Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tampa resident makes semi-finals on American Idol

Tampa residents are rooting for two of their own this week on American Idol.
Jeremy Rosado of Valrico and Shannon Magrane of Tampa are among the top 25 semi-finalists. Rosado performed last night, and Magrane will perform tonight. (FOX at 8 p.m.)
A student at Blake High School, Magrane has been performing since she was young, having previously trained with one of our instructors Eugenie Bondurant.
This week, viewers have an opportunity to vote for their favorite contestants. Who will continue on?

Bettes competes in S. Africa

Photo from the CTIBC
Best wishes to Next Generation Ballet New Artist Hannah Bettes.
Bettes is competing in South Africa this week at the the Cape Town International Ballet Competition (CTIBC).
Founded by Dirk Badenhorst, CTIBC is the only international ballet competition on the African continent.
Bettes competes among 50 professional and non-professional dancers from around the globe including the Republic of South Korea, Argentina, Armenia, Russia, United States, Brazil, Australia, China and Cuba.
Among the judges are Kevin O’Hare, director-designate of The Royal Ballet and Dr. Ramona da Sáa, Director and Professor of the National Ballet School of Cuba.
Elimination rounds take place throughout the week, and two Gala performances take place Saturday and Sunday.
Bettes recently placed second overall and received the audience favorite award at the Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Theater profile: Mark Bensonoff

Mark Bensonoff enjoys staging theatrical productions, with or without an audience.
According to his mom, this creative 8-year-old from south Tampa never stops singing and performing, on stage and off.
“Mark makes sure our lives are really fun; he’s so happy,” said Elena Bensonoff, Mark’s mom.
With aspirations of performing on Broadway, Mark is a Patel Conservatory musical theater student performing in the upcoming PCYT production of The Bear Went Over the Mountain. He also takes Ballet for Boys and tap dance classes at the Conservatory.
Mark practices at home constantly. Since Mark was two years old, he’s put on shows in his living room. He and his three siblings perform elaborate productions for their parents and grandparents.
“One thing I love about Mark being so involved in theater is that he exposes all the kids [his siblings and friends] to theater,” said Elena.

Mark’s sister, Sophia, also takes ballet and tap classes at the Conservatory. With her kids' schedule, Elena is at Conservatory nearly every day. It’s quite a commitment, but one that Elena doesn’t mind making.
 “Mark said he wanted to do this,” said Elena. “He's opening up and showing us what he needs, and we're allowing him to follow what he likes to do.”
In The Bear Went Over the Mountain, Mark plays Da Squirrel, friend of the title character, Da Bear who goes exploring in this family-friendly show.
Bring the kids, and check out Mark and more than 30 other children in The Bear Went Over the Mountain.
The show will be Mar. 1 - 3 and 8 -10, 2012 in the TECO Theater. Tickets start at $15. For tickets, click here.

Growing vocal arts program offers exceptional training

Excitement for our vocal arts program has spread.

Since the appointment of music chair Gregory Ruffer, the vocal arts program at the Patel Conservatory has experienced phenomenal growth.

Given Ruffer’s background as a singer, conductor and choral director, it’s no surprise. From adding new instructors to new summer intensives, Ruffer has helped create extraordinary opportunities for aspiring singers at the Conservatory.

Private Voice Lessons
Within the past year, the number of students taking private voice lessons has exploded from just a few to more than 40! This is truly exciting!

“We have some pretty amazing teachers whose students have been very successful,” said Ruffer. “It’s interesting that, despite the big musical theater following we have, in general, our private voice students are interested in a different type of music.”

Many students taking private voice lessons are interested in a classical music career, said Ruffer. Students range from advanced high school and college singers to professionals.

Instructors offering private lessons include Ruffer, Stella Zambalis, Mark Lubas, Guedye St. Jean and Christopher Romeo.

Junior and Senior Choirs
Working closely with the theater department, Ruffer has helped incorporate voice training into our musical theater classes.

Theater students are becoming more accomplished singers by joining one of our choir classes as part of their musical theater curriculum. As a result, more than 70 students are enrolled in the Junior and Senior Choirs, directed by Allison Novak and Deborah D. Lynch, with artistic oversight by Ruffer.

Choir classes are open to all interested students.

Summer Intensives
In addition to new faculty and programs, we’re also offering incredible opportunities for voice students throughout the summer, including housing options for the new Classical Voice Intensive.

