WARREN, NJ - More than 200 choral music students at Watchung Hills Regional High School (WHRHS) demonstrated their skill, knowledge base and showmanship in exploring a broad array of musical genres and styles, from tender remembrances to rock-and-roll anthems and empowerment statements, at the annual Winter Choral Concert, Thursday, Dec. 20, in the school’s Performing Arts Center (PAC).

The students even tackled the sometimes difficult task of getting laughs from numbers intended to be funny. They did so during the Select Vocal Ensemble section of the program: When a predominantly girl’s ensemble, plus one brave “Latte Boy,”really sold the humor in “Taylor, the Latte Boy;” and later, when a boys ensemble did likewise, showing hutzpah singing the zany treatment of “The 12 Days of Christmas,” as arranged by the professional a cappella group originally a student group out of Indiana University, “Straight No Chaser.”

The WHRHS Choral Program, under the direction of Music Teacher Angela DiIorio Bird, is comprised of three main choirs: The Watchung Hills Choir, with 80 student singers; the Watchung Hills Advanced Choir, with 166 students, and a third choir, the Combined Choir, which gathers all the singers together to fill the stage with voices, singing in four-part harmony, with multiple solo singers walking off the risers andcoming to the front of the stage to periodically punctuate the songs for musical and dramatic effect, while giving the soloists a living-learning/empowering experience.

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The Concert Program notes indicated that two WHRHS students, from the WHRHS Choir Arshia Agrawal and from the Advanced Choir Summer Stuart, were named to the Central NJ Region II Choir, having been selected through auditions earlier in December. Earlier, three singers had been selected last Spring for performance this year by the New Jersey All-State Choir. They are: Christine Tanko, William Broder and Stuart. 

The program also indicated that the WHRHS Choral Music Program has been planning an educational trip to DisneyWorld in Florida from Jan 17-21, DiIorio Bird said. There, students will have the opportunity to meet, work with and learn from Disney music, performance and entertainment professionals. 

Program Highlights

One highlight of the night occurred during the concert’s second-to-last number, the “Disney on Stage” Medley. Eight singers in the Combined Choir came out of the risers, and wowed the audience with an unexpected precision Tap Dancing performance during the singing of “Step in Time,” the memorable “Chimney Sweep Roof-tops-of-London” tour-de-force from the original iconic 1964 Disney film, “Mary Poppins.”

The other song in the Disney Medley was the song, “Circle of Life,” the majestic moment of father-son bonding from the 1994 Disney film, “Lion King.” The song acted as a culmination of a concert where themes of empowerment, acceptance, tolerance and the celebration of diversity, were sewn into practically every song as a kind of fifth part of the four-part harmonies. 

The empowerment theme was also on proud display when the students of the Advanced Choir embraced “This is Me,” the popular anthem of equality and self-determination from the 2017 film, “The Greatest Showman.” In addition to the Disney Medley, there were four other medleys on the night: A “Frozen” set; a Tribute to “Queen;” A salute to the “R-e-s-p-e-c-t” singer, herself, Aretha Franklin, “Queen of Soul;” and a “Jersey Boys Medley.’ 

There were five numbers performed by small groups of singers from the Choir and Advanced Choir in Select Vocal Ensembles.  Some ensembles were all-female, some ensembles were all-male, and one ensemble was mixed female and male. 

There were also three Senior Solo performances: By Anjali Blow, singing the 1960s Civil Rights call-to-arms “Change is Gonna Come,” by Sam Cooke, fittingly accompanying herself on the stand-up bass, because Blow is a veteran Bass player on the WHRHS Orchestra; by Claire Vickery, singing the tender song of Mother-Child love, devotion and protection, “Baby Mine,” from the film, ‘Dumbo” a film due out in 2019; and by Kayla Martins, singing in both Portuguese and English, the Brazillian song, “Vestido Azul,” (Blue Dress), in tribute to her family’s support for her and to show her pride in her Brazilian heritage.

