SOUTH PLAINFIELD - The South Plainfield Middle School Music Program wrapped up the school year with multiple performances, celebration of the year’s accomplishments, sentimental moments and excitement for the future as eighth graders venture to high school next year.   

“I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with such amazing students, and as our eighth graders move on to the high school,” said Katherine Haughwout, Director of Chorus.  “I know that they will continue to learn and perform with as much or even more heart than they displayed this year.”

The end of the school year featured several events to showcase the Middle School’s Orchestra, Chorus and Concert Bands.  On Saturday, May 18th, ensembles performed at Barnes and Noble in Edison before patrons of the store.  The year-end Middle School Spring Concert was on Wednesday, May 22nd, and the Annual Middle School Band Banquet was held at The Pines Manor, in Edison, on Tuesday, June 11th.

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“At the Middle School, we find different experiences help our students become better musicians,” said Band Director Andrew Veiss.  “Different teachers, performance locations, and rich performance situations help to make a well-rounded musician.”

On the morning of May 18th, several ensembles gathered at Barnes & Noble to raise funds to help support South Plainfield Education Foundation, an organization that awards over $8,000 in scholarships a year annually to students with fundraising efforts during the year.

“The Barnes & Noble fundraiser generated funds to give gift cards to the Junior Journalists,” said Linda Kelly, Secretary of South Plainfield Education Foundation.  “There are twenty plus members and we give each one of them a twenty dollar gift card to Barnes and Noble so they can be encouraged to read and write.”  

In preparation for performances, students study music and perfect their skills in school lessons and practices.  The school’s change of curriculum two years ago, which eliminated the school's Intervention Period making each class period several minutes longer, has made finding practice time more challenging.  With the change, students no longer had music and other specialities like STEM everyday and instead are pulled from Gym, Art, Spanish and other classes to meet with their ensembles for lessons and practice.

Despite these challenges, students and staff have been working hard. The Spring Concert is an opportunity for parents, family and friends to see what the students have been mastering throughout the year and enjoy an evening of entertainment.

“The Spring Concert is always a bittersweet event,” said Veiss.  “It is awesome to see and hear the progression of the students and it is sad because it is our last performance together.  This group has grown so much in the two years that I have known them and they progressed from not being able to play together to playing high school level music.” 

“This was my best band experience and I had a really fun time with all my friends,” said Gabrielle Green, eighth grader.  “I really enjoyed it.  I’m going to keep laying through high school.”

The Spring Concert kicked off with the Eighth Grade Percussion Ensemble.

“I try to program music for our percussion students that is challenging,” said Veiss.  “Their role in the band is diverse and they have to be able to play several instruments with a high level of proficiency.”  

The group of percussionists’ unique use of everyday appliances to create music.

“We always do a fun piece and a challenging mallet ensemble,” added Veiss.  “This year, the students performed ‘Cucina Bella,’ which was composed for kitchen utensils.  We also performed the ‘Peanut Vendor,’ which was a challenging mallet ensemble piece.  When assigning parts, I have students pick the instruments that they are not comfortable with to ensure that they are adequately challenged.” 

The GEMs, an elite group of singers who underwent a series of auditions to gain their place as a member, opened the choral performances of the evening with the moving favorite, “Over the Rainbow,” and the traditional Irish folk song, “BandyRowe.”

“I’m in the extra curricular group for singing called GEMS,” said Sahasra Nagireddy, seventh grader.  “It was really fun.  Who knows what next year will bring!”

The Seventh Grade Concert Choir, led by Haughwout and accompanied by Paul DiDario on piano, featured soloists: Nina DeSimone, Salma Elgebally, Ava Felz, Hatlee Larsen, Andrew Martinez, and Kaitlyn Obeng.

Among the students’ many beautiful songs was “We Got the Beat/You Can’t Stop the Beat,” arranged by Adam Anders and Peer Astrom, which was inspired by Glee's “The Purple Piano Project” episode.    

“Performing in these concerts is generally really fun because you get to learn all of this music with your friends and then perform it for everyone,” said Nina DeSimone, seventh grader.  “Just this whole experience is just very very good.”  

The Seventh Grade Orchestra, led by Orchestra Director Sarah LiVecchi, played several pieces.  A highlight of the Seventh Grade Orchestra was “One Bow Concerto,” featuring soloists Allison Buchanan on violin, Evan Salazar on Viola, and Kaitlyn Pascale on Cello.

“‘One Bow Concerto’ is a piece I have loved doing during my career,” said Livecchi.