Registration is now open for the following summer voice programs:

Ages 16 - 25
July 9 - 20, 2012
For serious singers who wish to pursue a professional singing career. Nationally recognized artist-teachers guide students through the study of arias, art song, opera and musical theater scenes, diction and group and private voice lessons. This program includes lessons, performances, master classes and workshops. Audition required. Housing options are available.

Grades 5 - 8
June 18 - 29, 2012
Learn to become a well-rounded performer in this two-week camp. Learn to sing in parts, sing in English and other languages, read music, improve vocal technique, develop character and dance. Daily choir and musical theater rehearsals are integrated with group voice classes and instruction in comprehensive performance skills.

Grades 9 - college
July 23 - Aug. 3, 2012
Work with distinguished voice teachers from around the country in this two-week program. Students study solo singing (art songs and arias), languages, choral music, musical theater, acting for singers and dance for singers. Daily choir and musical theater rehearsals are integrated with group and solo voice lessons, language study and instruction in comprehensive performance skills.

Voice training will also be incorporated in our summer musical theater intensives.
For questions, or to register, please call 813-222-1002.

Theater program offers unique training

The Patel Conservatory theater department has undergone some exciting changes in the past year.
Utilizing the expertise of our instructors in dance, music and theater, we’re now able to offer a unique, more intensive program for musical theater students.
“What we’re doing here is extraordinary,” said music chair Gregory Ruffer. A longtime voice and choir instructor, Ruffer hasn’t seen a similar school which offers specialized training in voice, acting and dance in one program.
In previous years, musical theater classes were taught by one theater instructor. With our new approach, students are now taught by three different instructors, each an expert in his/her field.
“We’ve already noticed the caliber of our students has greatly improved,” said Ami Sallee, theater department chair. “Students are progressing more quickly, becoming stronger and more professional.”
In addition to their acting and theater training, students who enroll in our musical theater classes also receive specialized voice training from a vocal arts instructor, and dance training with a dance teacher who helps them increase their knowledge and abilities in various dance styles.
The acting industry is competitive enough. Actors who are also strong singers and dancers become what the industry calls a ‘triple threat.’ Through the musical theater program at the Patel Conservatory, actors hone and broaden their skill set in order to become more versatile and experienced performers.
All classes culminate in a full-scale production on one of our stages at the Straz Center, giving students the professional experience of rehearsals and performance. Each show is designed to give students the best experience for their ages and skill levels.
Registration is now open for our summer musical theater programs, as well as more than 70 classes in voice, acting, dance and music (orchestra, jazz and rock). 
Housing options are available for summer intensives. For questions or more information, please call 813-222-1002. Click here to view our full summer brochure online.
Students, grade 9-college
June 11 - 30, 2012
Experience a three-week intensive putting together a full-length rock musical that will challenge your theater, music, dance and critical thinking skills.
Grades 3 - 8
July 2 - 21, 2012
Explore the beautiful story as told by Disney®. Intense dance, theater and music rehearsals culminate in a full production of this classic tale.
Grades 5 - college
June 11 - 15, 2012
Fun and rigorous training in dance, theater and music. Study and perform songs and scenes from famous Broadway musicals including 42nd Street, A Chorus Line, Newsies, Annie, Brooklyn, Guys and Dolls, West Side Story and more.
Grades 5 - college
Aug. 6 - 10, 2012
Fun and rigorous training in dance, theater and music. Study and perform songs and scenes from famous Broadway musicals including Chicago, Cabaret, Smokey Joe's Café, Pajama Game, Fosse, Ain't Misbehavin', Dreamgirls and more.
Additional intensive courses of study are available this summer, including in acting, voice and dance.
Grades 7 - college
July 16 - 27, 2012
Learn to comprehend and deliver Shakespearean text. A vigorous approach to one of the Bard's classic tales.
Grades 5 - 8
July 30 - Aug. 10, 2012
Study, adapt and perform a selected collection of Aesop’s Fables.
Ages 16 - 25
July 9 - 20, 2012
For serious singers who wish to pursue a professional singing career. Nationally recognized artist-teachers guide students through the study of arias, art song, opera and musical theater scenes, diction and group and private voice lessons. This program includes lessons, performances, master classes and workshops. Audition required. Housing options are available.
Click here for more info on additional summer vocal arts programs are available.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Spotlight on Gabie Barnes

