Kaleb Allee is proficient on trombone and also plays piano and guitar.

The junior-to-be at Van Horn High School hadn't been part of a choir, though. When he was selected to be in the annual George Caleb Bingham Academy of the Arts program, that changed.

“I decided why not just give it a try,” Allee said. “I didn't think I would do singing and dancing and like it so much. I had never tried out my (singing) voice.”

Allee and 76 other students will be performing and exhibiting their work Thursday evening at William Chrisman High School at the Showcase of the Arts. The academy's graduation ceremony is at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium, and the showcase program featuring choral and instrumental music, dance and theatrical performances begins at 7:45 p.m. Artwork and creative media will be on display in the lobby outside the auditorium.

Started in 1997 and sponsored by the Independence School District, the Bingham Academy is a free, five-week course with four areas of study – creative media (formerly creative writing), music and dance, theater and visual art. It's meant for high school students (new graduates can participate) and is open to students in and around Independence, and participants receive a semester's fine arts credit and sometimes dual credit through Metropolitan Community College-Blue River.

Director Molly Clemons said 16 high schools are represented among the students, not to mention a couple home school students.

“They have to apply – some audition, and there's a portfolio review for some,” Clemons said. Incoming freshmen are the youngest who can apply, but, “sometimes with a very young student, we will suggest delaying them a year or two,” she said.

Some students aim to enhance a particular craft in the arts, and others like the chance to gain proficiency in another area.

“My first year I did art instead of music; I was too nervous to dance,” said Christa Johnson, a senior-to-be at Chrisman and one of six students in the Bingham Academy for the fourth time. She plays guitar and sings, but in the Academy she picked up piano as part of that ensemble.

“It's helped me so much, getting me comfortable singing,” Johnson said.

Allee said he found his proficiency in instrumental music allowed him to pick up quickly on some finer points of singing.

“It really helps to be able to sight read and translate, for sure,” he said.

Former ISD superintendent Robert Watkins had a music background, Clemons said, and he wanted to start the Bingham Academy because he saw plenty of summer camps for high school sports but precious few for the fine arts. Watkins asked Janice Mellott and Clemons' husband Ron to run it. The first year had 54 ISD students, and after that it opened to other high school students.

One way the Academy evolved, Clemons said, was folding dance from its own section into music. That gave theater students some dance background for musicals. It incorporated technology as it came along, though the iPod arrived and left, she said jokingly.

No matter what, she said, “We still have the same talented students.”

“They see each other at music contests or art exhibitions or at debate,” Clemons said. “Lifelong friendships formed from this.”

Allee and Johnson agreed that's part of the Academy's appeal.

“I have made good friends from here that I wouldn't have met otherwise,” Allee said.

“I've loved the group, the friendliness,” Johnson added. “I've made some friends here from other schools. It's one thing that keeps you coming back; definitely, the friends make it better.”