SOUTH PLAINFIELD - At 10a.m. on the morning of Tuesday, May 21st, Roosevelt Elementary School music students performed their Annual Spring Concert for the second and third graders. The performance gave students considering the music program the opportunity to see if they would like to join the choir, orchestra or band next year. The special performance was also a preview for the evening concert the children held for their families and friends that night.
“Good morning boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen,” said Principal Robert Diehl before the packed Roosevelt auditorium. “This is pretty special. This is another Spring Concert after many years of Spring Concerts. You’re all here for a real treat. The boys and girls on stage have practiced really hard. They’re ready to go and we’re going to hear from our orchestra, band and chorus today.”
Every Spring the music students get to show off what they have learned after their very first year playing their instrument of choice. The chorus also gets to showcase the vocal skills they have learned and perform before the audience as well.
“These kids come to school at four or five years old,” said Diehl. “They’re performing at eight, nine, ten years old. It’s not an easy thing to do. Tonight, the students will stand up in front of a couple hundred adults and will look out into the audience and see all the adults looking at them. They do have an advantage in that it’s an adoring audience. It’s not a tough room, but it takes practice.”
Students are introduced to string instruments as early as third grade and become part of the Roosevelt Orchestra, most playing before an audience for the first time in their lives.
“This is the string orchestra portion of the concert,” said Orchestra Director Diane Lee to the audience. “We have violins, viola, double bass and cello. Current second graders and third graders, you have a choice next year. So during the concert, I need to you really concentrate and see what instrument sound that you like. Current third graders, you have a choice of band, chorus or orchestra, so choose the instrument you want to play yourself carefully by listening to the instrument.”
The third and fourth graders of the orchestra began the concert with the familiar Shinichi Suzuki’s “Allegro.” The students in the audience were thrilled for the song entitled, “Popcorn” by Kathryn Griersinger, as students took turns popping up from their seats to stand and play for portions of the song.
“Ms. Lee has done a great job with the strings,” said Diehl. “These kids come in and they don’t even know what a violin is and she teaches them to hold it and play it and make a good sound out of it. Today, there were a forty to fifty kids on the stage.”
“We have one more piece for you before we perform,” said Lee. “I would like to thank all of the teachers for letting me take the students out of your classes and bearing with the rehearsal schedules. Thank you so much for your help and support! With that, this is our last piece. You probably recognize this piece because it’s performed at a lot for weddings.”
The strings finished their portion of the performance with the popular Wedding Processional entrance favorite, Johann Pachelbel’s “First-Finger Pachelbel.”
South Plainfield Schools have a strong music program that engages in competitions on the state level through high school. Elementary School is where the first exposure to playing musical instruments and singing with a choir. It is at a young age that a strong foundation for everything a music student does throughout their education is built.
“South Plainfield, as a district, has done a very good job of supporting the Arts,” said Diehl. “The Music Boosters have always been very supportive of our music program and there are results in that. These kids are proud of themselves. They achieve well. There’s also a correlation between achieving well with academics too. These kids tend to be good students.”
The study of music encourages discipline, perseverance, coordination and creativity as well as serves as a common interest for social development and peer interaction.
“I think the music program is a wonderful thing for the kids to be involved in,” said Diehl. “It puts them in a good place with good people. They make a lot of friends. It has a whole social component as the children progress through school.”
“At this time, I would like to introduce the Roosevelt Elementary Band,” said Diehl to the audience of intrigued students. “One of the things you might be looking at are the many different instruments in the band. I can remember when I was in second grade seeing a similar concert many years ago and one of the things that impressed me most was all the different instruments. To me, they seemed so interesting. When you put them all together, they sound incredible.”
“It gives me great pleasure to introduce our Band Director, Katherine Haughwout!” announced Diehl.
“Good morning, Roosevelt,” said Band Director Katherine Haughwout. “First, let me start off by saying I am so happy that I got to spend my first year teaching in South Plainfield here with you. I am so excited that there are so many third graders here today. As third graders, you get the opportunity to play in the orchestra. If you want to try something different, you can try band next year and try a different instrument and then when you go to Grant, you can play in both.”
The band played several selections from their "Essential Elements" book including, “Au Claire De La Lune,” a French folk song which when translated, means “By the Light of the Moon.”
“We’ve been putting in a ton of work and I am so proud of you guys this year,” said Haughwout. “Some kids took the initiative to take the music home and work on the songs. Our next song is called ‘Jump Rope’ because it goes from the high notes to the low notes. It goes up and down so you can hear that.”
“Ms. Haughwout is new to Roosevelt,” said Diehl. “She has to coordinate all of the different instruments and it’s not easy. One of the fun parts about looking at a band, you have so many different instruments, and Ms. Haughwout has really done a good job of being able to teach the children every single instrument that these kids are interested.”
