Appreciating music made by teen prodigies

Sunday, December 12, 2004

When Zach Dumey opens his mouth to sing, the smooth bass tones of his voice reverberate through the air, and people stop whatever they're doing to listen ... and watch.

Beth St. John has seen it happen time and again. As choral director at R.O. Hawkins Junior High in Jackson, St. John has worked with the 14-year-old Dumey for two years now.

"He's one of the most animated singers you'll ever watch," St. John explains. "It shows in his body and his face how much he loves music."

Every so often during the career of a music teacher, a student like Zach Dumey, or Quitman McBride III or Cat Goeke, comes along and breaks all the barriers that outline what a teenager is expected to do.

McBride and Goeke are both students at Central Junior High who, like Dumey, are receiving growing recognition for their musical talents.

All have won contests that pitted them against the most musically gifted at the regional, state and even national level.

Goeke comes from a family of musicians. Both her mom and dad -- Lori Shaffer and Dr. Christopher Goeke -- teach vocal music at Southeast Missouri State University.

The 14-year-old has played the cello since age 6 and the piano since age 8. She's been composing her own music and lyrics since fourth grade and has won state and regional contests for her work.

She's currently putting the finishing touches on an untitled piece for the upcoming talent show at the junior high. She doesn't write down the notes, just sort of feels her way through the music.

"It just comes out," Goeke says. "I know it sounds corny, but it comes from inside me."

McBride describes his singing abilities in a similar way. Just a gift from God, he says. At age 3, McBride's mom, Sarah, overheard him singing along to a song on the radio and couldn't believe the accompanying voice belonged to her son.

"It was a song I really loved," McBride says, hesitating to reveal the title. "Well, it's kind of embarrassing, but it was 'I'm Every Woman.'"

His father, Quitman Jr., bought him a keyboard not long afterward to help develop his skills, and the 12-year-old has been practicing ever since. Quitman has sung in churches and contests through Missouri and neighboring states. Last February, a short clip of him singing was played on Oprah Winfrey's show.

Last year, McBride won the Heartland Idol contest at the SEMO District Fair. He hopes to eventually take part in a nationally televised competition such as "American Idol" or "Star Search." He's working on several CDs right now and eventually hopes to become a professional musician.

"I try not to let my talent go to waste," he says. "I can hit those notes that others can't, and it makes me want to sing even more."

Dumey also has musical ability in his family. His mother, Pam, is a music teacher at Central Middle School. His interest in singing began around fifth grade, and he's been involved in select choirs in school since seventh grade.

"I was always active in choir at church and school, not the guy going 'hmmmmm' on the sideline," Dumey says.

In January, he will head for Los Angeles to take part in a national honor choir, for which he had to audition. He's the first student from Jackson to take part in such a choir.

"Singing is a great way to express yourself," Dumey says. "You can sing about all sorts of different things. You can sing about sailing, bombs, Latin."

The enthusiasm and dedication of students such as Dumey, McBride and Goeke make lessons a little more exciting for teachers like St. John.

"There are a few who stand out, but it's rare to see one excel so early," she says.

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