Watchung Hills Choir Alum in the audience were invited to come up on stage or stand at their seats in the auditorium to join in the singing of the ancient Scottish Robert Burns song, “Auld Lang Syne,” always an audience favorite. The song concluded the program for the Advanced Choir, about mid-point of the overall concert. The concluding song for the evening, given extra volume by the sheer size of the Combined Choir, was the by now modern perennial holiday radio standard, “Happy Christmas (War Is Over),” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Throughout the evening, performances were enhanced by the presence of a virtual “house band,” made up of students playing guitars, bass, keyboards and kit drum, set up on the right side of the stage in a standard pop and rock band formation. Among them are: William Broder, Julian Lioanag, Kyle Merritts, Ben Kosakowski, and Thomas Dardis. This band also entertained the audience while the PAC was filling up before the concert. They were joined at times by a rather tall “Santa Claus” on electric guitar. Some say he bore a striking resemblance to WHRHS Supervisor of Arts Dan Bertelli, who plays guitar himself. Band members said they were toying with naming their as-yet not formally named band, some hybrid variation of “Bertelli” and “Stratocaster” or “Telecaster,” the name of two popular types of electric guitars. 

The presence of the house band during the Choral Concert proper added some rock and roll-flavored punch to several of the program’s numbers, including: “Santa Claus is Coming To Town,” as arranged by Bruce Springsteen; as well as the songs;“This Is Me,” during the “Tribute to Queen;” the Tribute to Aretha Franklin; the Jersey Boys Medley; and Happy Christmas (War Is Over),” among others.

In addition, there were 10 students who joined DiIorio Bird on piano as accompanists throughout the program. Plus, the tap dancers were captained by student choreographers.

The presence of the band helped call attention to the newest additions to the Music Department staff and curriculum offerings. DiIorio Bird introduced to the audience new WHRHS Music Teacher Christopher Wyatt, the Assistant Choir Director, Assistant Band Director and the teacher in the new Music Tech Lab. The lab, which first opened in September during the 2018-2019 year, offers introductory classes in guitar and piano/keyboarding, as well as classes in AP Music Theory, Music Theory and Music Tech. As he did during the Winter Instrumental Concert the week before, when Wyatt conducted two numbers, the new teacher took a turn conducting the Watchung Hills Choir.

Thanks To Parents

DiIorio Bird addressed the audience toward the end of the concert, thanking them for their continuing support for the music program. Earlier, as the program moved into the Ensemble sets, she explained that every student of the various ensembles had agreed at the beginning of the school year, to attend extra practices starting at 7 a.m., a half-hour before classes begin, Monday through Friday.

“The students participating in the Ensembles are 100 percent dedicated,” DiIorio Bird said.

She also thanked the many people who support the Arts Department at WHRHS, including the students, parents, Board of Education members, administration, members of the community and the PAC staff.

“Thank you parents,” she said. “You have raised wonderful kids. They are so talented. It really is fun coming to work every day. I was once a music student at WHRHS, myself. It is an excellentenvironment for students to learn and thrive. Merry Christmas!”

The Program

The Watchung Hills Choir: “Let There Be Peace On Earth,” Soloist, Ambika Muralitharan, Sign Language, Sydney  Brewster; “Remember Me” from “Coco,” Soloist, Shaina Nasrin, Guitar, Lucas Mammone; “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town,” Bruce Springsteen arrangement, Soloists, Daniel Zhang, Ahir Verma, Christian Takleszyn, Band, William Broder, Julian Lioanag, Kyle Merritts, Ben Kosakowski.

Senior Soloist: Anjali Blow, “Change Is Gonna Come,” the 1964 Civil Rights Anthem by Sam Cooke, and accompanying herself on stand-up bass.

The Watchung Hills Advanced Choir: “Frozen” Set,  including “Queen Anointed” and” Heimr Arnadalr,” Percussionist, ShoiliBanerjee; “Carol of the Bells of Notre Dame,” as performed by “Voctave,” an 11-member a cappella group from the Central Florida area; “This is Me,” the anthematic statement of self-determination and equality-for-all from the film, “The Greatest Showman,” Soloists, Jack Melillo, Sarah Marreiros, Kyra Anthony, Summer Stuart, Joi Langston, Band, William Broder, Benjamin Kosakowski, Slide Show, Kyra Anthony; “A Tribute to Queen,” the arrangement by the late Freddie Mercury, additional arrangement by Brymer/Diorio Bird, Soloists, Katie Strong, Katerina Calvo, Band, William Broder, Thomas Dardis, Benjamin Kosakowski, Kyle Merritts; “Auld Lange Syne,” with all Watchung Hills Alumni in attendance invited to join the choir on stage, or sing from their seats.

