Episode 2: The high school senior singing the coronavirus blues

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Courtesy photo. (Photo illustration by Natasha Vicens/PublicSource)

Courtesy photo. (Photo illustration by Natasha Vicens/PublicSource)

Final exams. Prom. Graduation. Right about this time of year, these would be the milestones for high school seniors in the United States. For Pittsburgh CAPA student Jordan McNeal and other seniors across Pittsburgh, and the nation, these highly anticipated events won't happen because of the coronavirus. On this episode, Jordan discusses how the school cancellation has affected him and his classmates and looks ahead to attending college at one of the most competitive music schools in the world.

JOURDAN HICKS: Jordan McNeal is a senior in high school. He goes to CAPA, the Performing Arts High School in downtown Pittsburgh.

Right about now, he should be looking forward to senior week with his friends, thinking about graduation, getting ready for prom.

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JORDAN MCNEAL: The color I was thinking about like a tan or a green color because my prom date was like wearing like green and creamish-white colors. So I was trying to go in that direction.

JOURDAN HICKS: But the Coronavirus had other plans.

CLIP FROM NEWS REPORT: “Today, Governor Tom Wolf announced to stop the spread of COVID-10 all Pennsylvania schools will remain closed until further notice.”

GOV. WOLF: “Right now, it isn't safe...”

CLIP JEFFREY MCNEAL: “Whoa, that's heavy, man. I feel so bad for these kids.”

JOURDAN HICKS: This is Jordan's dad, Jeffrey McNeal.

JEFFREY MCNEAL: "I know a lot of different kids had an experience of graduating and this really puts a damper on their senior year. It's a real...this is real mess.

JOURDAN HICKS:He and Jordan are self-isolating in their Brighton Heights home. Last week, they got some good news. Jordan found out he had been accepted into the Berklee College of Music in Boston, his dream school. It's one of the hardest music programs in the world to get into. There's a long list of famous alumni: Quincy Jones, Branford Marsalis, John Mayer, Esperanza Spalding, Lalah Hathaway.

But despite this huge achievement, Jordan isn't doing much celebrating. However, he is doing a lot of singing and his dad does not mind.

JEFFREY MCNEAL: "When he performs, when he sings--people say I'm a big crybaby. But he does bring on the tears."

JOURDAN HICKS: We'll hear Jordan's story, and more of his singing, in just a moment.

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JORDAN MCNEAL: My name is Jordan McNeal. I'm a 12th grader at Pittsburgh CAPA and my major there is a vocal.

I put on like a concert every day in my shower. I've talked to my music teachers and I've had a few mini-lessons from them, like how I should breathe here and what I should do here. I have been warming up a few days. I have put on a warmup in my living room and just sang. I've just been singing all over the place.

This year, especially for seniors, we were envisioning, you know, going to prom, finishing our yearbook, seeing all the pictures and especially having graduation, walking across the stage and flipping our tassel to the right.

Not having the traditional graduation process of walking the stage and getting your diploma and hearing that we might be online for graduation and our diplomas are sent in the mail, I feel like that really just put a damper on our vision of prom and graduation and just spending the last weeks of school with each other.

I started singing when I was 4 in the car. My dad used to play music in the car like Anita Baker, Luther Vandross, Phyllis Hyman - a lot of the superstars. And it really exposed me to the storytelling detail back then.

When I turn 6 or 7, I joined a choir called AAMI. It's in Homewood, the African-American Music Institute. It was run by Dr. J (Dr. Johnson). I stopped going in like 11th grade during like SATs and stuff like that. But that was really the starting foundation for music training.

I got to sing with a lot of men and get exposed to different genres and how to perform. And we have sung like all over the state. It was really a pivotal point in my music time and it really has helped me grow.

When I first heard about the schools closing first, I was just thinking like it's going to be temporary and we'll get through this. The COVID-19 will like, you know, do its thing. But we'll be back like April or May. As the virus has gotten worse, I got a little sad because this was supposed to be like our time to enjoy it. Like we've made it through all the tests, through the college process, and just really, like, enjoy the moment together.

Yesterday, we all got on face time and we talked for like four hours just about life and everything. My phone is broke but disconnected from like social media. It's actually kind of like relaxing and good. I've been reading, I've been starting a few books. I've been applying for scholarships and actually was going to plant a few flowers out in the back just to occupy the time.

I do miss my teachers dearly. I miss my principal, my counselors, my social workers, they've just helped me along the way when I need to go to the office and talk about work, college, anything. And they were just always there to support me and be there for me.

So I got my decision letter from Berklee College of Music. The excitement for me came later like it was gradually coming. It didn't come right away. I was just like shocked that I really got in. And then as the days went on, the excitement for it and the envisioning of me being there really came full force. And Berklee is just a really good place to like explore the talent and just really grow as an artist.

Yeah, I'm going to be homesick, but I'm excited to explore a new place and new people there and the new experiences. But I definitely will miss Pittsburgh.

To my friends, I love them with all my heart. And we're going through this together and we're going to come out victorious in the end. I just love them and I will dearly miss them when we separate. But we'll never be like separated for that long. But I just love them and they know that.

This podcast was produced by Andy Kubis and edited by Mila Sanina and Halle Stockton. If you have a story you'd like to share, get in touch with us. You can text a voice memo to 412-432-9669. Or email it to jourdan@publicsource.org.

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