MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Mahopac Central School District has again been honored with the Best Communities for Music Education designation from The NAMM Foundation for its outstanding commitment to music education.
Now in its 22nd year, the Best Communities for Music Education designation is awarded to districts that demonstrate outstanding achievement in efforts to provide music access and education to all students.
“This truly is a district effort,” said Evan McGregors, MHS orchestra director and K-12 Music Department chairperson. “From the support at district office for funding, accessibility, and curriculum development; the daily guidance and coordination from our building administrators; custodial staff making sure the facilities are in the best shape for our students to succeed; and the tireless efforts of our dedicated music teachers from K-12, working with our students every day in every way, shape, and form.”
To qualify for the Best Communities designation, detailed data was analyzed about funding, graduation requirements, music class participation, instruction time, facilities, support for the music program and community music-making programs. The details of Mahopac’s music program were verified with school officials and reviewed by The Music Research Institute at the University of Kansas.
Since Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015, and a stated emphasis on a well-rounded education, many school districts have re-committed to music and arts education programs and found that in this time of a national pandemic music provides a valuable way to keep students engaged in school.
“Our strategic road map states that one of our goals as an educational community is to support students in becoming collaborative and creative critical thinkers,” said Michael Tromblee, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction, and professional learning. “There is a well-known link between high-quality music education supporting students develop and refine critical thinking skills. Additionally, we seek to educate the whole child at Mahopac and engaging in the study and creation of music benefits our students in so many ways. I want to thank the faculty of our music department and our community for their dedication to and support of our music education programs.”
Research into music education continues to demonstrate educational, cognitive, and social skill benefits for children who make music: After two years of music education, researchers found that participants showed more substantial improvements in how the brain processes speech and reading scores than their less-involved peers and that students’ everyday listening skills are stronger in musically trained children than in those without music training. Significantly, listening skills are closely tied to the ability to: perceive speech, pay attention, and aural memory. Later in life, individuals who took music lessons as children show stronger neural processing of sound: young adults and even older adults who have not played an instrument for up to 50 years show enhanced neural processing compared to their peers. Not to mention, social benefits include conflict resolution, teamwork skills, and how to give and receive constructive criticism.
Echoing the benefits of Mahopac’s music program, Mahopac High School senior Max Semegran, who was selected as one of the best violinists in the state to perform with the NY All-State Symphony Orchestra, said that Mahopac High School’s orchestra has been such a major part of his high school experience, he can’t imagine his time at MHS without it.
“Educationally, orchestra has given me self-control, brain development, and teamwork, important things for any student to have,” he said. “Arguably more important however, are the memories that I have made in orchestra. I recall entering the stage my first day of school filled with nerves. These nerves were quickly put to rest with the humorous yet confident leadership of Mr. McGregor and the comradery of my fellow musicians. Little did I know how many incredible times I would have with this wonderful group of people... I will forever cherish the memories that I have made in MHS’ orchestra.”
The music program in Mahopac has a strong heritage and is continuing to grow recognition for a remarkable culture of excellence. In recent years, Mahopac has been well represented by the middle and high school ensembles (band, orchestra, and chorus) at regional competitions, receiving superior ratings and the MHS Philharmonic Orchestra has received multiple best overall orchestra awards. For the past few school years, members of the MHS Symphonic Band were selected as best in the state for the New York State Band Directors Association (NYSBDA) Honor Band and Jazz Band. In 2020, two Mahopac students were section leaders of the NYSBDA Jazz Band. The MHS Jazz Band continues to be recognized as the “Showcase Band’’ at the Sleepy Hollow Jazz Festival, along with numerous other individual recognitions in the competition. Last year, sixth grader Sarah Kayler was one of two elementary student composers selected for the All-State Conference Composers Showcase.
Senior Mark Dusociv said, “I feel like I’ve improved a lot as a musician because of this music program. I’ve also made some of my best friends through it. I love how many opportunities we get to perform in and out of school.”
Within the Mahopac community the MCSD music program hosts a multitude of events every year. Fulmar Road, Lakeview, and Austin Road Elementary put on multiple band, orchestra, jazz, and chorus concerts each school year. The middle school groups do the same, along with a spring musical and an end-of-year steel drum concert with Don Flynn. At the high school, there are many great events. A late-winter pops concert is always a packed community event, hosted by the Mahopac Friends of Music parent group. Rich Williams and Steve Wands, directing the jazz bands, put on a swing dance night every winter which has professionally led dance lessons and an evening of upbeat swing tunes. The jazz bands also put on an always sold-out spring show at the St. George Winery in Mohegan Lake. The high school rock experience, Illusion, annually holds three straight nights of arena rock and Top 40 pop, to a packed and energetic audience. Illusion, directed by Stas Przymylski, also recently performed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A true community staple, members of the marching band can be seen at every home football game and in Mahopac parades.
A member of the MHS Philharmonic and Chamber Orchestras, class of ‘21 senior Olivia Vataj said that “being a part of orchestra and the wider music community here at Mahopac has been such a rewarding experience. Making music with my friends and peers is one of the defining components of my high school career, and I am so lucky that we still have such a vibrant and welcoming music program during distance learning.”
When the pandemic hit in the spring of 2020, and New York went on lockdown, that did not stop the school district’s music from being there for the students. A quick look at the virtual performance playlist from Williams and the MHS bands shows that music education remained a vital part of the student experience, and the weekly installments gave the community a regular bright spot to look forward to.
“Even during this pandemic we have been able to rehearse and perform in ways that have helped restore a bit of normalcy during these crazy times,” said MHS junior Vincenzo Pascarella.
Fellow bandmate, senior Dylan Ellrod, said the Mahopac music program has and continues to change his life for the better every day.
“I have no idea where I would be now if not for this music program,” he said.
Through the continuous trials of the COVID crisis, Mahopac’s music program continues to work hard for the students, and the spring performances are highly anticipated.
“I want to say that I’ve really enjoyed being a part of the orchestra these past few years. The music program helped me love performing and I’m honestly super impressed by the hard work and musical successes of the music community here, especially during the pandemic,” said senior Alexa Tyberg.
With a hope towards normalcy, the student musicians of Mahopac High School will eventually be welcomed by completely renovated rehearsal spaces and classrooms as a part of the ongoing capital bond project.
The district’s music program provides an eclectic offering from beginning instruction to college and AP coursework. There are opportunities for students at all levels to be involved and learn from the top-level educators of the music department. The music program is staffed by Elizabeth Day (Austin Road), Marcia Webb (Lakeview), Jennifer Gilbert (Fulmar Road), Joseph Seeley (Middle School), Steve Wands (Elementary Band), Don Flynn (MS Band), Rich Williams (HS Band), Heather Palkewick (MS Chorus), Jacob Rhodebeck (HS Chorus), Stas Przymylski (Music Technology), Rob Loprinzo (Elementary Orchestra), Katelyn Tai (MS Orchestra), Evan McGregor (HS Orchestra).
Article provided by Mahopac School District