SOUTH PLAINFIELD - The 51st Annual South Plainfield All-District Music Festival took place on March 5th in the South Plainfield High School auditorium. The three-hour concert featured chorus, orchestra, band and jazz band students from Grant School, the Middle School and High School. South Plainfield 5th through 12th grade musicians and vocalists had the opportunity to shine with performances throughout the evening.
"The District Festival this year was the best ever!" Dr. Donna Kregler, SPHS Choral Director. "The students are super talented and performed so well. The night went very smoothly."
Students, staff, family and friends experienced an evening they will never forget with ensembles lighting up the stage with the grace and talents rivaling that of professional musicians and vocalists.
"I am so proud of the South Plainfield Music Program because it breeds such amazing and talented people on and off the stage," said Justin Billich, senior. "Our teachers are so supportive of everything we do, and I think that is why the District Festival went so smoothly and was amazing."
"The best thing about this event is that the younger students are able to see the older students and can see where they are going to be in the future," said Andrew Veiss, South Plainfield Middle School Band Director. "We also like that the audience gets to see the progression of the ensembles in one evening."
Principal Robert Diehl welcomed all to the evening of music as he opened the 51st District Music Festival.
"I'm very proud of tonight for several reasons," said Diehl. "One of them is that this is the 51st District Music Festival. This building wasn't even built 51 years ago. That's how long we've been doing it, and tonight we will be treated to the performances of over 560 South Plainfield Music Students."
Diehl, a musician and former band parent, thanked the audience for all they do to support the children, noting the importance of having a support system both at school and home to create the environment necessary to foster an education in music.
"As parents and family, we know what you do, and we thank you for it," Diehl said. "I've been to a couple of rehearsals today, throughout the day. All the different groups were rehearsing, and they sound great, but there's nothing like showtime and you're going to see that now. Thank you very much for coming, have a great night!"
Master of Ceremonies Jay Buchanan introduced the first portion of the evening, the choirs. Middle School students Sophia Miller, Isabel Tapanes, Gertrude Whalen and Camila Chavez opened the show with "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Grant Chorus, with Choral Director Shannon Maddolin conducting, Marc Stasio accompanying on piano and SPHS sophomore James Buchnan on bass, performed "Starlight, Starbright" by Pete Seeger and arranged by Susan Brumfield. An adaptation of the children's lullaby, "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star," the song incorporated lessons of beauty, love and peace.
"We are 125 strong and always looking for more," said Maddolin to the packed audience of family and friends. "We can't wait for the Spring Concert. We hope you enjoy our last piece, 'It's a Hard Knock Life.'"
The Grant School children also performed "It’s the Hard-Knock Life," arranged by Sarah Zegree, a high energy rendition from the classic movie "Annie."
"That performance was really hard, but together as a group, we did it," said Adriane Piercin, 5th grade. "When you work together you can accomplish anything. It's amazing when you achieve your goal and all the teachers are so proud of you. Everybody's so proud of you and everything's just amazing."
"It was kind of hard," said Tyler Phin, 5th grade student. "My favorite song was 'It's a Hard Knock Life.' We were altos, so in the beginning, we did the clapping hands."
Under the direction of Katherine Haughwout with Ian Howells accompanying on guitar, the Middle School Concert Choir began with "93 Million Miles" by Jason Mraz, arranged by Roger Emerson, a flowing melody with beautiful lyrics and a title that referred to the Earth's distance from the sun. Soloists were Allison Buchanan and Mathew Clarke.
The students concluded with the impressive "4 Chords: A Choral Medley," arranged by Mark Brymer, a tribute to over twenty pop songs throughout the ages that all had only four chords. Soloists were Timothy Prisk and Chrisopher Cardinale.
"It was very nice to see everything come together with both grades since it's hard for us to practice together, but we can still come together at the end of the night," said Brooke Ridley, 8th grade Middle School student.