Senior Soloist: Claire Vickery, “Baby Mine,” the tender mother-child lullaby from the 1941 Disney animated film, “Dumbo.”

Vocal Ensembles: “Queen of Soul, A Salute to Aretha Franklin,”including “”Think,” “Say A Little prayer For Me,” “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman,” and “Respect,” Soloists, Izabella Calvo, Summer Stuart, Band, William Broder, Benjamin Kosakowski, Kyle Merritts; “Taylor, The Latte Boy,” recorded by Kristen Chenowith, Soloists, Sophia Perez, Giovanna DiSanto, Cello, Spencer Chao, the role of “Taylor” sung and portrayed by Sam Boufford; “Disney Fly Medley,” a medley of songs about flying, including “You Can Fly,” from peter Pan, and “Let’s Go Fly A Kite,” from “Mary Poppins;” “12 Days of Christmas,” recorded and originated by “Straight No Chasers,” a professional male a cappella group formed at Indiana University, Bloomington, Ind., Soloists, Jack Melillo, William Broder, Scott Romankow, Poster Design, Claire Vickery; and “Jersey Boys Medley,” including familiar favorites by the Hall of Fame Rock and Roll band, “The Four Seasons,”the 1960-70s era band from just up the Garden State Parkway in Essex and Bergen counties, whose songs and history are the basis for Broadway “jukebox” musical, “Jersey Boys,” (Broadway, 2005-2017).

Senior Soloist: Kayla Martins, “Vestido Azul, (Blue Dress),” with verses sung in Portuguese and English by Martins in honor of her Brazilian family heritage.

Combined Choirs of Watchung Hills: “Disney on Stage” Medley, Soloists, Jordan Pincus, Ariya Blow, Zach Rieger, Matt Oboh, Vincent Lasca, John Maher, Enjzo Ruta, and Adam Asad, Dancers, Choreographers, Giovanna DiSanto and Zoe Peloso, Jenna Rokosny, Jordan Pincus, Alyssy Ostry, Maahi Manek, Dana Wasserman, and Gianna Olivapotenza; and the concert finale, “Happy Christmas (War Is Over),” by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Soloist, Angelina Carrano, Band, William Broder, Ben Kosakowski, Kyle Merritts.

The Students

Chorus: Soprano, Arshia Agrawal, Savannah Bellovin, Gabriela Flores, Peijin Han, Emme Kleiman, Maahi Manek, Kelly Merritts, Samantha Miller, Ambika Muralitharan, Shaina Nasrin, Makayla Obenauer, Kelsey Palmer, Bhavya Reddy, Rachel Rieger, Saniya Sanharwal, Laibah Siddiqui, Daniela Silva, Ayushi Sinha, Vandita Soni, Julianna Soriano, Danielle Toscano, Alexandra Vatalare, and Simona Vitlin-Stein.

Alto, Hailie Barrios, Sydney Brewster, Leanni Calvo, Elena Celeste, Zoe Correale Anna Duensing, Rhea Flores, CalynGoldberg, Avril Gonzalez, Molly Hartigan, Angeliki Hionis, Evangelia Ioannou, Hannah Kita, Elizabeth Lee, Angela Li, Maryiam Lokhandwala, Caitlin Manzo, Brooke, Mersereau, Hannah Miller, Maria Morris, Tracy Nunes Alfaro, Katherine Palmieri, Ivelis Perez, Jordan Pincus, Gabriella Ramirez, Liliana Ramirez, Jenna Rokosny, Gabriella Russo, Megan Sabnani, Olivia Santos, Josetta Sapia, Carly Stauffer, Catherine Teo, Sydney Waddy, Abigail Wighard, and Jaimie Wu.

Tenor, Daniel Jaya Aviles, Christopher Logue, Jonathan Lopez, Andrew McAusland, John Santucci, Graham Schmidt, Christian Takleszyn, Dylan Vaidya, and Ahir Verma.

Bass, Xavier Ainsworth, Andrew Fenning-Owoo, John Harrobin, Jose Molina, Nicholas Percario, Thiago Teixeira, Kenneth Tenorio, Collado, Liam Tharp, Jacob Weber, Willard Whitesell, Stuart Whitley, and Daniel Zhang.

