WAYNE, NJ — In a pandemic year, with so many restrictions on gatherings, live performances by up-and-coming music students have not been possible. This puts a damper on the motivation to practice and the passion to be the best they could be. Despite this, fifteen musicians from Wayne Hills and Wayne Valley pushed themselves in the one and only competition available to them this year. It was this extra, voluntary effort and dedication that was recognized during the last Wayne Board of Education meeting.

“This year has required, not only the usual dedication by our students to succeed, but an incredible resilience and refusal to give up,” said Wayne Hills High School Director of Bands, Matt Paterno during the BOE meeting.

“In a year when the traditional area, region and honors ensembles simply could not be held, our student musicians could have easily languished,” Paterno added. “Instead, they sought out different opportunities and avenues to distinguish themselves in our music programs, our schools and our community.”

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Wayne Valley High School Director of Bands, Gabe Batiz told TAPinto that the biggest challenge this year has been that, beyond Marching Band, there were no scheduled performances for the students to work toward.

“We normally have five to ten performances lined up in the calendar. We have trips, and we have everything lined up, but we just didn’t have that this year,” he explained. “The students have just been putting faith in the process and have not been motivated by a concert or a competition or a festival where they know they will need to perform in front of a live audience.”

Without any deadlines for the various bands, ensembles and individuals, it has “just been an open-ended process,” according to Batiz.

“These kids have been working hard and proving their dedication for future performances that none of us have been sure would actually happen,” added the WV Band Director.

The one competition available to soloists and groups came about suddenly and somewhat recently. This was the Art Ed New Jersey Solo and Ensemble Music Festival, which was all virtual and is still ongoing. Over 1,000 students from all over NJ have participated in this event by sending in recordings of their performances.

As a completely voluntary program/competition, seven students from Wayne Hills and eight students from Wayne Valley chose to spend their time to prepare, practice and record their performances in the hopes of gaining valuable feedback from top music educators in the state.

“One of the things we're most proud of, is that there was really nothing on the line for these students except their intrinsic motivation and their love to perform,” said Paterno. “It's something that was really heartwarming this year, especially for me as a teacher.”

The festival was also somewhat of an audition where, those selected, would move on to the second half. This would serve, this year, as the state finals.

Five Wayne Valley music students were successful in earning their way into the state finals and will each be submitting another recorded performance to be judged for the final competition.

  • Jacob Cho was selected as a state finalist on bass clarinet
  • Nicholas Mikhail made the finals on trumpet.
  • Winston Lee earned his way into the state finals on two instruments: oboe and English horn.
  • Isabelle Mailman was also selected as a state finalist on both the alto and tenor saxophone.
  • Justin Sonnett made the state finals on both the snare drum and the marimba.

Of the over 1,000 students who participated in the festival, only eight made it to the state finals on two instruments and three of those eight came from Wayne Valley High School.

“I think it's important to note that to have that type of mastery on two instruments is a far more difficult task than it appears,” said Batiz. “The amount of preparation that goes into, not just mastering two instruments, but to prepare two solos, is just a testament to their discipline and a testament to how committed they are to the art and to our program and just to performance. It speaks volumes to the character of these students.”

WV’s Joanna Saxon was not only a participant in the festival, but she was selected as one of the best musicians in the entire state and received All-Eastern honors, which is for the entire east coast. According to Batiz, this means that “she is considered one of the best musicians on the coast.”

“Dan Leschinsky, a very fine musician, has been a part of our program for four years and was just recently accepted on a full-ride scholarship to the exclusive William Paterson jazz performance program,” said Batiz. “We're very proud of his achievement for making that happen.”

“Lastly, for our students we have James Sun," said Batiz. "He's a freshman oboe-ist who participated in the arts at New Jersey State solo and ensemble festival as well, so those are the student recognition for Wayne Valley High School instrumental music."

For Wayne Hills, seven students were honored at the Board of Education meeting for their extra efforts and accomplishments this year.

Matthew Cioletti and Taylor Keenan performed in the festival on the clarinet and Pratham Kumar on the trumpet. Miriam Goz played both the baritone sax and the clarinet.

Taylor Keenan was honored for her participation in the festival on the clarinet, but also because she received a music scholarship to the University of Delaware to study Music Education.

“Kevin Valencia is one of our prized switch hitters,” said Paterno. “He performed on cello for the festival and will be spending the summer performing with the world champion Hawthorne Caballeros on mellophone, which is quite a difference.”

Paterno introduced the Wayne Hills Band President, Ethan Thompson last. He performed on the French horn during the festival and received a music scholarship to Fredonia University to study Music Introduction.

Both Band Directors spoke briefly about the ensemble groups at WH and WV who overcame many obstacles to perform virtually. These included their marching bands, which were the only groups able to have any live performances.

Wayne Valley’s marching band earned several championships this past fall.

RELATED STORY: The Extraordinary Persistence and Success of Wayne Valley’s Marching Band

Symphonic bands, jazz bands, percussion bands, woodwind and horn ensembles and winter guard (which is color guard, but indoors) all had various performances over this past school year, but all of them were virtual.

What has both band directors excited is the possibility for live shows before the end of the school year, if all goes well.

On June 4, Wayne Valley is planning “a marathon” of live music with performances from every ensemble group in the school.

“This will be the first time this year that these groups will be able to perform live together,” said Batiz.

Dates are still being worked on for a performance by the various bands and ensembles at Wayne Hills.

“We will have an outdoor concert before the end of school,” said Paterno confidently. “And we are working toward a performance at the Memorial Day parade with the town.”

“I think this year has taught us many things about teaching, educating and learning,” Paterno said in conclusion. “Through it all the dedication, commitment and achievement of our music students has not waned. They have served as a shining example of how to overcome obstacles and how to keep your mind focused on the goal.”







Members of the BOE thanked both band directors for their personal dedications and sacrifices.

“I really want to thank the two of you, because while the students may have been motivated, they couldn't have done anything like this during a pandemic without your motivation and leadership,” said BOE President Cathy Kazan.

“My hats off to all of you, especially during this time,” said BOE Trustee Matt Giordano. “You literally did this with one hand tied behind your back. Thank you all and congratulations!”

“I know the parents truly appreciate everything that you do for their children,” said Trustee Eileen Albanese of the two band directors. “The inspiration that you are for them, and the effect that it has on them is for much longer than just through their high school career. So, thank you for what you do today, but also thank you for what you've given these students for many years to come.”

Both President Joe Biden and Governor Phil Murphy have said that they expect no virtual school come the fall. If this turns out to be true, and students return to full-time, in-person instruction, then the usual school live performances will likely all go on. For the music students at both Wayne Hills and Wayne Valley, things will then be back to their normal, and we will all reap the benefits of hearing these talented students play.