How many sixteen-year-olds do you know who, in their free time, rent old musicals like My Fair Lady from Netflix, and sing show tunes around the house?
Meet Gabie Barnes. She’s got Broadway in her blood, says her dad Billy Barnes, an Air Force officer. The family moved to MacDill Air Force base last year.
“From a young age, she’s always been a part of whatever production her school is doing at the time,” said Billy.
Gabie is part of the upcoming production of Caught! A Culinary Comedy of Confusion, playing in the Shimberg Theater in April.
The musical is a full-scale student production that gives students professional experience in all aspects of theater from writing to lighting and everything in between.
“[The class] has been absolutely fantastic,” said Gabie. “The students make all the decisions. We wrote the play, we wrote the songs.”
Gabie takes choir and theater at Robinson High School. She also plays piano, guitar and ukelele. She took piano lessons for about four years, but taught herself guitar and ukelele.
“She likes to write jingles,...she takes contemporary rock songs and plays them on the ukelele,” said Billy, a mathematician and scientist. “She gets straight A’s in school, including in math and science, but she likes to write plays and music.”
Billy has conceded that Gabie probably won’t follow in his footsteps as a techie, but he’s good with that. At a recent performance at the Patel Conservatory, Gabie devoted a song to her mother.
“I’ve never had a bigger knot in my throat than when I heard my daughter sing that song for my wife,” said Billy. “It was a fantastic moment in my life...I realized she’s got a real passion.”
Despite her extensive theater and music experience, Gabie has enjoyed the specialized training she’s received through the expanded musical theater program at the Conservatory.
“I feel like I’ve improved a lot...In theater, I’ve gotten more technique. I’ve worked on method acting, character arc and adding truthfulness to your acting,” said Gabie.
As part of her training, Gabie also takes dance and voice classes. “I enjoy having different instructors because it helps to know you have an expert in everything.”
Dance is the one area where Gabie lacked experience. “The dance class is spontaneous and upbeat, but you can tell she [instructor Susan Downey] has a curriculum.” The class has given Gabie an overview of tap, ballet and jazz.
Gabie has been involved with many school choirs, but she says, in the Patel Conservatory senior choir, “They work a lot more on technique, and, we work on more challenging pieces.”
Overall, she feels like she’s become a more versatile actor and performer. With Caught!, she’s also become a better writer.
“I’ve fiddled around before, but nothing as intense as this...I’ve discovered that I enjoy scriptwriting, and wouldn’t mind making a career out of it,” said Gabie.
For Billy and his wife, they’ve also noticed an improvement in Gabie since she started classes at the Conservatory, not only as a performer, but in life.
“More than anything, it has brought out her personality,” said Billy. “She’s normally a very shy girl. Now, the wonderful things about her personality, like her imagination, are magnified, and she’s happier.”

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Theater Profile: Fiona Walsh Calton

Look for Fiona Walsh Calton on the TECO stage this March in the PCYT Production of  

Name: Fiona Walsh Calton
Age: 9
Grade: 4th
School: Harold H. Clark Elementary
How long have you been a part of the Patel Conservatory family? 4 years
What is your role in The Bear Went Over The Mountain? Da Bear Understudy (u/s) and Bunny 2
What other courses have you taken at the Patel Conservatory? Creative Drama, Dance for Musical Theater and Intro to Musical Theater
Why did you decide to study the performing arts? I saw a Dora The Explorer show and thought it might be fun.
How has studying the performing arts been beneficial to you so far? I learned singing at the Patel and am now in my school’s chorus. I learned about dancing and choreographed a song for my class to perform.
What do you think is interesting about yourself? I know how to knit a hat, I absolutely L-O-V-E heights and I am a very good writer.
Is there anything else you want to tell us about yourself? I’ve been to Isaac Newton’s house and my favorite author is Lemony Snicket.

Inspiration right outside your door

Sometimes, it’s easy to take our Florida lifestyle for granted. But for Patel Conservatory Youth Orchestra conductor Stephen P. Brown, the beauty that defines the Tampa Bay area has been cause for inspiration.
“There is so much to do in Tampa Bay. It’s almost as though there is a secret cultural element,” said Brown, who moved to the Tampa area a little over a year ago.
Our sunshine and seafood are among the subjects that inspired Brown's new music composition Tapestry Tampa Bay. Brown will conduct the premier of Tapestry Tampa Bay at a March concert to benefit the homeless.

