Early this fall, a group of Winston Churchill High School students piled into a classroom during their lunch period to watch the movie "Amadeus."
"The movie shows Mozart as a human being — he was silly, vulgar — because artists are really just people too," said Nancy Abelus, the PTA Cultural Arts Coordinator at Churchill.
"I loved it," said senior Diana Rudd, "It was really interesting, and it's a beautiful film."
The lunchtime showing of "Amadeus" was a springboard for the students into Churchill's Arts In Learning Program, which for the second year in a row has provided Churchill students the opportunity to engage in a comprehensive,
interdisciplinary educational curriculum.
Throughout the fall semester, students have attended symposiums with guest speakers, artists and historians to educate the students about the classical period in general and Mozart in particular, said Abelus, who helped coordinate the program. The program grew from an idea that choral director Carlos Barillo had two years ago and came to life with the guidance of Churchill Principal Joan Benz and Churchill's Academy of Creative and Performing Arts.
"I wanted to start something that was kind of cross-curriculum," said Barillo. "It was a way of unifying the school, because [the rest of the school] doesn't always know what we're doing over here."
More than that, the program showed students how a man like Mozart influenced his surroundings as much as he was influenced by them, said Abelus.
"It teaches the kids the trends of the time, social, political, artistic," said Abelus. Such interdisciplinary programs "make your brain more interactive. … The kids learn how to use analytical and interpretive skills."
Churchill's Academy of Creative and Performing Arts offers extracurricular programs to students with strong artistic backgrounds and interests, said Benz. Abelus estimates that majority of students that took part in the program this year were heavily involved in the arts at Churchill, but hoped that in the future the Arts In Learning program will attract more students from throughout the school.
The program will conclude Thursday, Dec. 14 with an event that will include a full orchestral and choral production of Mozart's Requiem — his final, uncompleted composition — as well as other choral and theatrical performances from Mozart's era.
"We chose Mozart this year to celebrate his 250th birthday," said Benz.
THE CHORAL and orchestra students have been practicing the Requiem for three months, said Josette Shim, senior concert mistress and first chair violinist.
"It's been a lot of fun learning all of it," said Shim.
The joint performance of both the orchestra and the choir "is really a rare experience, especially in school," said Rudd, who will perform an orchestral solo in Thursday's performance.
Thursday's event will also include orchestral and choral performances of other works by other composers from Mozart's era such as Galuppi and Heiden, said Barillo, as well as a partial performance of Peter Shaffer's play "Amadeus."
This is the second year the program has been in operation, according to Abelus, with last year's edition focusing on the French Revolution with the play "Les Miserables" as the artistic centerpiece. This year's program attracted more students than last year, and Abelus has high hopes for a program that she considers an invaluable opportunity for high school students.
"There is such an emphasis on testing kids today, but all testing teaches you is how to take a test," said Abelus. Programs like the Arts in Learning program "teach kids how to use knowledge. We'd like to see it expanded to other schools throughout the county," said Abelus.