Haughwout made a special announcement, recognizing two trumpeters. Maryellis Chicas was nominated for Honors Band and Nicoletta Smith was nominated and participated in Honors Band.
“Central Jersey Music Educator’s Association is a group of musicians who educate others outside music opportunities outside of the regular school day,” said Haughwout. “They have a special Honors Band, where student’s are selected from every school in Middlesex County.”
The band ended their portion of the show with the popular nursery rhyme, “A Tisket A Tasket.”
“I want you boys and girls to realize that next year you can be on this stage too, playing a musical instrument or singing in chorus,” said Diehl. "We are very fortunate here in South Plainfield to get so much support for our music program.”
The final group to perform was the Roosevelt Chorus, led by General Music Teacher, Sharon Perez.
“As the General Music Teacher, Ms. Perez teaches all 420 children in the school, which is challenging in that you have 420 names to remember and grades to give,” said Diehl. “She really does a very good job and is very professional. She really gets down to the history of music, the note reading and the things that if students are going to take it further, this is the base we want the children to have.”
While Perez remains in Roosevelt each day, Haughwout and Lee teach at multiple South Plainfield schools, giving all students in the district the opportunity to learn how to play an instrument or to sing in the choir.
“Ms. Haughwout and Ms. Lee travel throughout the district,” added Diehl. “They go to the different schools and we’re fortunate to have them. They do a wonderful job.”
Although Chorus meets early morning, it can be challenging for the band and orchestra to meet during the day without jeopardizing the academic schedule.
“We have our music teachers and general education teachers all working together,” said Diehl. “The music teachers are terrific to work with. They’re cooperative. The children like them and respond well. I’ve been excited since I’ve been here, and I’ve been here ten years, to see this music program not only do well, but get stronger and bigger every year.”
“Boys and girls, there’s no place in this world you can go where you don’t hear music,” said Diehl as he introduced the choral portion of the concert. "Every television show has music. When you drive in the car, there’s music. When you go shopping at the mall, there’s music. We can’t get away from it, nor should we, because music is that much a part of our lives. We are so blessed and privileged here. At this time, I would like to turn it over to our Musical Director, Miss Sharon Perez.”
The chorus students stood before the audience on risers so each child’s voice could project into the auditorium.
“This is our Roosevelt School Chorus,” announced Perez to the children. "These are third and fourth graders who have been singing all year. They come for practice before school so at 8a.m. They are here and we are singing. It’s a very happy way to start our day. So second graders, third graders, take a look and see if this is where you want to be next year.”
The chorus began with the patriotic “My America,” composed by Henry Carey and Samuel Smith.
Students also sang the lullaby, “Hushabye Mountain,” from the classic Disney movie, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”
Roosevelt has many students who are from a variety of other countries and are learning to speak English as a second language so singing in another language is a great accomplishment. One of the highlights of the year is Multicultural Day, a day where students perform songs of their heritage and celebrate their diversity as a school community.
"You want to see a postcard for diversity and how we celebrate diversity and how beautiful it can be, look at our school," said Diehl. "We have one of the most diverse schools I have ever seen and how we can get toegether, perform together, interact, socialize and make friends is really a very beautiful thing. I say that sincerely from the bottom of my heart."
An accomplished musician and advocate teaching the Arts, Diehl picked up his Les Paul electric guitar and accompanied the students while they sang their last song of the Spring Concert, Frank Sinatra’s “Pocketful of Miracles,” written by James Van Heusen and Sammy Cahn.
Diehl says he learned to play the drums as a child and eventually learned to play the guitar. He is always called upon to perform with the students for Winter and Spring Concerts as well as for Multicultural Day.
“I’ve played in bands, but I’ve been here with Roosevelt for ten years,” said Diehl. “Sometimes I’ll play with friends, but I always have my three gigs guaranteed a year right here at Roosevelt and it’s just the biggest pleasure to accompany the kids.”
"I just cannot say enough about the Spring Concert," said Diehl. "It is a pure, wonderful event that we’re just very proud of here at Roosevelt to be able to host. We’ve had Spring Concerts, Winter Concerts and our veterans day programs and multicultural days for decades."
The concert concluded as the audience of children applauded wildly, anticipating an afternoon of classroom visits from Haughwout and Lee with instruments for them to try so they could decide which instrument they may learn, opening up worlds of opportunities and experiences for their future.
“Thank you, let’s have one more round of applause for our choir, our chorus, Ms. Sharon Perez, our music teacher, Ms. Diane Lee from our orchestra and Mrs. Katherine Haughwout from the band,” said Diehl, closing the concert. “Boys and girls, have a great day today!”