With titles ranging from Skyway Bridge and Beaches & Boats, Brown describes his composition as quasi-classical-minimalist-new age style.
“I never heard of a grouper before coming to Florida,” said Brown. Now it’s one of his favorite meals. Watching a video of the man-sized fish intrigued him, as does the lure of the area. His last movement, Back For More, reflects the nostalgia felt by visitors who return, like himself and his wife Melissa.
As part of his ongoing effort to encourage people to experience live classical music, the concert will be broadcast live online.
“The benefits of experiencing music in person are well researched and documented,” said Brown. “Sharing live music with others is an essential part of any culture, especially with those who may not normally have such opportunities.”
A portion of the proceeds will go to the Homeless Emergency Project, Inc., a Clearwater shelter which provides housing, food, clothing and more for those in need.
Also performing in the concert are Patel Conservatory piano instructor Joshua Sawicki, and voice student Katlyn Iacovino, a junior at Riverview High School. Sawicki will also be recognized at the event for being the winner of Brown’s 2011 concerto competition.
The concert will be March 23, 2012 at 8 p.m. at Harborside Christian Church in Safety Harbor. Tickets start at $17.50 in advance. Patel Conservatory students and their families receive 10% off when purchased in advance. Enter code: SPB10.
For more information, visit

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Get a glimpse at our programs in dance, music and theater at Summer Splash

Have you or your child ever thought about taking acting, singing or dance classes, or playing an instrument?
If so, you’re invited to visit the Patel Conservatory in Tampa for our annual Summer Splash on March 24, 2012.
Summer Splash is a free event featuring live entertainment from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. from our talented students. It’s the perfect opportunity to get a taste of our programs and what we have to offer.
Get a glimpse at our Rock School program with a performance from the Hanging Chads. This Rock School band was recently selected to compete at the Tampa Battle of the Bands at the Orpheum in Ybor City.
Our comprehensive musical theater program will be represented with performances from our upcoming spring musicals, Once Upon a Mattress, Bear Went Over the Mountain and Caught! A Culinary Comedy of Confusion.
Other performances include the Patel Conservatory Youth Orchestra, the Junior Choir and Adult Tap classes.
Take a tour of our state-of-the art facilities. And, register for any of our summer classes by March 24, and you’ll get 10% off.
Summer Splash is co-hosted by Tampa Bay Parenting magazine and features Tampa Bay’s best summer camps and classes, free kids’ activities and presentations by Lowry Park Zoo and Busch Gardens.

Want a look at all our summer classes and camps? Click here to view online.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Music chair gets his say on who wins the Grammys

With the Grammy Awards coming up this weekend, have you ever wondered exactly how these artists are nominated and who votes for the award winners?
Vocal instructor and chair of the music department at the Patel Conservatory Gregory Ruffer offers insight into how it all works.
Ruffer actually gets to vote on the Grammys.
How does it work?
Ruffer is a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the association for recording professionals which hosts the Grammy Awards.

“In order to be a voting member, you’re required to have six commercially released recordings, and one of them had to win a Grammy,” explained Ruffer.
In 1996, Ruffer sang with the National Symphony Orchestra and The Washington Chorus under the direction of Leonard Slatkin on the CD Of Rage and Remem’brance, a piece by composer John Corigliano. The CD won the Grammy that year for Classical Album of the Year.
The Grammy qualified Ruffer to become a voting member of the Recording Academy.
“I was very fascinated by the process, and it was an interesting idea to me,” said Ruffer.
He explains, “Voting members of the association start nominating in the fall... You can nominate anyone you want.”
Once the nominations are in, the ballots go out. Each member votes on nine categories. The first two are Artist of the Year and Album of the Year. Members then vote on seven more categories with which they’re most comfortable.
“I mostly vote on classical music categories. I sometimes vote on film scores,” said Ruffer. “I rarely vote on pop music, but a couple of years ago, I was intrigued by the work Katy Perry was doing, so I voted for her.”
While it’s impossible to know all artists in all categories, Ruffer says he tries to listen to as many different artists and music styles as he can before he votes.
“Sometimes you just know the quality of the artists,” he said. “It’s a real privilege to be a part of the process. It makes me feel connected to the artistic community.”

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bettes places second at Prix de Lausanne competition

Hannah Bettes. Photo from the Prix de Lausanne.

