SHEFFIELD -- Each student began his or her performance with an individual nuance. A deep breath. The thumbing of a guitar pick. The adjustment of the microphone.

They looked out among the rows of the Consolati Performing Arts Center at Mount Everett Regional High School, at some couple hundred pairs of eyeballs looking back at them, waiting for the students on stage to make their move.

And so it began, a program of poetry and rock and roll as the school's Poetry Out Loud competitors and students of the "History of Pop Music" all shared a stage this week to perform before their teachers and peers.

Poetry Out Loud is a national contest that begins at individual high schools. Massachusetts students qualifying at their respective schools will go on to compete at a statewide level on March 9.

English teacher Jeanne Lemlin introduced to the audience the idea that "poetry is as universal as language and almost as ancient."

"It's so interesting to see people you didn't know could do it get up on stage and perform something really well," said sophomore Eli Gold, the ultimate winner of Thursday's poetry competition. Junior Kristen Wolfe was the runner-up.

"If you're not a musician or an actor or a singer, this is a chance to try something new," said Gold.

He gave a nod to co-competitor and freshman, Katie Brigham.

"I don't do much on stage with theater but I do love reading poetry," she said of her first time reciting for Poetry Out Loud.

They, along with senior Taylor Dorsey, took turns reciting classical and contemporary poetry in the school's auditorium -- some people's worst nightmare -- an managed not to fall apart but stand tall and finish, even when they had to take a pause or ask for a line.

Also performing, some for the first time, were six members of teacher Chris Clark's "History of Pop Music" class.

"Most of those kids have never played an musical instrument before," said Clark.

But there they were, strumming, singing, keying and drumming along to a range of pop and rock from the 1900s on, from Carl Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes" to Nirvana's "Come As You Are."

Afterward, both students and teachers approached the performers with high-fives and words of encouragement.

Dorsey, who previously attended another Poetry Out Loud state competition, said that both at the school and advance levels, "it's really amazing to have that kind of support, even from people you don't know."