She has been told through the years that she sings with heart. Now, Sarah Pankratz gets to sing like Heart.
Specifically, like the iconic pop-rock group vocalist Ann Wilson from the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. The Columbus North High School senior will belt out the 1990 hit “All I Wanna Do is Make Love to You” with Rebecca Burbrink as part of the 32nd Annual American Pie: The Magical History Tour May 12 at Judson Erne Auditorium, 1400 25th St. in Columbus.
The tune, something of an arena-rock favorite from the time period, details a passionate, one-night stand between two strangers. It is part of a collection of what organizers calls “story songs” for the event carrying the theme, “The Stories of Us.”
“It’s obviously a big change from other stuff I do, whether that’s musical theater or classical,” said Pankratz, a big fan of Heart for several years.
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“So, it almost is a struggle to find that place that I fit in with rock. And it’s a big, four-minute song, so I’m still working on my stamina.”
Stamina will be significant, since she also serves as one of five core backup vocalists during the rest of the 31-song concert that normally stretches more than two-and-a-half hours in front of a crowd of more than 1,000 cheering, often fist-pumping attendees, from youngsters to grandparents. The event unfolds as part rock concert, part history lesson, including narration of significant news events from the 1950s through today, with tunes adding something of an exclamation point.
Student singers often dress in the time period or in the style of the singer they represent, whether that’s someone such as Elvis or Madonna or Lady Gaga.
Adding to a somewhat-electric atmosphere are a group of students videotaping the performance with enough detail to befit an MTV production, especially since their full concert work will be broadcast days later on the local Comcast channel.
Ed Niespodziani, a retired chairman of North’s history department, originally launched the concert as an in-classroom way to make history relevant to students in the 1980s, and as way of building an effective bridge from yesterday to today. He found that ’60s rock protest songs helped young people understand the Vietnam era, for instance.
“There’s probably not that same passion today in music as in the ’60s,” Niespodziani said. “Back then, the Vietnam War was really pressing on us. But today, with an all-volunteer army, you don’t have that same issue. So, it’s a whole different story now.”
Niespodziani also emphasized the idea that the music of the ’50s and ’60s marked the first time that teens began viewing themselves as a distinctly individual and separate segment of society.
“When you have a view that you are special in society, then you can talk about anything,” he said.
And sing about the same, via genres of pop, rock, country, soul — you name it.
North senior Brittany Davis, who shone in last year’s show with her spot-on version of the tragic classic, “Ode to Billy Joe,” will this year sing Paula Cole’s haunting “Where Have All the Cowboys Gone?”
Davis currently is tweaking her voice toward Cole’s vocal delivery just as she did last year to sound remarkably like a measured Bobbie Gentry.
“She (Cole) does a have a little bit more of a breathy quality to her higher notes that I don’t quite have,” Davis said.
Chances are good that with the full, live band of both professional and student musicians accompanying singers, the audience never will notice such details. But organizers always stress that excellence matters at a show that has become one of the community’s signature events.
“Overall, we really try to stay true to the vocals of what the song’s original artist produced,” Davis said.
She chuckled about the fact of being a fifth-year veteran of American Pie, with her first performance being a Parkside Elementary School fifth-grader with an ensemble singing “In the Highways” from the movie, “O Brother, Where Art Thou.”
Pankratz laughed about listening to a recording of her Heart tune so often — sometimes on repeat on her music player for some time — that others have wondered if she will be sick of hearing it by showtime.
“I’m not sure I could ever be sick of a Heart song,” she said. “But maybe there will be a couple of weeks (after the concert) before I will start listening to it again.”
What: The 32nd Annual American Pie: The Magical History Tour concert, featuring local high schoolers and community members performing a hit parade of 31 tunes from the 1950s to today.
When: 7:15 p.m. May 12.
Where: Judson Erne Auditorium, 1400 25th St. in Columbus.
Tickets: $15, available at the bookstores at Columbus North and Columbus East high schools.
Information: Facebook page for Columbus North American Pie.