were most definitely feeling the love of everyone in the building,” said Jae Carter, an MHSA senior who sings tenor. He had taken note of the audience’s reaction in the Capitol while the ensemble was singing. “Their faces were all lit up,” he said, like they’d never heard students perform like that before.  

Akira Harris, a senior who sings alto with the ensemble, said, “It was a really amazing experience to represent our school and community,” especially through music — “something that we study and that we love to do.” 

The vocalists both expressed hope that officials in the audience would advocate for students and for MHSA and the arts in school. 

Besides the National Anthem, the ensemble’s 13 students, all juniors and seniors, performed “Everything Must Change,” by jazz artist Benard Ighner.  

The song let students dive into the paradox that the only constant is change, said MHSA Choral Director Raymond Roberts. “It’s an interesting idea for students to plug into,” Roberts said.  

“It’s something they all can relate to,” he noted, and the song’s metaphors suggest ways to see change and why it’s necessary. 

The message extends beyond students. 

“We evolve, we change, we grow — and our understandings and sensibilities of how we interact with each other in our society should follow that same path,” Roberts said.  

The ensemble’s second featured piece was “Optimistic,” originally from the debut album of Sounds of Blackness. The performance was inspired by a newer version of “Optimistic” by Trey McLaughlin. “His arrangement was just really updated and really fit the harmonies my jazz ensemble does quite well,” Roberts said. 

The upbeat piece was meant to provide an optimistic outlook on education in Wisconsin, Roberts said. 

The ensemble’s performance also was intended to impress on the audience how hard Milwaukee Public Schools students work, and how they strive for and achieve excellence, Roberts indicated.  

The ensemble has made that impression before; that’s what led to their invitation to perform in the Capitol. 

One year ago, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s arts and creativity consultant, Christopher Gleason, visited MHSA and observed the Vocal Jazz Ensemble in class. 

“He was just blown away” by how polished and refined the ensemble was, Roberts said. “It was quite an impression the students made on him.” 

Gleason said at the time that he would invite the ensemble to perform in Madison to showcase them publicly, Roberts recalled. That invitation was finalized in summer, and the ensemble started preparing for their performance as soon as school resumed in August.  

In addition to music, Milwaukee High School of the Arts offers classes in literary arts, dance, theater, and visual art and design, as well as college preparatory academics. MHSA is at 2300 W. Highland Ave., Milwaukee. 

To hear MHSA singers 

Vocal music performances are open to the public throughout the school year: 

Guest choir at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Fall Concert, 3:00 p.m. October 8, Bader Hall at the Zelazo Center, 2419 E. Kenwood Blvd., Milwaukee. 

“Amahl and the Night Visitors,” 7:00 p.m. November 3 and 4, MHSA Wildrick Theater, 2300 W. Highland Ave.  

Fall Choral Concert, 7:00 p.m. November 17, MHSA Wildrick Theater. 

“Amahl and the Night Visitors,” 7:00 p.m. December 2, Basilica of St. Josaphat, 2333 S. 6th St. 

World Music Bazaar, 5:00 p.m. December 6, MHSA Wildrick Theater. 

Jazz Portraits, 7:00 p.m. January 24, MHSA Wildrick Theater. 

Fauré Requiem, Milwaukee Symphony Choral Partner Concert, 10:00 a.m. February 28, Bradley Symphony Center, 212 W. Wisconsin Ave. 

Spring Choral Concert, 7:00 p.m. April 19, MHSA Wildrick Theater. 

MPS Biennial Music Festival, 6:00 p.m. May 1, UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, 400 W. Kilbourn Ave. 

Class of ’24 Senior Recital, 5:00 p.m. May 14, MHSA Choir Room, 2300 W. Highland Ave. 

Other performances by MHSA students also are open to the public. Check the school’s calendar online to find other upcoming performances


Stephen Davis, Media Relations Manager
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