Congratulations to Next Generation Ballet new artist Hannah Bettes who recently placed second in the prestigious Prix de Lausanne international competition in Switzerland.
Bettes also received the “Prix du Public” (audience favorite) award.
The Prix de Lausanne is a pre-professional competition which draws top talent from around the world. Among the 80 participants chosen to compete, she was one of six representing the United States, and the only American to be a prize winner, said Stacey Bettes, Hannah’s mother.
“I was very happy to have been accepted into such a prestigious international competition and would never have thought that I would have been selected as a prize winner,” said Hannah. “I was amazed all week by the talented group of dancers that I met and danced with.”
Hannah, 15, has been training with Peter Stark and Ivonne Lemus at the Patel Conservatory for nearly two years. She moved to Tampa from Deland to train with Stark, who joined us full-time as the dance department chair in 2010.
Bettes was one of the first apprentices of the Patel Conservatory and Straz Center’s pre-professional dance company, Next Generation Ballet (NGB). In its short one-and-a-half-year history, the ballet company has lived up to its vision to be a stepping stone for great talent.
The dance program has grown exponentially, and some NGB performers have been awarded scholarship opportunities at prestigious ballet schools worldwide including the Royal Ballet School of England and The School of American Ballet. Alumni have also received employment with ballet companies including Missouri Ballet and National Ballet of Canada.
Bettes has been a leading performer with NGB. She was a finalist at the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) in New York in 2009, 2010, and 2011, winning the Gold medal in the junior women's division and silver medal in the pas de deux division in 2011. She also received the silver medal at the World Ballet Competition in 2008 and 2011.
Later this month, she’ll compete in the Cape Town International Ballet Competition in South Africa, and she qualified to compete in the 2012 YAGP finals in New York City in April.
With her most recent accomplishment in Switzerland, Bettes has won a full scholarship and stipend to attend her choice of participating ballet schools, some of the finest in the world, including the Royal Ballet School of England.
“I was very proud to receive both awards, but was most honored to receive the audience choice award,” said Hannah. “I couldn't be happier.”

Monday, February 6, 2012

Announcing the summer Classical Voice Intensive

The Patel Conservatory at the Straz Center announces a new summer intensive designed for exceptional singers who’d like to pursue a professional career.
The new Classical Voice Intensive is a multi-faceted program for serious young singers ages 16 through 25. The program provides instruction, performances, master classes and workshops.
"The Straz Center is home to grand opera in our region," said Gregory Ruffer, chair of the Patel Conservatory music department. "The Classical Voice Intensive solidifies our reputation as the place where future great singers come to find their voice," 

Nationally recognized artist-teachers will guide students through the study of arias, art song, opera and musical theater scenes, diction, and group and private voice lessons.
This is a wonderful opportunity for young singers to train with renowned artists and performers.
The Intensive culminates in a gala public performance at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.
Registration is now open for this voice intensive. Auditions are required and may be uploaded to You Tube. Housing options are available for students outside of the Tampa Bay area.

For more information on auditions, instructors, housing or registration, please visit our website or call 813-222-1002.

Two of our summer voice instructors have been featured on this blog, click to read more:
Stella Zambalis
Mark Lubas

Friday, February 3, 2012

From the guy who brought us Double Dream Hands...

Our spring PCYT production of The Bear Went Over the Mountain is coming up in early March.
Did you know that the show was co-written by John Jacobson, an internationally recognized composer, choreographer, teacher and motivational speaker?
You may recognize Jacobson from the Ellen show performing his Double Dream Hands choreography.
Jacobson has written and produced hundreds of songs, musicals and dance choreographies that are performed worldwide. He’s staged huge music festival ensembles in his association with Walt Disney Productions, and directed productions featuring thousands of young singers including NBC's national broadcast of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, presidential inaugurations and more.

In his motivational speaking, he emphasizes the importance of teaching music, and the idea that music creates harmony that brings people together. He is also the founder of America Sings!, a nonprofit choir festival company that provides choral experiences for young singers and encourages volunteerism and community service.
Co-written by Jacobson and John Higgins, The Bear Went Over the Mountain was specifically designed for young performers. It teaches to their vocal and cognitive maturity and features six original songs in a variety of musical styles.
The story is a journey of friendship and adventure as it follows the restless and lively Da Bear on her exploration up the mountain to expand her horizons. She and her animal buddies find more than they’d expected in this musical excursion.
Performed by Patel Conservatory students in grades two through four, its delightful costumes and songs are perfect for young audiences.
The show is directed by Amy Leavitt and Matthew Belopavlovich, along with student director Ian Burns. Music director is Allison Novak, choreographer Warren Levene, theater apprentice Landon Green.
Tickets are now available. Bring the little ones out for this entertaining performance!