The High School Concert Choir, led by Kregler, accompanied on piano by Paul DiDario, performed a medley from "Les Misérables" as arranged by Ed Lojeski. With soaring melodies, the students voices rose with each chord change as they sang the songs from the famous musical, including "I Dreamed A Dream," "On My Own" and "Do You Hear The People Sing?"
"By far my favorite piece was 'Les Mis,' because it is such an emotional and passionate piece, and I always get goosebumps singing certain parts," said Billich. "In 2018, when I saw my fellow classmates perform this show, I was going through a rough time in my life, and it really gave me hope in a dark time."
"I think my favorite song was definitely the 'Les Misérables' medley," said Michael Skolnick, senior. "Performing those songs felt really great on the risers, and the energy present was fantastic."
"I enjoyed going back to the music from the 'Les Misérables' medley because it is one of my favorite musicals, being that it was my first musical in high school as well," said Chase Atkinson, senior.
"'Les Mis' reminded me of when I watched the seniors sing that medley in eighth grade," said Samantha Zelek, senior. "I feel that by singing that song I have come full circle in my high school career. This concert is definitely one that I will remember after graduating."
"My favorite song of the concert was the 'Les Mis Medley' because it brought back fond memories of when we put on the show in 2018," said Kelly Gorman, senior.
"Performing the songs from the 'Les Misérables' Medley felt really great on the risers, and the energy present was fantastic," said Michael Skolnick, senior.
Fifth year at Montclair State, Student Teacher Danielle Kim, majoring in Music Education for Voice, had the opportunity to work with the students at SPHS over the past months.
"I thought this concert was amazing," said Kim. "I'm moving on to a new chapter now, but being a part of the SPHS music program was a great way to end this part of my student teaching. I think all high schools should have a District Festival like this because you see the vertical growth and the kids get to see their future growing up. I think it's amazing and it was so much fun. Everyone did a great job."
The band portion of the evening began with the Middle School Gems singing, "Star-Spangled Banner." The Grant School All-District Band under the direction of Mark S. Tweed, Band Director for Grant School, played "Flintsonts Meet the Jetsons" as arranged by Gerald Sebesky. The students played a medley of theme songs from two of Hanna-Barbara's classic cartoons and the Stone Age met the future. Grant music students also performed "As the Eagle Flies" by James Swearingen, a regal and inspiring song.
"I think we did really well," said Leiana O'Neal, 6th grade Grant student. "We worked really hard practicing."
"Life is what you make of it, so try your best and you'll succeed," said Sabrina Louissol, 6th grade Grant student.
"I think it was a nice experience playing and working hard to get into this band," said Damien Simon, 6th grade Grant School student. "The other kids did awesome, much better than us, but we still have a long way to go to get better. I feel good as long as I play strong and work harder."
The Gems, under the direction of Katherine Haughwout, Choral Director of the Middle School, treated the audience to "Songs of a Disney Villain" as arranged by Alan Billinsgsly, featuring five classic songs that were sung by everyone's favorite Disney villains, including Cruella de Vil ("101 Dalmatians), Scar ("The Lion King"), Kaa, the python ("The Jungle Book"), Ursula ("The Little Mermaid"), and Gaston ("Beauty and the Beast").
The Middle School Concert Band, led by Band Director Andrew Veiss, performed "Queen in Concert," arranged by Jay Bocook, a salute to Queen with their famous hits, "We Will Rock You," "Bohemia Rhapsody," "Another One Bites the Dust," and "We Are the Champions."
"In the Middle School, this is the one opportunity we have for both 7th and 8th grade bands to play together," said Veiss. "Since we play 8th grade level music, the 7th graders improve tenfold. Also, I alternate 7th and 8th grade students so the younger students can learn from their older peers."
"It was nerve-wracking, but it was fun because I love an audience, and we love performing," said Ava Felt, 8th grader Middle School student. "Putting it together was just a very fun time."
"I didn't feel confident at first, but afterwards, I felt relieved that it was over," said Will Wands, 7th grade Middle School student. "I always look up to the high school band. The high school jazz band was really good. I wanted to see them."
