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Compare This High School Chorus to the Singers on 'Glee'

Touch of Class in the Central Virginia Show Choir Invitational in Richmond on March 5
Touch of Class in the Central Virginia Show Choir Invitational in Richmond on March 5

DOUG JOHNSON: Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.


I'm Doug Johnson. This week on our program, we play music from an album released this week by the two sisters who sing together as Mary Mary.

We also answer a question from Colombia about the man who was the main designer of the World Trade Center in New York City.

But first, we hear about a group of high school singers in Virginia who are getting a lot of attention.

America’s Favorite Show Choir


DOUG JOHNSON: The American TV show "Glee" has brought new popularity to high school singing groups known as glee clubs. The performers on "Glee" are all actors. But Katherine Cole tells us about a real-life show choir celebrating its twenty-fifth year.

KATHERINE COLE: Touch of Class is a student singing group at Chantilly High School in Fairfax County, Virginia. Right now they are learning "Walk On" by the Irish band U-2.


Glenn Cockrell is director of Touch of Class.

GLENN COCKRELL: "We do a wide range of music that goes through the whole realm of pop, popular music, being Broadway, jazz, rock, country, a little bit of everything."

Touch of Class has thirty-nine students, ages sixteen to eighteen. They work hard. They practice their singing in Mr. Cockrell's classes. And they meet twice a week after school to learn dance moves that go with the music. Sarah Pramstaller has been their dance director for five years.


Ms. Pramstaller attended Chantilly High School and was a member of Touch of Class. She says the experience helped prepare her for a career in musical theater.

SARAH PRAMSTALLER: "It’s different than performing in musical theater and it’s a little different than what happens in New York, but it is a great foundation for singing, dancing, acting, performing in general."


Seventeen -year-old Greg Garcia has been a member of Touch of Class for three years.

GREG GARCIA: "I did show choir because my friends were doing it. And it was just something cool for us to do."

But eighteen-year-old Julia Holmblad joined the group for a different reason.

JULIA HOLMBLAD: "Being able to perform is something you can't do in any other class, and it's just something I love to do and I think everyone shares that love."

Touch of Class usually performs at least once a month. But director Glenn Cockrell says this year has been especially busy for the young performers.

GLENN COCKRELL: "They are getting opportunities that you don’t always get. We are going to get to be at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, [and] at Constitution Hall."

Last October, voters in an online competition chose Touch of Class as America's Favorite Show Choir. Ever since then, people have been comparing the group at Chantilly High School to the actors on "Glee." Director Glenn Cockrell says the television show has been good for the group.

GLENN COCKRELL: "It is something that has brought attention to what we do in the classroom as far as the performing arts."


Watch a video report about Touch of Class

Minoru Yamasaki

DOUG JOHNSON: Our question this week comes from Bogota, Colombia. Jamie Rodriguez wants to know about the Japanese-American architect Minoru Yamasaki.

Minoru Yamasaki was a leading architect for thirty years. His most famous work was the World Trade Center in New York City. Mister Yamasaki died of cancer in nineteen eighty-six. His death came fifteen years before the World Trade Center was destroyed in the September eleventh terrorist attacks.

World Trade Center towers, as seen in the 1980s
World Trade Center towers, as seen in the 1980s

Minoru Yamasaki was born in Seattle, Washington in nineteen twelve. His parents were immigrants from Japan.

Mister Yamasaki became interested in architecture after his mother’s brother came for a visit. The uncle worked as an architect and was designing buildings at the time. Minoru loved to sit and look at his uncle’s designs.

In the nineteen thirties, Mister Yamasaki studied architecture at the University of Washington. He later studied at New York University in Manhattan. One of his first jobs was with the company responsible for designing the Empire State Building.

Minoru Yamasaki married in nineteen forty one. Two days later the Japanese military bombed Pearl Harbor. Many Japanese Americans lost their jobs after the attack. Shortly after, the United States government forced Japanese-Americans on the West Coast to live in internment camps.

Mister Yamasaki’s employer did not dismiss him. And he protected his parents from internment. They moved to his small home in New York.

Minoru Yamasaki is known for design that is simple, strong and filled with light. Dhahran airport in Saudi Arabia has beautiful high-arched ceilings that create an airy feel. The windows are also arched. And, the air traffic control tower suggests a minaret that can be found on a mosque. Dhahran airport was completed in nineteen sixty-one.

One of the architect’s first big projects was a public housing center in St. Louis, Missouri. The Pruitt-Igoe had thirty-three buildings with eleven floors above ground. The project was completed in nineteen fifty-six.

The Pruitt-Igoe was considered modernist architecture. Problems began soon after work was completed. Disorder and disrepair set in. Crews destroyed all the buildings less than twenty years after they opened.

In the nineteen-fifties, Minoru Yamasaki began to experience bleeding in his stomach. He came close to dying. After recovering, he visited Japan and came away with ideas that energized his career.

Many buildings followed. They included tall office buildings, highly praised airports, and a beautiful building for the nineteen sixty-two world’s fair in Seattle, Washington. But his most famous project came in the nineteen-sixties. The New York Port Authority chose him to design the World Trade Center.

The World Trade Center opened in nineteen seventy-three. It included the two tallest buildings in the world at the time. Tower One and Two each had one hundred ten levels. Both were a little under four hundred seventeen meters tall. The World Trade Center had a total of seven buildings. And a train station and market were added underground.

Interestingly, Minoru Yamasaki was very fearful of heights. This is one reason he designed tall narrow windows. They restricted what occupants of his buildings could see.

Minoru Yamasaki said “world trade means world peace.” He believed his design of the World Trade Center should be representative of that idea. He said he wanted all his designs to inspire people to live humanitarian lives “beautifully and happily.”


Mary Mary “Something Big”

DOUG JOHNSON: Mary Mary is a two-member singing group from California. Sisters Erica and Tina Campbell sing Christian songs with a dancing beat and an edge. Barbara Klein plays some music from their new album “Something Big.”


BARBARA KLEIN: That is “Walking” from Mary Mary’s new album “Something Big.” It is a hit on urban adult Christian radio stations. But the sisters say their music fits into many categories.

Erica Campbell says she and Tina make music that touches both adults and young people. Tina Campbell says they sing Christian messages with “banging beats and melodies.”

Erica Campbell and Tina Campbell of Mary Mary perform at the 42nd NAACP Image Awards last month in Los Angeles
Erica Campbell and Tina Campbell of Mary Mary perform at the 42nd NAACP Image Awards last month in Los Angeles

Here is the title track of “Something Big.”


The sisters have been singing for eleven years and have released seven albums. They have won three Grammy awards and other music industry honors. Mary Mary albums combine rhythm and blues, hip-hop, pop and jazz sounds.

We leave you with the more traditional gospel sound of “It Is Well” from Mary Mary’s album “Something Big.”


DOUG JOHNSON: I’m Doug Johnson. Our program was written by Susan Logue and Caty Weaver, who was also the producer.

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Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA’s radio magazine in Special English.