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Winfield teacher, students want to share love, encouragement through virtual concert

Posted: May 4, 2020
Categories: KSDE
Author: Ann Bush

For two hours on Wednesday, May 6, Matt Berthot, a Winfield High School vocal music teacher, and several of his students hope to bring a little hope and joy to Kansans through their Virtual Voices choir performance.

“It’s a reminder of what’s to come (after the pandemic) – love, joyfulness, bliss,” said Berthot, who has spent 16 years teaching students at Winfield Unified School District 465. “That’s why we’re doing this.”

Berthot will don a dark tuxedo and take the stage at Winfield High School at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The spotlight will be on him – but not for long. He will introduce 25 to 30 of his best students who will perform for people all over the nation – through Zoom and YouTube. There will be a variety of music genres, and Berthot promises a good show. He has trained his students using the Estill Voice Model, which has taught students how to perform everything from country to opera.

About 150 of Berthot’s choir students auditioned by videotape to be in the Virtual Voices performance. They have spent the past six weeks preparing – picking their song, learning about lighting and video. Now, it’s up to Berthot to select between 25 and 30 students for the performance.

“My students are used to the friendly competition,” Berthot said. “They understand that not everyone gets a part. We’ve had people playing the piano, ukulele, singing. We’re making it work. And they’re excited about it. That’s what is really cool.”

The teacher had to get clearance from Winfield USD 465 administrators to do the performance virtually.

“It’s exciting to know that we have the green light to do the show,” Berthot said. “This has been a definite team effort. I always tell my students to take a risk. The only way you can grow is by growing through change. I knew this (the pandemic) was going to be a big change in our world. Instead of looking at the pandemic as a super downer, I look at it as an opportunity to take a risk and grow.”

Berthot and the selected students will have a dress rehearsal at 7 p.m. Monday, May 4. They will work with district administrators and members of the Information Technology team to ensure the concert will run smoothly.

“They have reached out to artists and technology contacts in their district and across the nation to get everything in order,” said Mike Pounds, an education program consultant for the Kansas State Department of Education. “They were even able to collaborate to an extent with artists like Ira Wolf and Jordan Butler. Another very interesting partner they have in this project is Winfield High School alum Chase Foster. Foster is the collaborating producer for the Jonas Brothers! He will be sitting in on their dress rehearsal on Monday to provide advice and feedback on their performance. It is so exciting to see our educators and students take this adversity head-on and overcome it in the most creative ways.”

Also joining the dress rehearsal will be Chia Mejia Lopez from Ecuador, who was Berthot’s exchange student and is now a music professional, and Stevie Heptig, a Winfield High alum working as a music professional in New York City.

KC Crandall and Hunter Thompson, both 18-year-old choir students at Winfield High, said they have learned a lot preparing for the concert. Not only have they already been selected to perform, they also have worked to create a trailer that will be used to promote Virtual Voices through YouTube and other social media platforms. The students aren’t just learning music, they are learning about lighting, video work and marketing.

To watch the trailer for the performance, visit https://youtu.be/FNTtzj8LSps. The Virtual Voices concert can be accessed at 7 p.m. Wednesday on Berthot’s YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0X5pZk1ttyk2gHh8RA1lQQ.

Crandall has spent about four to five hours per week preparing for the concert.

“I think it’s going to be pretty easy,” he said with a laugh. “I won’t have to be on stage looking at anyone. I’ll just be looking at myself.”

Crandall and Thompson also said this will be a good send-off for seniors. Although the choir won’t be together, they are still a team, Crandall said. He compared it to baseball – while each player is performing a solo, he or she also is performing as part of a team.

“It’s been really hard for seniors,” Crandall said. “When we left, we didn’t know that we wouldn’t see each other again. Now, we have one last opportunity to perform as a team.”

The district purchased eight new microphones for students to use, Thompson said.

“This feels professional,” she said. “I’m excited.”

Both seniors are proud to perform under the direction of Berthot.

“I would call him a fireball,” Crandall said. “He’s always there for us. Doing this – he’s a trendsetter.”

Thompson agreed.

“He has such a passion for his job,” she said. “He has a way of thinking big picture. And he’s very optimistic.”

Berthot’s optimism has helped him get through teaching during the pandemic. But he did go through a rough patch at the beginning of the stay-at-home order.

“In the six weeks that we’ve been in shelter, I had two days where I freaked out like everybody else,” he said. “I was fearful, but only for two days, probably during the second week. But ever since then, I feel like I’ve gotten a lot stronger. My confidence is up. I think I manage my time better now. I hope the world understands how important teachers are face-to-face. This is going to be an awesome reset for everyone to reflect on. This is a giant wake-up call for everyone in the world.”

When Berthot isn’t preparing for the show, he is enjoying spending time with his wife, Andrea, who is a drama teacher, and their two sons, Max, 10, and Leo, 4.

“To be able to create right now is so refreshing,” Berthot said of Virtual Voices. “This is a new opportunity to do something completely different. I think people will really appreciate the honesty and vulnerability that these kids perform with. We want to take the audience where they are going to feel a lot. To do that over Zoom and YouTube will be a challenge. But we are totally up for that challenge. I’m proud of the kids for being so resilient. The kids are hungry for this. They want to share hope, joy and bliss with the world, and give people a little bit of encouragement.”

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