In 2006, legendary writer and producer Vy Higginsen and gospel legend Dr. Emily "Cissy" Houston, joined forces to teach aspiring teenagers about the importance of gospel music as an art form. The program started as a workshop that, as a result of growing popularity, is becoming an institutionalized program of the Mama Foundation for the Arts' School of Gospel, Jazz, and R&B Arts. Since then it has grown to be a highly respected and influential source of education and self-development for youth.
Gospel for Teens was created to provide aspiring teenager artists, ages 13-19, with fundamental vocal techniques such as placement, breathing, harmony, pitch, and sustained control, theatrical staging and projection essentials, as well as the historical significance gospel music has played in other musical art forms such as jazz, blues, and contemporary R&B. Through the Gospel for Teens program, seasoned music masters will nurture musical talent, yet groomed, in a program that includes individual musical assessments, the learning of new and established music in MFA's Traveling Theatres repertoire, and discussions about the role gospel music played in history and in their current lives.
Stressing artistic discipline and commitment, music instructors will help students define their personal artistic expressions and build self-confidence both onstage and off. Gospel for Teens will be offered every Saturday for two semesters: Spring and fall. Classes will be held onsite, in MFA's renovated brownstone. Having already trained over 300 students from various segments of the Harlem community, MFA expects to serve between 85-100 students in 2006 through this program. Interested students are required to audition for enrollment.
All students are given a vocal category assessment, range and delivery evaluation, and individual objectives for personal vocal improvement. As the year progresses, students learn core gospel fundamentals, increase their vocal power, and improve stage presence. Students study and perform excerpts from MFA's repertory of nine Off-Broadway productions that are regularly performed by its professional companies, Mamas Traveling Theater and The New Harlem Singers. The classes are offered at no cost to the selected students; however, prior to enrollment of each term, both students and parents must sign a commitment agreement to attend all classes. Each semester of workshops culminates with a performance that demonstrates the range and versatility of the students in mastering jazz, gospel and R&B music.