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Annual Stairway of the Stars Shines On

By Teresa Rochester

Lugging instruments sometimes bigger than themselves, students from throughout the Santa Monica/Malibu Unified School District settled into one of their last rehearsals Tuesday before the curtain rises on the 51st annual Stairway of the Stars this Thursday.

This week's performances have taken on a poignant note as students set out to prove to the community and district officials - who suggested axing the program in the midst of a $5.1 million budget shortfall -- that the music programs are worth every penny.

"I think it's important because it's like showing the community how well we play," said violinist Lucy Tejeda, 13, a John Adams Middle School 7th grader, about the two performances.

"Especially now because they wanted to take our music program," interjected fellow violinist Nancy Aquino, 14, who also attends JAMS. "We want to show how music is important to us."

Parents and district officials agreed.

"It's a community event, not just a school event," said parent and event volunteer Jean Sedillos. "In recent years, it's become a way for the schools to thank the city governments for the support."

"We are very, very grateful," said Patricia Henderson, district coordinator of fine arts. "Our finale deals with miracles."

This year's program, titled "Let There Be Music," will feature guest conductor Dr. Paul A. Smith, the assistant director of choral music for California State University at Northridge. Greg Ellis (Class of '77), the choral music teacher at McFadden Intermediate School in Santa Ana, is this year's alumni honoree.

When the lights go down in the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on Thursday and Friday, Tejeda and Aquino will be joined on stage by 898 of their fellow student musicians and singers at the annual concert. The number of performers is down this year from an all-time high of 1300 student participants two years ago. Henderson said the change was to make the program more accessible.

"It's down from previous years," Henderson said. "We were trying to get an equitable, across-the-board [group], and the only way to do it is to take the very top groups."

One thing is for sure: The night promises to be full of stars.

"It's very inspirational," said Sedillos. "Stairway is what makes parents keep their kids practicing."

Stairway of the Stars will take place Thursday, March 16, and Friday, March 17, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are still available for both nights and are $10.00. The box office will open at 6:30 p.m. For more information call 450-8338 ext. 338.

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