"It was a good experience," said Joleen Hernandez, 7th grade Middle School student. "It was scary because of all the people, but it was fun. It's entertaining to watch the older kids. It helps me see what I'm going to be doing."
Kregler led the SPHS Chamber Choir as they performed "All Star" (As and English Madrigal) with a twist, arranged by arranged Nathan Lowe. Integrating the familiar tune from the "Shrek" movies, the chorus' voices soared.
"My favorite song was ‘All Star’ because I really liked that song before singing it in choir, and the choir version adds a different and satisfying twist," said Nicole Calavetta, senior.
"My favorite song was 'All Star' because it was our only chamber song," said Christopher Rodriguez, senior. "It’s sad to think that I won’t be performing in a District Festival again, but over the years, I had a lot of fun experiences singing different melodies, and I like to look back and think just how much I accomplished since the days I was in Riley."
"I think the whole choir, including chamber choir, did extremely well performing both pieces of music," said Gianna Ruzicka, senior. "We all blended together and used our energy to make the performance better."
The High School Concert Band, conducted by SPHS Director of Bands William Haughwout, performed "Hollywood Milestones" as arranged by John Higgins, a medley of blockbuster movie themes from over two decades of film history, including the theme songs from "Jaws," "Star Trek," "Raiders March," "Chariots of Fire," "Back to the Future," "E.T.," "Beauty and the Beast," "Jurassic Park," "Forrest Gump," and "Apollo 13."
"The performances were great," said Mary O'Dell, sophomore. "We've worked literally the longest time for it. Even though we only performed one piece, it was perfect because the District Festival really gives younger kids the opportunity to see how they're going to be in Middle School and High School."
"I thought the performance went really well," said Joseph Feeney, junior. "We've been practicing for months and it's great to perform together for the audience. The younger students seemed to enjoy the music too."
A unique part of the festival is that students from Grant School and the Middle School had the opportunity to sit in the audience while the older students performed. Many were impressed by what they could aspire to become in the coming years.
"It is really important for the Grant School Orchestra to see the Middle School and High School Orchestras so that they have something to look forward to," said Joan Stasio, Grant School Orchestra Director and Drama Director. "It’s really fun to see them recognize and enjoy a piece they hear. Their eyes light up, and they get very excited, and they love listening and watching the older kids. That’s what I enjoy the most, as we relax after having already performed."
"It was pretty interesting because one day we could be like them too," said Anjali Persaud, 7th grade Middle School student. "It was cool to see how well they did and how good I could one day be if I keep on going with chorus."
The concert also brought back nostalgic memories for many of the senior high school performers.
"I remember being in the District Festival when I was in Grant and Middle School," said Patrick Joyner, senior. "I always got excited thinking how one day I would have the opportunity to sing in the High School choir. Now being a senior, it is kinda crazy to think this is the last district festival that I will ever be in."
"I remember being at the District Festival ever since Grant School, which was a time when I was still in band!" said Atkinson. "It was really cool seeing all of the upperclassmen sing these cool songs."
"When I was in eighth grade, I remember the high school choir singing the same 'Les Misérables' medley that we sang this year and remember how amazing and mature they sounded," said Brianna Padovano, senior.
"I remember watching my sister in the District Festival when she was a senior, and I was in Grant School," said Gorman. "It’s surreal being that senior that the Grant and Middle Schoolers see and hope to be one day. The concert went extremely well, and I was glad to be a part of it!"
"I remember being in Grant School and Middle School, and the high school seeming so big and confusing," said Sara Dabul, senior. "I remember being scared of the high schoolers and being forced to watch them quietly in the green chairs while they performed. However, I remember looking up to the performers that I saw, admiring them and striving to be as good as them one day. I found them intimidating because they were so skilled. I always enjoyed watching the high schoolers when I was younger no matter how tired I would get sitting in the green chairs so late."
