Arts for Kids at St. Mark’s Church

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Judith Rautenberg conducts the St. Mark’s Children’s Choir. Photo: David Deutsch

St. Mark’s is a one hundred-thirty-year-old red brick church at the corner of 3rd and A Streets SE with a dramatic bell tower, a soaring nave set up in the round, a Tiffany window, a magnificent organ and a light-filled dance studio. It is home to Episcopal worship on Sundays and, during the week, to multiple programs that use this beautiful space to offer children opportunities to participate in the arts. Singing, playing in an orchestra, learning to play the piano, practicing ballet and dancing in regular recitals – these are all opportunities available to young people at St. Mark’s.

Music is central to the life of St. Mark’s Church and the building offers multiple opportunities for children to participate in musical activities, some church-related, some not.  The Reverend Michele Morgan says that one of her goals as rector of St. Mark’s church has been to share the beautiful building as widely as possible. “Music is important for children,” she says, “because it can feed them spiritually but it can also help them develop cognitive, social and emotional skills.  It can help them improve their academic performance and creativity.  St. Mark’s wants kids to thrive in all ways and the arts here in our beautiful space are part of the making that happen.”

A choir for children from ages 5 to 13 rehearses on Sunday mornings at 11 a.m. and sings at church services once a month.  It is directed by Judith Rautenberg, an enthusiastic music educator from Germany, educated at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Graz, Austria.  She is currently pursuing a PhD in music education at George Mason University.  For participation in the children’s choir there is no cost and church membership is not necessary, she says, though regular attendance at practices is encouraged.

Judith Rautenberg with the children at the Sandbox Concert. Photos: David Deutsch.

This year Rautenberg is also offering classes on Friday afternoons for children ages 3 – 5 who may come with or without caregivers.  They will be exposed to a variety of music from echo songs to finger plays, circle dances, familiar songs and chants as well as work with percussion and rhythm instruments. The classes are offered in two sessions on Friday afternoons – from 4-4:35 and from 4:50 to 5:25 and begin on September 22. The cost is $180 per session.

Judith is enthusiastic as well about another program, one inspired by a model developed at Berlin University.  She and St. Mark’s music director Jeff Kempskie are offering a series of free “Sandbox Concerts” on Saturday mornings for very young children, ages infancy to 5. They and the adults with them sit on the floor; they listen to music and have the chance to get close to the people and instruments making it. There is no cost for these concerts but on-line registration is required. The concerts are scheduled for Saturdays Nov. 11 and Jan. 27 at 10 and 11:30 a.m.

St Mark’s Music Director Jeff Kempskie is delighted to add another new program this year, the Neo Academy, an organization dedicated to cultivating the abilities of gifted young musicians through a program of orchestral training and social activities. The Academy is currently seeking young string players ages 9 to 14 for participation in orchestral training on Fridays from 5:30 to 7:30. The director of the orchestra is Russian-born violinist Emil Chudnovsky, who serves on the faculty of Catholic University.

St. Mark’s Dance Studio

For more information go to neo-academy.us/p/orchestra-studies or contact Music Director Emil Chudnovsky chudnovsky@neo-academy.us. There is a fee for participation; financial aid is available.

The St. Mark’s Music studio offers lessons in piano and voice for both children and adults.  Piano teachers include Anh Nguyen (646-673-3291 or anhpng@aol.com), a candidate for a doctorate in music performance at George Mason University;

Sasha Beresovsky (avberesovsky@gmail.com) who was trained at Indiana University, and Saeha Youn (saeha.youn@gmail.com) who studied at the University of Maryland. Voice lessons are available through Diane Atherton (dianesvoicestudio@gmail.com), a Briton who has performed extensively in this country and in Europe. Each teacher sets his or her own schedule, policies, and rates.

More information on all music programs at St. Mark’s can be found at stmarks.net/music. Judith Rautenberg can be reached at judith@stmarks.net.

St. Mark’s Dance Studio

The St. Mark’s Dance Studio has been offering instruction in ballet and jazz dance to children and adults on Capitol Hill for over half a century.  It was founded in 1962 by Mary Craighill, who had grown up in Washington as the daughter of Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson and studied dance at the University of Connecticut. The St. Mark’s Dance Company, made up of dancers from the Studio, performed locally in nursing homes, hospitals and schools but also internationally. Under the auspices of the friendship Ambassadors program Craighill took her Company dancers on tour to Russia just as the Soviet Union was dissolving and later to Czechoslovakia while, closer to home, she championed liturgical dance as an enhancement to and alternative form of worship. Ms. Craighill left behind a rich legacy that includes an endowed fund to support financial aid for students at the Studio.

At Mary Craighill’s death in 1999 Rosetta Brooks, who had been dancing with the Company since 1964 and teaching there for almost as long, became Studio director.  “Rosie,” as she is called, had grown up a few blocks from St. Mark’s and studied dance at Howard University. In 2010 she was the winner of a Capitol Hill Community Achievement Award for her leadership of the Dance Studio and for her impact on the hundreds of young people and adults she has taught and choreographed for over the years.  She works with two long-time teachers —Dot Walker, also a D.C. native who studied with the Dance Theater of Harlem before majoring in dance at Point Park University in Pennsylvania, and Jessica Sloane, who got her start at St. Mark’s, studied dance at the University of Michigan and went on to found and direct Takoma Dance, a program for children in Maryland.  Both Dot and Jessica have performed internationally.

The St. Mark’s Dance Studio offers pre-ballet for three to six year olds and ballet for children from the age of six through the teens. A complete schedule of classes and other information can be found at www.stmarksdance.org.

When asked to define what makes the St. Mark’s Dance Studio special, Dot Walker said it’s about “sharing the love of dance, it’s creating a warm environment for our students to learn, feel and become dance through music, practice and performances. We love dancing and we love introducing children to that special joy.”

The same could be said of all the arts programs at St. Mark’s.  The goal is not simply mastery of a particular skill, though opportunities for that abound. The goal is exposure to the arts and finding there a sense of purpose and of community.