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April 16, 2014 • 04:12:03 p.m.

Riverwood students record musical

By JAMI KUNZER - jkunzer@shawmedia.com

Avery DeGroh, Elizabeth Atkinson, Zachary Babincsak and their music teacher Victoria Cummings (left to right), all from Riverwood Elementary School in McHenry, sing at Chrome Attic recording studio in Crystal Lake. (Photo provided)

It’s tough to say whether the actual studio or the studio’s lounge created the biggest impression, but a group of Riverwood Elementary School students are feeling a bit like celebrities these days.

Three students, along with their music teacher, Victoria Cummings, recorded “The Musical Oaks of McHenry County,” a musical written by Daniel Deters to educate the community about the the area’s environment and history.

After rehearsing Deters’ 10 songs during morning and lunch recesses for about a week, the students recently went to Chrome Attic recording studio in Crystal Lake to record.

They waited in a room with a pool table and leather couch.

“Everyone was like, ‘Whoa!,” Cummings said.

“It was a really neat experience for them to be in a recording studio. And it was authentic, like, ‘This is how Lady Gaga goes into the studio.”

The fifth-grade students in McHenry – 11-year-old Zachary Babincsak, 11-year-old Elizabeth Atkinson and 10-year-old Avery DeGroh – were invited by Deters to create the first-ever recording of his musical for his nonprofit organization Artland Story Group.

Formed less than a year ago, the group works to incorporate lessons about the environment and history into songs.

Deters reached out to schools throughout the area, offering his musical for use by music teachers.

He invited teachers and students to record the music, and Cummings responded.

With the recording of the songs, schools will have materials to work with, either for students to sing along with in music classes or resources for them to create their own musicals.

“The Musical Oaks of McHenry County” grew out of a documentary about the importance of the area’s oak trees, the changing ecosystem and the ways in which the county’s first settlers relied on the trees, Deters said.

“From that documentary, we re-created those stories in musical form that children can sing,” he said. “They would learn about the oaks. They would learn about ancient history, about settlements, science, mathematics, all those parts that go into documenting about the oaks.”

When Cummings heard of Deters’ efforts, she was eager to participate, as she’s always been interested in environmental concerns.

“It was right up my alley,” she said.

And, she said, she likes that the musical, which is offered free through downloads on Deter’s site at www.artlandstorygroup.org, can be used by teachers whenever and however they want. She plans to use the musical next year at Riverwood.

She chose her “top three singers” to make the recordings.

“I was kind of freaked out because I was going to be the only boy, so I was kind of scared a little bit,” said Babincsak, who wants to be a professional football player.

“But it was pretty cool. I never saw a recording studio before. It felt pretty cool going into it. I liked when I was able to hear every singer, and I heard me sing. I never heard me sing before.”

Having been part of band and choir for years, DeGroh said she wasn’t nervous about the experience.

She’d do it again if the opportunity came up, but she has other interests.

“I’m thinking about being a vet, taking vet school,” said DeGroh, a fan of Imagine Dragons and The Beatles.

The songs now are stuck in their heads, the students say.

“Well, at first I didn’t know what the songs were about,” Atkinson said.

“Now I think they’re my favorite songs, too.”


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