Bringing ‘The Voice’ into the classroom

By Katie Callahan (Courtesy photo)

After getting turned down at an audition for a hit reality show like “The Voice,” most people would throw in the towel, but not James K. Polk Elementary School music teacher, Gabriel Dart.

Dart decided to try out after channel surfing one night last year. He saw a woman perform The Black Crowes song “She Talks to Angels,” and thought he could do better.

Dart traveled to New York that July and belted out that song during his first audition. For the chance to sing 40 seconds of the ’90s hit single, he waited in line for eight hours.

No dice.

“I was really proud of how I sang. The producer thought differently,” he recalled.

Undeterred, he traveled to Philadelphia in January of this year for another shot, and then decided to try again when the show came through Washington in June.

This time, though, Dart got a call from the show’s talent scouts about an hour after he signed up for the audition. They recognized his name from their database and offered him a callback at a Falls Church recording studio.

Dart’s repertoire consisted of four songs he practiced with his friend and band mate, keyboardist Chris Cohoon. The final selection was culled from a list of more than 60 tunes.

There was Fiona Apple’s “Criminal,” “I’ll Follow You” by Shinedown, Passenger’s “Stare Away the Dark” and, of course, “She Talks to Angels.”

There was no wait in line this time. But the outcome was the same.

For Dart, who prides himself as a vocalist, defeat was hard to swallow a third time. But that’s life, he said.

“[My students] got to see it, they got to see me go through the process and be excited for me, and be disappointed for me,” he said. “They know it’s a fact of life. You can’t always get what you want, but you keep trying. You have to persist.”

When he went back to his students, Dart got an all too familiar question: Are you going to do it again? Of course, he replied.

“I have absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain,” he said. “I learned so much about myself as a singer in preparing for this callback and it really made me reexamine my work ethic and how much time I really needed to dedicate to my craft.”

He hopes his commitment in the face of adversity will inspire his students.

“We talk about persistence, really going after something, taking responsible risks, stepping outside your comfort zone, finding humor,” Dart said. “A big lesson … in my classroom is you can want something with all of your heart, but you have to be OK with not getting it, because that’s life. I know these are elementary kids — fourth and fifth grade students — but I think it’s an important lesson for them to know.”

Dart connects his life lessons with the Habits of Mind program, an approach that encourages students to adopt traits for success, like persistence, flexibility, accuracy and precision. He will continue trying to inspire his students to fall in love with singing, dancing and playing instruments until he gets his chance in the spotlight.

Dart also will keep performing with his cover band, The Running Record, at local venues. Comprised almost entirely of fellow educators, the band’s name refers to a tool used by teachers to assess students’ reading aptitude.

“[Singing], performing, is easily the thing I love the most,” he said. “There’s nothing that can describe your true passion, but … when I’m onstage, I don’t worry about anything. I don’t worry about the way I look. I don’t worry about school. I don’t worry about anything.”

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