Mary McIntyre knows something about performing on stage. Now the music director of Hopewell United Methodist Church, she was part of a nationally touring Christmas show called The Wizards of Winter for six years.
She also knows firsthand the difficulties that many talented people have convincing themselves to give performing a try. “When I was young, I suffered from stage fright that held me back as a singer,” she says.
The church already hosted a monthly open mic night the first Friday of every month, run by church member Paul Bejgrowicz. But McIntyre wondered: why not an open mic specially for kids?
So in May, she started up a monthly kids open mic for the third Sunday of each month. The first one attracted more than 30 kids from around the area.
“I feel strongly about encouraging kids to share their creativity, and showing them techniques to overcome the fears that have prevented many of us adults from pursuing our dreams,” she says.
The second session fell on Father’s Day, so turnout wasn’t as good. But a number of kids and their parents still did show up, suggesting that McIntyre is really on to something.
“I give music lessons to local kids as a side job, and just being a parent here for 14 years, I’ve seen the tremendous amount of young talent we have in Hopewell Valley,” she says.
An open mic setting provides a place where where kids can be alone on stage, developing their own repertoire, finding their own voice, gaining confidence and being creative. “An open mic is just that: it’s open, it’s casual, nonjudgmental and noncompetitive. It’s unscripted. That’s something kids need these days,” McIntyre says.
McIntyre lives in Hopewell Township with her husband, Shawn Daniels. Kids Steven, 13, and Sarah Jean, 11, both attend Timberlane Middle School. Son William, 8, goes to Hopewell Elementary.
McIntyre, who joined the church as music director in January, says pastor Laura Steele encouraged her to grow the idea when she first mentioned it. Steele and Bejgrowicz helped her get this idea off the ground, and other church members have volunteered each month to help prepare the stage and set out snacks and beverages for the kids.
She says giving kids their own time on the stage, with an audience of supportive family, friends and fellow performers, will help them hone their chops, try out new material, have fun and meet people. All forms of artistic expression are welcome, as long as there’s no foul language or rhetoric. At the first show, one of the performers played the saxophone and also did a comedy routine.
“I post a code of conduct that hopefully the kids read when they sign in,” she says. “I host the event with a mic in my hand, so if something inappropriate did pop up, I would inform the performer right then and there … I think that would be a valuable life lesson to a creative young person trying to figure out what works and doesn’t work in a public performance.”
McIntyre admits that she was pleasantly surprised at the high turnout for the May session. But the lower turnout for Father’s Day wasn’t all bad. After all the day’s performers had gone, there was space to fill, so they each took a second turn onstage for an impromptu set. The crowd even encouraged McIntyre’s son, Steven, to do a drum solo.
“It was great because everyone was so casual,” McIntyre says. “It broke that barrier of the stage being a scary thing. The feeling was, “hey there are no performers but us today… let’s just jam and hang out.”
Mimi Baker’s sons, 10-year-old Austin and 14-year-old Max, have performed at both sessions so far. Austin, a student at Hopewell Elementary School, plays the guitar and sings. Max, a Timberlane grad who will attend The Pennington School in the fall, is the person who played the sax and did the comedy routine.
“He was so confident and proud of himself, it really was great for him to have the opportunity to share his talent with the community,” Baker says.
Baker is the owner of Hope Wellbeing and resident acupuncturist at the Sault Haus, both in Hopewell. Her husband, Brandon Baker, is president of Baker Auto Group.
“It’s one thing for kids to learn how to play and be proficient in learning notes, and it’s another to be able to perform in front of an audience,” Baker says. “I wanted them to get the experience of playing in front of an audience in a nonjudgmental and accepting environment.”
Baker says the boys returned for the second session because they wanted to. “They had new material to perform, and they played a duet for their dad for Fathers Day,” she says.
She is impressed by the talent of the kids who have performed, including a young opera singer, Vaselisia Seneko, who will be on a future episode of America’s Got Talent, and a three-year-old who played the ukelele.
For future sessions, McIntyre hopes to attract more teenagers and more bands. “Forming a band is a great learning experience for kids, and bands need venues to play,” she says.
The next kids open mic at Hopewell United Methodist Church is scheduled for Sunday, July 21 at 2 p.m. The church address is 20 Blackwell Ave., Hopewell Borough.