Samba bands, soccer players and storytellers were hard at work at Auke Bay Elementary School earlier this week, putting the finishing touches on "How Night Came to Brazil."
And in the middle of the flurry of activity was music teacher Ann Boochever.
"Ready? I hear the samba band coming now," she said, cueing a group of musicians during an after-school rehearsal. Fifth-graders Kristina Paulick, Cortney Wagner, Kendra Hayden and Courtney Nault practiced a Brazilian rhythm, concentrating as they played the conga, surdo, caxixi and agogo bells.
Boochever adapted the Brazilian legend for the stage when she was teaching in Connecticut. The 45-minute production is based on a tale she found in an old library book, and friend Linda Sobo and Boochever's husband, Scott Miller, helped write the songs.
Boochever said she changed the musical a little to fit into a different school, but traditional elements such as the Maculele stick dance are the same. The students appeared on stage in front of the school, their parents and the community on Wednesday and Thursday.
This is the fourth year Boochever has directed a musical at Auke Bay school. In past years, students have presented a Cinderella story from the Philippines called "The Legend of Mariang Alimango." Last year, "How Music Came to the Earth" was an Aztec tale from Mexico. Her first year back in Juneau, students presented "The Magic School Bus on the Ocean Floor."
"It's a way to take kids to a deeper level in trying to understand something about the country," Boochever said.
Putting together a student musical is no small feat. Boochever scheduled auditions in late January, and about 130 students in the school's fifth- and combination fourth- and fifth-grade classes started rehearsing in February. She was assisted by about 30 parents who helped with the costumes, lights and sound. Other volunteers worked with the musicians, dancers and actors and taught magic tricks.
Soccer players Evan Wood, 10, and Ben Weyhrauch, 9, describe rehearsing, memorizing lines and learning a soccer dance as fun, but not always easy.
"You have to be in character," Weyhrauch said.
"Some parts are funny and it's hard to stop laughing," Wood added.
That's why students sometimes get directions to "F-O-C-U-S" Boochever explained to the pair.
Boochever's interest in drama and music has deep roots. As a child, she used to put on plays in her basement for neighborhood kids, she said, and her mother was an actress as well.
Today, Boochever teaches music to kindergartners through fifth-graders at Auke Bay and plays the piano. Some of her academic studies have focused on ethnomusicology, hence an interest in music and dance from other cultures. The Juneau native helped produce Alaska Children's Theater productions in past years.
"To me it's very gratifying. I love it when lots of people get involved and it's not just my thing. I could never do it by myself. I think the group dynamic increases and grows and is really exciting. It takes on a life of its own," she said.
Boochever incorporates student input into performances. Such activities inspire creativity in children, she said.
"So much they're on the computer or watching television. It's a time where they're actually using their imagination and creativity that all kids have and hardly ever get to tap into it," she said. "It's their show. I write the script, but I take their suggestions always."
Parent Bernie Kirkpatrick has helped Boochever with a before-school music program called Orca Singers. After weeks of rehearsals, the students perform for the school, she said. Boochever puts her heart into the musicals and other student activities, Kirkpatrick said.
"She's a wonderful music teacher," she said. "The kids are really proud of what they've done."
Auke Bay Principal Dave Newton said the musicals expose students to areas, such as drama, they don't normally experience in-depth in the regular classroom. Boochever is incredibly creative, he said.
"She has a good understanding and vision about the role of arts is a comprehensive school. With the stress of standards and competency, we need to be reminded we're here to teach the whole child," Newton said.
Susan Christianson's daughter Sarah was in last year's school musical. She said Boochever is one of many teachers in the Juneau School District who help make lifetime memories for local students.
"She sets a standard of excellence for herself that translates into a love of music and performance for the students and the school community," Christianson said.
Joanna Markell can be reached at email@example.com.