EWING - Twenty-two students from South Plainfield High School (SPHS) were selected to participate in The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) 2019 Honors Festival on Nov. 23.  The honors program is designed for the top woodwind, brass, percussion, string, and voice students in grades 9-12 from students across the region. 

“Mrs. Lee, Mr. Haughwout and myself are very proud of the students and their performance!” Dr. Donna M. Kregler, Director of Choral Activities.  “The music was beautiful, and they performed with excellence!”

The program began at TCNJ on Nov. 17 with a full day of rehearsals, clinics, and masterclasses with TCNJ music faculty members.  The following weekend, on Nov. 23, the students met again for another intense day of the program, which ended with a performance in the historic Kendall Main Stage Theater.

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Students in the chorus who were selected included: Joel Arias, Chase Atkinson, Kori Caicedo, Nicole Calavetta, Sara DeSimone, Anisha Goel, Kelly Gorman, Patrick Joyner, Theresa Lanzetta, Mary O’Dell, Alexis Ratti, and Sam Zelek.  Students selected for the honors band were: Sara Dabul, Jon Mohan, Jason Rodas, Amy Swartz, and Emily Wong.  Students of the honors' orchestra were: Sarai Adams, Thommy Baez, James Buchanan, Lucy Flannery, and Timson Nguyen.

“The choir directors were awesome, the other singers were incredible, and I had a blast,” said Chase Atkinson, Senior.  “We sang a piece called ‘Let the River Run,’ which is now one of my favorite choir pieces. Dr. McBride and Dr. Leonard were really helpful and cool, and I hope I have them as teachers if I go to TCNJ. I would do it over and over again if I could!”

“At first I thought I’d just be tired with all the practice we had on the first day but I turned out to really like the entire thing,” said Sara DeSimone, Sophomore.  “I participated in the TCNJ honors choir and I once joked with a friend saying that choir kids bonded with the fact that there was almost no room on the risers for all of us. It all worked out, and we managed to memorize a few songs in just about a day and perform it pretty well too."

“Let me tell you one thing, the time spent practicing in the TCNJ Honors Choir was tiring,” said Joel Arias, Sophomore.  “But Both Dr. McBride and Dr. Leonard made this enjoyable along with new friends who added on some laughs. One of the best moments was just singing ‘I Sing Because I’m Happy,’ and clapping and singing acapella. The whole choir enjoyed the whole song giving the song so much energy which many choirs lack.” 

SPHS students who were selected for the band portion of the program were: Sara Dabul, Jon Mohan, Jason Rodas, Amy Swartz, and Emily Wong.

“From the staff to the students, everyone there was dedicated to what they were doing,” said Emily Wong, Sophomore.  “I learned new things while working with Dr. Laprade and Dr. Sears. Overall, the whole experience was amazing. One of my favorite memories was playing ‘Mambo’ with rarely any dynamics in the Blue Wind Ensemble.”

“I participated in the Blue Wind Ensemble,” said Sara Dabul, Senior.  “It was an amazing sight to see the other band perform from the balcony of the Kendall Theatre and to hear them play. It was inspiring to work with Dr. Laprade and learn from such an intelligent director. He is a fantastic conductor who very obviously loves what he does and it was truly inspiring to watch during rehearsal as well as the performance.” 

“I play the flute and was a part of the Blue Wind Ensemble,” said Emily Wong, Sophomore.  “Throughout my years playing, I have only participated in one other honors band event as the flute is a popular instrument and was ecstatic that I was accepted into the TCNJ festival. My first day there was extremely tiring but by the time our concert rolled around, I wished I was able to spend more time and bond with all the people.” 

SPHS students who were chosen to take part in the orchestra portion of the program were: Sarai Adams, Thommy Baez, James Buchanan, Lucy Flannery, and Timson Nguyen.

“It was a fantastic time to meet other people,” said James Buchanan, Sophomore.  “I was in the honors orchestra, and the other cellists from other schools were fantastic, and I made bonds with people that I will never forget. The college was beautiful and it was amazing to see college students, and some from South Plainfield! It was a great experience, seeing so many talented musicians from across New Jersey. I can’t wait to go back and see everyone in the future!”

Students were nominated for the program by their music directors. 

"I got to nominate about ten of those students from the band, and from those ten, TCNJ selected the students they wanted to select for the band," said Haughwout.