"While at the District Festival, seeing the little Grant and Middle Schoolers gave me flashbacks to the time when I was in their position," said Amanda Bermo, senior. "I vividly remember the day of District Festival, during school we would go to the high school to rehearse and I’d see all these high schoolers towering over me. Then later at the performance I would watch them sing from the back corner in awe of their talent, and now here I am, as not only that high schooler to these little kids, but also in my last year of high school, and it's just crazy to see just fast time flew by."
"I remember being a Grant School student and sitting in the high school choir room," Calavetta said. "I felt this concert went amazing. I'm sad that it was my last district festival, and that this is my last year doing choir in general."
"I remember being in Grant and Middle School choir and being so scared of all the big kids," said Skolnick. "They always sounded so fantastic and it seemed like we’d never get to that point. But we did. And now we are those big kids that I hope can inspire the others to stick with music and keep going."
"I can recall all the moments of when I first started performing at the District Festival, watching all the high schoolers and middle schoolers when I was in the Grant School," said Theresa Lanzetta, senior. "I was very eager to move up to the high school level and before I could come to the realization that I was a freshman, I’m already graduating."
"I can remember the District Festival when I was in both Grant School and in Middle School," said Mackenzie Surowiec, senior. "I especially remember leaving school in the morning to come over to the High School to rehearse on the stage and thinking about finally being in High School and being a part of the choir."
The final performance of the evening was the Orchestra Portion as well as the Middle School and Grant School Jazz Bands.
The "Star-Spangled Banner," was sung by Chase Atkinson (tenor), Amanda Bermo (soprano), Justin Billich (bass), Nicole Calavetta (soprano), Kelly Gorman (alto), Patrick Joyner (bass), Theresa Lanzetta (alto), and Samantha Zelek (alto).
The Grant Orchestra began under the direction of Stasio, accompanied by her husband Marc Stasio on piano and Amanda Senatore on drums. They performed "American Folk Medley" as arranged by Bob Phillips, a popular fiddle tune. They also played "It’s All About the Bass," the single by American singer-songwriter Meghan Trainor. The arrangement was written by Trainor and Kevin Kadish, arranged by Victor Lopez.
"I can't believe that this my 36th Festival as a teacher, and I played and sang in four of them as a student," said Stasio. "It is always a lot of work for students of this age to perform in a concert like this because of our limited rehearsal time, but that makes it even more rewarding for 5th and 6th grade students.
"Mrs. Stasio teaches so much, and she's so nice, " said Setu Patel, 5th grade Grant student. "She likes to teach us everything in orchestra. She says that she wants us to do better and every day she helps us get better and better. And we like it when we play with her, and she's good. She also tells us if you can't do it, come and do extra help and she can help us to get better. Because of her, we can do it better the next time. I would like to continue with music."
The young jazz ensemble from Grant School, led by Tweed, performed the blues swing piece, "Basie-cally The Blues" by Mike Story, featuring soloists Sabrina Louissol (alto saxophone), Scarlett Ramirez (Clarinet), Jimmy Lin (trumpet), and Anthony Butrico (trumpet).
The Middle School Orchestra, led by SPHS Orchestra Director Sarah LiVecchi, began with "Man in the Mirror" written by Glen Ballard and Siedah Garrett, arranged by Robert Longfield, which was performed by artist Michael Jackson in the 1980s when he was at the height of his career. They also played "Electric Sinfonia" by Lauren Bernofsky, an intense song with a frenzy of melodies and undertones of rock music.
"We did pretty well, but it was nice to see where we're going to go and where we can go," said Nivash Balkarran, 7th grade Middle School student. "It was just a nice night. I can't wait to go to the high school."
"This concert was absolutely amazing," said Dr. Tamara Mangum, parent. "The children have worked so hard leading up to this point. They were amazing! My child is in the 8th grade and plays for the 8th grade orchestra as well as the chorus."
Middle School Jazz Band took the stage with Veiss conducting to perform "Come Fly with Me" by James Van Heusen, arr. Rick Stitzel, originally sung by Frank Sinatrain the 1963 film.