Advance Chorus:

Soprano: Christina Baratta, Sophia Blanchard, Anjali Blow, Ariya Blow, Angelina Carrano, Elizabeth Chapleski, KaelinChurchill, Shannon Coleman, Sophie Conwell, Roshni Dave, Emily Delaney, Stella DeMizio, Arden Dettling, Nina DiNorsio, Giovanna DiSanto, Alexandra Fenlon, Sophia Formisano, Alexa Garcia-Ibarra, Malvika George, Emma Giordano, MadelenaGoffredo, Olivia Hayes, Mary Alice Helgeson, Taylor Hestvik, Jasmine Hwang, Maria Irvin, Mihika Iyer, Apurva Joshi, Kathleen Kalb, Allison Karski, Anika Kasu, Olivia Kider, Alice Korogodsky, Shirley Kreis, Joi Langston, Madeline Leong, Keriann Lettieri, Gabrielle Listorti, Janet Liu, Colby Magalhaes, Navya Menon, Melissa Miketen, Jordan Miller, Amanda Nunes, Jessica Opoku, Alyssa Ostry, Sophia Patti, Zoe Peloso, Sophia Perez, Jessica Petersen, Erin Pinto, Julia Pott, Teresa Rotolo, Elizabeth Russo, Megha Saju, Ariadna Sosa, Jaleesa Soto, Hannah Stevens, Christine Tanko, Claire Vickery, Tiffany Wang, Alison Wolf, and Nathalie Zuniga. 

Alto: Mia Abdelmegid, Rhea Ahuja, Sarah Almeida, Kyra Anthony, Rebecca Baitel, Aurora Baker, Sara Barrientos, Anastasia Benc, Kimberly Briceno, Jennifer Buser, Isabella Calvo, Katerina Calvo, Julia Celeste, Jasmine Cui, AlesandraDebello, Emily Dec, Rebecca Dickerson, Caitlyn Diem, Briana Friedman, Jayla Garcia, Samantha Geada, Mia Hagel, Kayla Horvaht, Hanna Houillion, Madeleine Johnson, Mia Kurzman, Abigail Langer, Ivey Ledward, Olivia Leong, Kimberly Limbo, Carly MacManus, Sarah Marreiros, Kayla Martins, Ava Melillo, Jennifer Miller, Rachel Miller, Alexandria Minetti, Tien Nguyen, Elizabeth Nuzzi, Gianna Olivapotenza, Skylar Paltjon, Natalia Peraza, Jessica Piegaro, Sofia Rivetti, Portia Rowley, Norah Rusul, Rebecca Sendon, Grace Shanahan, Heather Sherry, Valentina Spuizziato, Kathleen Strong, Gabriella Tharp, Jennifer Tyler, Nya Venson, Leanna Villarreal, Dana Wasserman, Rachel Williams, Elizabeth Wood, Michelle Yeboah, Srisaumya Yellamelli, and Savera Zafar. 

Tenor: Adam Asad, Ryan Branco, Brianna Caetano, Lauren Chapleski, Owen Furlong, Christopher Gagliano, Jean Vincent Lesaca, Zachary Linder, Kevin Lynch, Matthew Mazzarisi, Caleb Parker, James Ptack, Luis Rodrigues, Scott Romankow, Alexander Ruta, Elizabeth Samayoa, Massai Shuler, Summer Stuart, and Shelby Waddy.

Bass: Samuel Bouffard, William Broder, Jaiden Bryant, Joseph Denisco, Casey Green, Liam Jacobs, Altay Kabukcu, Benjamin Kosakowski, Glent Loyola, Matthew MacKrell, John Maher, Lucas Mammone, Jack Melillo, Andrew Moberly Joshua Monto, Rohil Navani, Matthew Oboh, Hans Parikh, Ryan Purcell, Aakash Rathee, Zachary Rieger, Anthony Roca, and Enzo Ruta. 

Accompanists: Mariam Contractor, Jeremy Cui, Anisha Jackson, Altay Kabukcu, Adam Moszczynski, Matthew Oboh, AnnabellPu, Matthew Stanton, Katie Tan, and Justine Wang.

Student Choreographers: Giovanna DiSanto, Zoe Peloso, and Katerina Calvo.

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