Middle School Bands Shine At Claremont Opera House

donlaplanteAn enthusiastic crowd of parents and music lovers gathered at the Claremont Opera House Saturday night to hear performances from four area middle school bands. Keene’s St. Joseph Regional School and Kurn Hattin (Westminster, VT) joined jazz bands from the Charlestown and Claremont Middle Schools to showcase their advanced student music programs.

The night also provided an opportunity for many of the young musicians to play in a theatre setting for the first time.

St. Joseph brought the evening’s largest ensemble – nearly 40 musicians, with percussion, bells, electric guitar and drums complementing the ample brass and wind contingency. Director Vicki Moore led them through the Bossa Nova flavored “Mucho Gusto”  and a smooth take of John Edmonson’s arrangement of “Jazz Cat.”

An energized version of “Jump, Jive and Wail,” made popular by former Stray Cat Brian Setzer, closed out St. Joseph’s set.

Kurn Hattin added inventive touches to their three numbers, which included the rousing opener, “Old Time Rock and Roll.”  Vocalist Shania Caswell soloed ably on “New York, New York,” even if she might be a bit young to ‘wake up in the city that never sleeps’.

The KH Jazz Ensemble’s final number brought smiles to the baby boomers in the house, as they rollicked through the theme song of “Scooby Do,” complete with cool shades and a dancing dog.

The Charlestown Middle School band conducted a mini-symposium on the history of music, from 1918 – Bob Carleton’s Dixieland chestnut “Jada” – to 1970, with Chicago’s jazz rock thunderbolt “25 or 6 to 4.”  Their five-song set included Fifties rock from both the East and West Coasts – the Drifters’ “On Broadway” and Richie Valens’ “La Bamba,” respectively.

Led by Julie Armstrong, Charlestown ended their set with a buoyant version of Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing.”

Closing out the night was the host Claremont Middle School band, which stuck to a cool cat groove for their four-song set.  They led off with “Soul Bossa Nova,” the Quincy Jones number most people know from the ‘Austin Powers’ movies.  It was a night for saxophones to show off, with a solo each from tenors Kai Kelyensteuber (on the opening number) and  Sarah Porter (Mike Story’s homage, “Basie-Cally the Blues”) and alto Dylan Metcalf, who had fun with another spy movie theme – James Bond.

But it was drummer Dan Seaman who grabbed the spotlight during the final number, with a drum solo at the end of “Go Daddy-O” whose deft ferocity appeared to surprise even CMS band director Seth Moore.

Between sets, the young at heart Firehouse Six Dixieland Band won over the crowd with ageless standards like “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey,” You Are My Sunshine” and “Hello Dolly.”  They nearly stole the show, with Ed Evensen on clarinet, Gerry Grimo on vocals and squeezebox, along with a spirited tuba solo from Don LaPlante.  Vaughan Hadwen (trombone) and Rich Brown (trumpet) rounded out the brass, with Andy Buchan on the marching drum.

The event was a benefit for Keene-based Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Western New Hampshire,  Kurn Hattin music director Lisa Bianconi commented that their student population “is very involved in the program, so it was an extra special night for them.”

The even both raised awareness and money.  In addition to tickets, a fudge sale in the lobby did brisk business after the show.

Information on Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Western New Hampshire can be found online at www.bbbswnh.org or by calling 603-352-9535

Claremont Middle School’s Impressive Concert

The clouds parted for Claremont Middle School’s year-ending “Spring of Music” concert Tuesday night. Chorus Director Ginny Formidoni joked that she’d orchestrated the weather outside, but the wonderful music she coaxed from her 50-plus charges was no less magical than making the rain disappear.

Mrs. Formidoni set the bar high at the outset, with the spiritual “Climbin’ Up the Mountain” and the traditional “On The Railroad” each going through several complex musical changes. The baritone section was particularly good, a rare achievement for a group whose oldest members are just 13.

An emotional “Pie Jesu,” originally composed by Mary Lynn Lightfoot to honor the victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, was dedicated to the memory of former teacher and friend of music Kathy Jobin, who passed away last year.

Under the direction of Seth Moore, the sixth grade band showed talent beyond their years, with a raucous rendition of Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild” – “because what concert is complete without classic rock?” quipped Moore – and the majestic “Sunday Song.” They followed this with a bit of musical muscle flexing, first with “Clarinets on the Run” and then “Flute Street”.

The evening’s string orchestra performance provided several high points, beginning with the buoyant Yiddish piece “Lo Yisa Goy (A Song of Peace). “Fiddler’s Frolic” combined bits of southern and Appalachian music in a piece with multiple movements and both familiar and eclectic elements, ending with a “shave and a haircut/two bits” exclamation point.

What was most apparent during this interlude was how joyous the students seemed. The feeling was contagious, with much toe tapping and head swaying evident throughout the building. Mrs. Formidoni conducted the group through four pieces, ending with the Irish jig “Blackberry Blossom.” At that point, Formidoni handed the baton to Moore, picking up a violin to join in for “Themes From ‘The Moldau’”.

The extended piece contained some of the most demanding music of the night. At points quiet, delicate, intricate and sweeping, it caused one audience member to jump to his feet at the end; the crowd’s sustained applause made it clear the rest of the house agreed with him.

The CMS Jazz Band played the big band “Basie-Cally: The Blues,” along with tightly performed versions of “Pink Panther” and the Stray Cats’ “Rock This Town.”

Five choir members selected for this year’s prestigious Southwest District Festival sang a rousing rendition, complete with hand jive, of “This Little Light of Mine.” Each girl took a solo, and at evening’s end the five – Alicia Dale, Amber Brooks, Monique LaFreniere, Stephanie Aldrich and Elizabeth Goodwin – received medals for their selection in the statewide singing group.

The combined Middle School chorus were inspirational as they sang, “we are the future/help us believe/give us hope and we’ll show you the way.” It was easy to take them at their word. Finally, the 7th and 8th grade band performed the very demanding “Russian Sailor’s Dance” and “Mystic Garden.” Following the presentation of awards, they closed the night out with a note-perfect performance of “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

The number of multi-instrumentalists performing in this music program is quite impressive, with several students contributing to string, chorus and band performances during the evening.

The combined band, which includes members from all three grades, didn’t perform Tuesday, but Formidoni noted that they did earn a silver medal during the recent Great East competition, held at Six Flags Park in Agawam, Massachusetts. On Friday, the chorus will journey to Great Escape in Lake George, New York for the “Trills & Thrills” event, which isn’t a competition per se. It’s a judged performance, where choirs are measured against a set of criteria. Participation is at the discretion of the choir director.

Tuesday’s performance was a culmination of sorts for a few 8th grade band members, who will set down their instruments to concentrate on college level honors courses when they enter Stevens High School next year. In that respect, it was a little bittersweet, but still rousing end to Claremont Middle School’s musical year.