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Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Cafeteria Concert Series Opens Young Minds - and Ears - to the Joy of Music

Cardinal Pacelli Cafeteria Concert performers Shane Smith on guitar/vocals and John Hebbeler on upright basss

By Grace DeGregorio
Starting at an early age, we hear music - from lullabyes while being gently rocked to sing-alongs like Wheels on the Bus (my granddaughters’ personal favorite, which I repetitively warble to their delight). According to the website Bright Horizons, “A 2016 study at the University of Southern California’s Brain and Creativity Institute found that musical experiences in childhood can actually accelerate brain development, particularly in the areas of language acquisition and reading skills.” ( When my sons were young, I recall being told by teachers that music and math skills were connected.

So if those little ditties have a value early in child development, imagine how potent an impact music makes as we age. In addition to having developmental correlations, music opens up a literal world in terms of psychological, social, cultural and ethnic experiences. Music is fun. Music is educational. Music is soothing or energetic. Music can be shared. Music can be performed as a skill. Music can be enjoyed. Music is a form of expression.

In short, music is for everyone.

Shane Smith and John Hebbeler with their children, Cardinal Pacelli students: Joey Hebbeler, Jack Hebbeler, Gavin Smith, Evie Smith, Macie Smith.

At Cardinal Pacelli School music - and each of the arts - are appreciated for all their benefits. The school PTO has a Fine Arts Committee, led by parent Elizabeth Maringer, which ensures students are exposed to as many diverse artistic genres as possible. Elizabeth describes the opportunities the students have to hone their cultural knowledge and skills:

Visual Arts - Artwork by students, including clever jelly bean murals crafted by 1st and 2nd graders, is on display throughout the school; a photography contest is held for 5th and 8th graders, with submissions made in the categories of Sacred Art, People and Nature.

Theater Arts - All 8th graders participate in some form (acting, singing, dancing, tech) in the annual 8th grade play - this year students were preparing to present Into the Woods Jr. Younger students literally get in the act by staging their own play - this year, Aristocats Kids. (Both productions, unfortunately, were canceled due to the virus restrictions.) There is an annual Wax Museum in which 4th graders portray a character he/she brings to life. In addition, professional groups such as The Children’s Theatre and Cincinnati Association for Performing Arts have visited.

Dance - Cincinnati Ballet has come to the school.

Talent Show - This annual event showcases students of all ages performing as magicians, vocalists, dancers, instrumentalists, comedians - even cheerleaders.

And then there’s music. George Drewyor is the school’s music director, who provides a curriculum for each grade. The students participate in choir and band, with concerts several times a year. In addition to the opportunities afforded by the music program, students receive enrichment through a unique program.

The Cafeteria Concert Series is a program sponsored and funded by the PTO Fine Arts Committee since 2011. Kris Brannock has served as its coordinator since 2013. She and husband John (a member for 15 years and president six years of the Mt. Lookout Community Council; also current president of the Mt. Lookout Swim Club and member of Christ the King Parish Council) have two sons currently at Cardinal Pacelli - 1st grader Alex and 8th grader Jacob (headed next fall to St. Xavier High School), both of whom play piano. Older son J.J., entering junior year at at St. X, graduated in 2018 from Cardinal Pacelli and plays piano and guitar.

“The goal of the Cafeteria Concert Series is to provide as many different forms of music in terms of styles, ethnicities, vocal, instrumental, etc. as possible,” explains Kris. Offered on scheduled Fridays from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., the series has welcomed a panoply of artists sharing their musical talents with students as they much their lunch!

Judy Martin, Administrative Director of MatinĂ©e Musicale; Elizabeth Maringer, PTO Fine Arts Committee; and Kris Brannock, coordinator of the Cafeteria Concert Series. The thumbprint artwork behind them was created by last year’s 8th graders. 

Kris says she identifies artists - from bagpipers to opera singers - from a variety of routes: word-of-mouth, CCM outreach programs, attending concerts, etc. “Since the program is during the day, a number of artists find it convenient to participate,” explains Kris. “They often interact with the students, telling them how they got started and explaining what they do and involving them.” All students from pre-K through 8th grade enjoy the shows.

Grammy nominated children’s entertainer Zak Morgan has performed. Percussionist Alonzo Leggette and guitarist/vocalist Diedrich Jones of reggae faves and award-winning Cliftones had the entire Kindergarten dancing, while classical guitarist and educator James Meade presented a more serious program. George Simon, former adjunct professor of jazz guitar studies at the University of Dayton, and Michael Wade, Withrow High School's band director, joined forces for a performance. Squeezy McSqueezyface bandmates David Heidelberg on accordion and vocals did the honors one Friday with bassist Richard Males. So did Brian and Jennie Malone, who not only performed but provided students a hands-on experience on their 55-gallon steel drums. Singer/songwriter Tracy Walker, who has opened at national festivals for the Indigo Girls and the legendary Joe Cocker, has brought her mix of Folk, Rock, Country, Jazz and Blues to the students for an impressive seven years!

Recently two Cardinal Pacelli parents who are part of the Unofficial: Shane Smith Band shared their country rock vibe with their young audience. Performing were Shane Smith on guitar/vocals and John Hebbeler on upright bass. The men met through the school when John was coaching his and Shane’s sons.

“Shane and I started talking,” says John, “and I went to watch one of his band’s shows. I ended up joining the band, which performed at Our Lord Christ the King’s Junefest.”

Shane, who lives in Oakley, says he’s played music for 25 years. “I grew up in Georgetown and went to Morehead State.” He plays guitar, mandolin and banjo. His “day job” is as a personal trainer for local Procter & Gamble fitness centers. John, a Mt. Lookout resident and Assistant Professor at CCM, says he’s also played music since childhood, with piano being his first instrument. The Unofficial: Shane Smith Band has gigs mainly within the local region, but have played in Las Vegas and venues in the South. They’ve performed at the Kyler Strong Foundation benefit to cure childhood brain cancer. Shane adds, “We’ve played with [former Red’s pitcher] Bronson Arroyo in Lebanon.”

The duo’s debut at Cardinal Pacelli was rewarded enthusiastic reactions as the school body rotated through their lunch periods. Even principal Terri Cento got into the spirit, dancing with a couple of the students.

“The Cafeteria Concert Series opens the children’s eyes to a variety of music,” comments Mrs. Cento. “We have everything from oriental string instruments to country. It’s clearly a favorite Pacelli thing!”

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