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Father and son work together as teacher, student in Central’s music, theater departments

Paul Barta, the choir and musical theater director at Grand Forks Central High School has taught and directed his son Alex in the Centralian Choir and several musicals. This year they teamed up for Central's production of "Footloose" for which Paul was the director and Alex had a leading roll.JOHN STENNES/GRAND FORKS HERALD

While some parents might refrain from pointing out the negatives in their kids’ performances, it’s Paul Barta’s job to give his son, Alex, constructive criticism.

As the choir and musical theater director at Central High School, Paul has taught and directed Alex in the Centralian Choir and several musicals. Most recently, the father-son duo worked together on the musical “Footloose,” for which Paul was the director and Alex performed one of the leading roles as Willard.

It might seem like an unusual arrangement, but the two said there’s nothing odd about it. Their father-son connection only allows them to be that much more efficient and creative.

“Not only do we get to work and collaborate on the stage, but we get to take it home, too,” Paul said.

And, at home the duo gets even more feedback on the production.

“My wife (Christine) is extremely musical,” Paul said. “She’s just a fantastic singer, so she has the ability to decipher those things, too.”

And, Alex’s younger brother, Isaac, 11, is also involved in performing arts.

“He’s a talented little kid,” Paul said. “He’s a good musician. He’s in band and orchestra. He’s been on the stage, and he’s got those skills.”

Paul said the best moments involve all four of them sitting around the piano at home, singing and playing music.

 “It’s great that we can collaborate as a family on those things because we’re all involved, and we all have our opinions,” Paul said.

Alex agreed. Whether it’s at home, in the classroom or on the stage, he said he likes that his dad can offer some constructive criticism to help him improve his performance.

“It’s a little different,” he said. “It’s a different feel since he is my dad, and we go home and we live in the same house, but I like that.”

Alex added that when they first started working together he thought it would be weird, but it never was.

In his dad’s choir, Alex said, “It feels like I’m just a student, just there, singing in choir.”

And his dad tries to keep it that way. He said the biggest challenge with teaching and directing his son is keeping things fair amongst the other students.

“The attempt is to make it equal,” Paul said. “He is my son, but he also is my student just like every other student I have.”

And, just like any student, there are times when Alex talks too much in class or doesn’t try his best, when Paul has to warn him or push him a little harder.

“It’s just trying to keep that in perspective and say ‘OK I can’t … he’s not my favorite because you don’t have favorites as a teacher and you have to treat everyone equally,’” he said. “I suppose that the biggest challenge is that you have to mask that we’ve known each other his whole life.”

But, for the most part, they said it isn’t too difficult because the entire music and theater department is like family. Paul said he and Geoff Mercer, who teaches vocal music at Central, often have students come into their offices just to chat.

“Everyone’s such a community here,” Alex said. “Everyone’s friends over in the music department, so it’s like a similar vibe at home.”

Paul added, “It’s great to see (Alex) in that setting, enjoying these experiences. I think that’s probably the coolest thing to see, them having fun together and going through this process together.”

‘In the blood’

Paul knows how fun and rewarding the process can be. Growing up, Paul participated in all the same activities when he was a student at Red River High School. He sang in the choir, performed in the school’s theater productions and was involved in Summer Performing Arts.

Like Alex, Paul parents were also musically gifted. In fact, his whole family was involved in music. His dad was a choir director, his grandfather played in a big band and many of his aunts and uncles were music teachers.

“It’s been in the blood for quite a while so to speak,” he said.

Paul followed in his father’s footsteps becoming the choir director at Central in 2006. Now, he’s happy to be watching his sons walk the same path, just at a different school.

And as a sophomore, Alex said he’s already thought about following in his father’s footsteps to become a teacher.

“I’ve thought about it, but I’m not 100 percent sure where or what or what exactly I’d teach,” he said. “But I’ve thought about the possibility.”

He added that right now he is focused on the present, but he does see music in his long term future.

And, Paul said he hopes Isaac will continue with music and theater, as well.

“I don’t know if there’s much of a choice,” he said, with a laugh. “But, I don’t think there needs to be a choice either. Both these kids, they’ve been to concerts their whole life, and they haven’t rejected it yet, so I think they’re all in it for the long haul.”

Right now, Isaac is a fifth grader at Century Elementary, and Paul said the plan is to have him attend Central.

“He is an awesome kid, and I hope he wants to continue these great activities in the future.” He would be a wonderful addition to the GFC choir and theater programs.”

Switching sides

Some might question the thought of Paul attending Red River and having his kids attend the school across town, but he said it’s not a big deal.

“At my age, you’re able to separate the two,” he said. “That was in the past, and I had great experiences there.”

Alex said he thinks it’s cool to know that his dad went to Red River and to now see him working at Central.

Paul said the great thing about the arts is that everyone kind of collaborates together, despite what school they attend.

“There’s always kind of those competitive juices that you get going and you want to compete with your across-town rival,” Paul said. “But, the arts is a place where you can collaborate and share with the other school and try to make each other better and try to make good experiences with each other.”

Jasmine Maki
Jasmine Maki is a features reporter for Accent. Her main beats are arts and entertainment and life and style. She also occasionally covers health, family and TV.
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