“The whole orchestra plays using pizzicato while three soloists share one bow.   The soloists took it upon themselves to add some dramatics as they ‘fought for the bow’ and ‘showed off.’  They were impeccable performers as well as hilarious entertainers!”   

“I love performing,” said Buchanan.  “It’s always fun.  I like how music moves people.  I started playing piano in kindergarten and violin in first grade.”

The Seventh Grade Concert Band, led by Veiss, featured Robert W. Smith’s song, “Kronos,” who, according to Greek mythology, was the god of time, keeping vigil over the interaction of all creatures of the earth.  The band mastered the majestic melody, each instrument interacting with others in varying pacing to bring the legend of Kronos to life.

The Eighth Grade had their turn to perform.  It was the last time they would perform together as eighth graders.  Among the many songs the Orchestra played, was Queen’s classic, “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

“Both the Seventh and Eighth Grade Orchestras did a fabulous job at the Spring Concert,” said LiVecchi.  “There has been a great progression in both group being able to tackle on various levels of music.”       

The Eighth Grade Chorus performed a South African Folk Song, “Singabahambayo,” as arranged by Victor Johnson, and an American Folk Song, “The Cuckoo,” arranged by Robert Hugh.

“It felt good performing because I got to be with all my friends and I’m excited for high school,” Jake Shapiro, Eighth Grader.  “I feel like this is what we’ve been working for.  I guess high school is the epitome of it all.  I feel ready and I’m excited for it.”

“I am extremely proud of my middle school students this year,” said Haughwout. “They have put in an amazing amount of work in a small amount of time, and have really accomplished some difficult pieces.”

The South Plainfield Music Program offers opportunities for greater growth and for students who want to advance further, they can audition for Regional and Honors Band.  

Different teachers may find different ways to teach a concept and the students can take something from every situation they are exposed to,” said Veiss.  “Students also learn a lot when they listen to and perform with other students from outside of South Plainfield.  This is why we encourage their participation in region and honors ensembles.” 

Adrianna Nazarko (Bassoon) made the Region Symphonic Band.  Those who made the Middle School Honors Band were: Madelynn Pfeiffer (Flute), Denise Bui (Clarinet), Laura Ladino-Furque (Bass Clarinet), Isabelle Goncalves (Trumpet), Avery Cassio (Trombone), Georgia Fraser (Euphonium), and Domonique Sharpe (Percussion).

The Eighth Grade Concert Band played many songs, including,“Endless Rainbows” by Brian Balmages, with an uplifting, flowing melody.  They closed the Concert with “Rage!,” a passionate song with tremendous expression, that even featured the students yelling out at one point.

“The music program was a great experience,” said Cynthia Green, parent.  “I’m going to miss South Plainfield Middle School and all the kids.”

With a year of performances and accomplishments behind them, students and parents were invited to celebrate at The Pines Manor on June 11th, which was a special evening of recognition and awards for accomplishments.  It was also an opportunity for the directors to honor their students for all that they have done over their Middle School musical careers.    

“It has really been a great two years and the thing you guys have done,” said LiVecchi, as she said good bye to the eighth grade students.   “You are an amazing group.  It’s a quirky family that we have and I’m just so proud of each one of you and the gifts that all of you have.  I really truly am, as I send you off to the high school, it’s an exciting venture that you are on and I’m very proud of you already and I really hope you the best of where ever God leads you.  So good job!”

“As most of you know, this was my maiden voyage into the middle school and I have to tell you, you guys have been amazing,” said Haughwout.  “I have to tell you, this has been one of the best years of career and it’s mostly in part to all of you and what you contribute to every day.  Your music making and contributions to everyday don’t go unnoticed and none of it would have been possible without everything that you do, so thank you.  I love you!”

“I remember that first rehearsal as if it was yesterday, and you guys remember that too,” said Veiss.  “I am super proud of how far you have come.  I will be going to the concerts next year and I will see all of you there, unless you are going to another high school, but I hope you are all still playing and doing something musical in your lives because you have made my last years better and music has made your whole life better, so thank you!”

Amid the entrees and famous homemade cookies for dessert, came the tears and laughs.  Each director recounted the highlights of their year and the students who added their talent and light to the days. 

“The struggles make us stronger, mistakes make us smarter,” said LiVecchi, closing the banquet and the year.  “All of you here have gained knowledge and experience.  All of you here have persevered when others have quit.  I want you to know that you have made a difference.  Without you, our ensembles would have been missing a vital part.”

As everything in life must, the banquet and school year came to an end.  Students look forward to the coming years with a strong foundation of love, support and music rooted firmly within each of them, as high school looms ahead with the promise of a brilliant future.