High School Orchestra, led by SPHS Director of Orchestra Diane Lee, performed the well known "Palladio" by Karl Jenkins, a composition for string orchestra that refers to the Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio who lived in the 1500s. The orchestra ended the concert with "Overtures," arranged by Douglas E. Wagner, a beautiful medley from the Classical and Romantic periods of popular overture themes.
"I am very proud of my orchestra performance," said Lee. "They were focused and demonstrated all the things that we have worked over months. District Festival has been a tradition for our community and one of the purpose of this wonderful event is to inspire and motivate young musicians."
"As a shy and anxious kid in Grant and the Middle School, it is so surreal to be performing with my fellow classmates at such a high caliber, especially performing in three ensembles in addition to singing the National Anthem with seven other gifted seniors," said Billich. "Being able to perform play the 'Palladio,' a challenging orchestral piece; I never would have thought I would be performing at this capacity."
Many seniors had mixed emotions about the District Festival.
"Overall, I’m very sad to leave the South Plainfield Music Program behind, but I know there is so much talent coming up from the younger kids, and have no worry that the program will continue to succeed," said Billich.
"The concert went really well," said Atkinson. "I had a lot of fun and got a bit emotional knowing it was my last District Festival ever. I can’t wait to come back and see it next year though!"
"It was amazing to come full circle four years later and possibly inspire the eighth graders sitting in the same seat I was when I was their age," said Padovano. "Since it was my last year, it was definitely bittersweet; bitter because it was my last District Festival, but sweet because everything went perfectly. I am so grateful to have been a part of such a special group of talented people in the music department."
"I will forever remember my last District Festival, and will always recall the amazing songs: 'Les Miserablès' and 'All Star,'" said Lanzetta. "I will also always recall the hard work put in by my classmates and teachers that made all our concerts absolutely spectacular."
"I enjoyed performing 'Les Miserablès' and 'All Star' with all of my fellow seniors," said Patrick Joyner, senior. "It will always be one of my favorite memories from my last year of high school."
As the evening came to a close, hearts were uplifted and joyful with accomplishment.
"I thought it was a wonderful and perfect night of music," said Diehl. "It really showed so many different levels of performance and it showed how well the students do in a venue like this. We couldn't be prouder of them tonight, listening to them play their hearts out, sing their hearts out. With the community, the audience response, you could tell that they were hitting it on all levels. It was really an outstanding night for South Plainfield."
"This year’s festival wound up going very well," said Veiss. "Each segment started on time and ended on time. We greatly appreciate Mr. Diehl’s assistance throughout the night and for giving the opening remarks."
"I thought overall the concert went great and I cannot wait to come back and see the next few concerts!" said Skolnick.
"It was so great to have the younger kids watch the older kids!" said Kregler. " The evening certainly highlighted the fantastic music program in South Plainfield!"
"I really hope to come back to South Plainfield next year to watch the District Festival and see just how far the underclassmen have come," said Rodriguez. "I’ve had some good times in choir and I’ll definitely miss them. I enjoyed my stay."
"I think that tonight went really great," said O'Dell. "When I was in Middle School and Grant School, I always looked up to the high school and how great they were doing, but in reality everyone does really great at District Festival. It's something that we hype up, and we all look forward to so everyone did great!"
The South Plainfield Music Department asks everyone to mark their calendars for upcoming Spring Concerts. Thursday, April 23 - High School Spring Concert @ 6:30p.m., Monday, May 11 - Franklin Elementary School Spring Concert @ 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 12 - Kennedy Elementary School Spring Concert @ 6:30 p.m., Thursday, May 14 - Middle School Spring Concert @ 6:30 p.m., Monday, May 18 - Riley Elementary School @ 6:30 p.m., Tuesday, May 19 - Roosevelt Elementary School Spring Concert @ 6:30 p.m., Thursday, May 28 - Grant School Spring Concert (performance at the High School) @ 6:30p.m.