It's 6:30 a.m., that hazy time of day when everyone would rather be under the covers. Give me 10 more minutes--pleeeze. Oh, anywhere but . . . HIIIGH SCH-OOOL!
But they're here. One hundred and sixty-five Westlake High School chorus kids. And they are here because they want to be, flitting around the music room, gobbling bagels and gurgling Cokes, tossing off a soprano scale or two and harmonizing that impossible French passage by Passerou.
Meanwhile at the piano, someone has her heart set on finishing all the songs from "Phantom of the Opera" before the passing bell rings. And the boys in the corner with the microphone are hellbent on synchronizing some rap lyrics with just the right spit-sound bytes.
Suddenly the door opens and in walks the reason these students are all but hanging from the rafters so early in the morning. A small 35-year-old cyclone, otherwise known as choir director Alan Rose, whips through the room at the precise moment the bell rings.
The students scramble to their seats, ready to make a day with their leader count. They've barely touched earth before Rose gets their attention.
"All right you turkeys, we DO have a show to put on," he says, glancing at the performance posters covering the walls.
"Show" is an understatement.
Alan Rose isn't talking about black-robed students singing off-key and standing bored out of their minds on risers. He means "show choir" or musical extravaganza a la Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Rose's four choral music classes and four after-school groups produce performances Westlake Village and the whole school stop dead for.
"I want a music program the kids can be proud of," says Rose.
Rose, who with his wife Karen is a member of Westminister Presbyterian's church choir, is a fast-talking adult version of Andy Hardy: "Hey kids, let's put on a show." Or maybe he's just the Music Man.
"We give the guys tuxedos to perform in and you should see them strut their stuff the first time they get into the penguin suits. And these girls who love to come to school wearing 'in' ripped jeans and flannel shirts just glow in their sequined twirly skirts."
It all takes enormous energy. Under Rose's guidance, the chorus must raise $8,000 for costumes. There are the weeks spent learning music with accompanist Kathleen McKinley, viewing training videos and rehearsing the fancy dance steps with professional dance teacher and parent Lori Sorenson.
"Our audience deserves to see us go the full nine yards," Rose says.
"Choir should also be fun," he adds. "Too often teachers lose sight of why we're here."
Blending casual mirth and musical training, Rose could probably get a stone to sing if he could stand it up in class. And he generates as much enthusiasm as a cheerleader competing for a Lakers Girl contract.
"Let's stand up," says Rose on the upbeat.
"Now this time for real. Let's stretch and digest that wonderful cafeteria food. Give yourself a hug and pull the vertebrae. And what shall we sing today?"
Alternating between shrink and stand-up comic, Rose doesn't believe that the kids can learn everything in the classroom.
"Six weeks before the Christmas concert I take two groups to Lake Arrowhead for the weekend. It's a perfect time to fine-tune our song-and-dance routines without watching the clock, plus do a lot of ego-building."
"These kids need the chance to kick back and feel good about themselves and one another away from school. I get on my soapbox and tell them how much I love them," Rose says. "Sunday night comes at Arrowhead and everyone knows how important they are to the rest of the group."
As a musical director and a father of three children under the age of 6, Rose feels responsible for sculpting the students' self-esteem and keeping them away from drugs.
Rose's pet project is encouraging his selected performing group, "A Class Act," to sign a contract promising not to use drugs. The eight members work the community benefit circuit with the theme "People Got to Be Free" and serve as important role models for the larger choir.
"Mr. Rose is hard on the kids, but they all know how much he cares about them," school counselor Martha Aggazotti says.
Enrollment figures in his classes would support such a contention. Five years ago when Rose arrived at Westlake High, after teaching in the Conejo Valley school district for six years, 15 students were enrolled in the choral music program. Today the four elective courses are filled to capacity.
Membership in the after-school groups and a few concert solo spots open up for each concert, but they require auditions that sometimes stretch over several days.
"All the work is worth it," says Howie Lotker, 17-year-old choir president. "Mr. Rose treats us fairly and makes us feel capable."
UP CLOSE: ALAN ROSE
Job: Westlake High School choral music director
Number of kids hanging out in the choir room during lunch: 100+
Accomplishment: Has more high school students begging to perform in his show-choir program than are enrolled in any single Westlake High School organization.
Perspective: "I had an awful temper when I was in junior high. The principal, Mr. Esau at Simi Valley's Sequoia, helped me get my act together. By high school I knew all I wanted to do in life was to teach kids how to sing."
WHERE AND WHEN
Westlake High School's Christmas Concert, "Cool Yule" begins Thursday, Dec. 7, at 7 p.m. and continues through Dec. 9, at the school, 100 N. Lakeview Canyon Road, Westlake. Advance tickets only by calling the Choral Department at 497-6711.