“I wasn’t sure of what to expect when I was nominated to participate in the TCNJ Honors Festival,” said Kori Caicedo, Sophomore.  “At first I was very nervous about singing with other students I had never met before and in front of college professors, but Dr. McBride and Dr. Leonard did a fantastic job at making every student comfortable with not only our environment, but also with each other.”

“This whole experience of being at TCNJ for two Saturdays was honestly an amazing environment,” said Mary O’Dell, Sophomore.  “Being nominated and accepted into the TCNJ Honors Choir is something that I am extremely thankful for - such as working with the professors and other kids all over New Jersey, and some parts of Pennsylvania.

The program offers students the opportunity to learn from accomplished musicians on the college level.  Those leading the program were: Eric M. Laprade, TCNJ Director of Bands, John Leonard, TCNJ Director of Choral Activities, Nick McBride, TCNJ Assistant Professor of Choral Music Education, and Uli Speth, TCNJ Director of the College Orchestra.

“I had the opportunity to attend a masterclass from the trumpet professor at the college, Professor Hala,” said Dabul.  “His experience and wisdom shined through the only hour-long lesson. I loved working with so many talented and intelligent people, it made me a better player and a better person, and it reawakened by passion for the trumpet.” 

"The directors were great and very patient with us, and they always kept the mood up," said DeSimone.  "It turned out to be a very fun experience and it really surprised me how fast it ended.”

“It was always a happy environment to be in, as Dr.McBride and Dr. Leonard were two people filled with passion and joy for us,” said O’Dell.  “My favorite piece of the concert was definitely ‘I Sing Because I’m Happy,’ it was a perfect ending to a learning experience since we lifted each other up through something we love - music.”

The TCNJ’s Honors Festival is meant to provide an enriching musical experience for students, while introducing them to all that TCNJ has to offer musically.

“Everyone, including our directors, had such a love for music and you could tell that everyone wanted to be there,” Gorman said.  “The pieces that were chosen were beautiful and a lot of fun to sing. We could easily joke with Dr. McBride and Dr. Leonard and they made this experience 10x more enjoyable for us. I would love to relive these past two days, they furthered my interest in pursuing music in the future as a hobby. This festival was truly amazing.”

Students were challenged beyond what they thought was possible.

“Working with Dr McBride and Dr. John Leonard was a life changing experience,” said Patrick Joyner, Senior.  “It was a true honor and privilege to work with professionals who help me and peers my age develop our talents in vocal performances. I was astounded by the amount of work we were able to get down in the matter of two days. Learning five songs in two days was something I would not have thought to be plausible before. Working the choir’s second song, ‘Modimo,’ and being able to have it down in fifteen minutes was something I would never have expected the choir to be able to do.”  

Students also made connections with students in others schools who had the common passion of music.

“I was extremely honored to be chosen as a part of this festival. I was a part of the choir portion of the event, and it was amazing!” said Kelly Gorman, Senior.  “There were people from all over the tri-state area that we had yet to meet, and honestly, it was refreshing. The people that we met ended up becoming some of our best friends, and we are continuing to keep in contact!”

“Besides learning the music relatively quickly, I found the people to be very enjoyable,” said Joyner.  “It wasn’t long before I was able to start making friends with fellow students from all over New Jersey and even outside the state. I found it very reassuring to have a group of people who share the same passion as me and more importantly the same dedication. I enjoyed performing  a variety of genres from the soft and beautiful piece, ‘The Ground,’ and upbeat bops such as ‘Let the River Run.’”

“Being able to connect with other students through pieces such as ‘Let The River Run,’ ‘The Ground,’ and ‘I Sing Because I’m Happy,’ to perform in a hall with heavenly acoustics, to meet other kids my age that have the same passion as me, and to witness the techniques of Dr. McBride and Dr. Leonard, has allowed me to feel more welcome in such a foreign place,” Caicedo said.

Those who participated say it was the experience of a lifetime.

“Joining the TCNJ Honors Festival was a life changing experience change my life forever,” Joyner said.

“I thank Dr. Kregler for giving me the opportunity to join this choir and for giving me the opportunity to learn from other directors and other students,” said Arias.  “This showed me that all around the state there are people who are like me, people who enjoy music as much as I do if not more.”  

“This experience was life changing and I hope that myself, along with many other students, can have the opportunity to experience what I did in a matter of just two days,”  Caicedo said.