Adele Valovich’s Grand Finale

When John Hanulik retired as Staples High School orchestra director in 1992, administrators conducted a national search. They chose Adele Cutrali-Valovich — a very talented, much-admired teacher with a great reputation. She already had 9 years’ experience at Staples, Bedford Middle School and Kings Highway Elementary.

That first orchestra was one of Staples’ best ever. After a phenomenal Candlelight Concert, Valovich asked Hanulik why he hadn’t waited one more year before leaving.

“He said he knew, looking ahead, that the next couple of years might be rough. He wanted my first year to be a success,” Valovich recalls. “What kind of person does that? He was an incredible man.”

Twenty-six years later, Valovich herself is retiring. She leaves her successor an orchestral program that built on Hanulik’s foundation, and has awed concert-goers with its sophistication, skill, poise and passion.

Adele Cutrali-Valovich (Photo/Melani Lust)

From the time she was 5, the Waterbury native knew she wanted to teach. A violinist from an early age, she honed her talents at the Eastman School of Music.

Graduating in 1977, there were only 2 jobs for a string teacher on the East Coast. One was in Portland, Maine, where the interviewers her showed her a cheap violin.

The other was in DeKalb County, Georgia. She was hired the week before school opened. She worked in 7 different buildings each week.

After 3 years there, and a job in a Rochester suburb, she heard about a Westport opening. Staples principal Marv Jaffe told her he had no clue what the job entailed, but was eager to talk about her summer job at a race track.

Bedford Middle School principal Glenn Hightower and district music coordinator Dorothy Straub told her she’d be Bedford’s 5th teacher in 5 years.

She was offered a position teaching wind instruments at Staples. A string specialist, she turned it down. Assistant superintendent Joe Townsley told  her, “No one ever turns down Westport!” Hanulik quickly said he’d teach wind, so Valovich could teach strings.

She split time between 3 schools, before Hanulik retired and Staples’ full-time position opened up.

Adele Valovich, before this year’s Candlelight Concert.

The orchestral program flourished. The number of musicians increased. Audiences were astonished at what they heard.

“The music I choose is always a stretch,” she says. “But ultimately they can attain it.”

The toughest piece she ever gave her orchestra was Bernstein’s “Overture to Candide.” “It’s very difficult technically. But they did it!” she says proudly.

The annual Candlelight Concert has always been special. Valovich reveres its 76-year tradition, and helps pass its magic along to every musician.

Valovich is also proud of the lesson program, for both personalization and education.

“Every child who wants to play gets taught, and moves to a higher level,” she says. “If they’re willing to put in the time, there’s nothing they can’t achieve.”

(Want to see and hear for yourself? Check out last month’s Chamber Orchestra concert at Staples. Jim Honeycutt filmed that magical performance.)

Some of her students have gone on to great musical success. Charles Carleton plays bass in the Cleveland Orchestra. Kathy Canning earned a master’s in physics — and  now works with a non-profit bringing music to schools. There’s the Arrington family, and “so many others,” she says.

But in recent years, fewer freshmen have taken orchestra. She is forthright about her fears for the future of music — all arts, really — in today’s academics-first environment.

“Eighth graders are told that at Staples, they absolutely need a free period,” she says. “We’re losing kids because of that. And some just seem to have a ‘been there, done that’ mentality. They want to try something different.”

Valovich worries about Americans’ emphasis on STEM: science, technology, engineering and math.

“To be a leader, you have to have STEAM. The ‘A’ is arts,” she explains. “There is no innovation without creativity. And there is no creativity without arts.”

Leonardo da Vinci was a painter, she notes. Einstein played the violin.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s visual arts, music or theater,” Valovich says. “But we need the arts.” In fact, she adds, “it would be great to add a dance program at Staples.”

In December, Adele Valovich’s orchestra performed a stunning “Swan Lake.”

In retirement, Valovich plans to explore more of her artistic side. She is a metal sculptor, working at the Sculpture Barn in New Fairfield, and has recently gotten back into stained glass.

She and her husband own a home in Sarasota, Florida. Itzhak Perlman has a camp there. Perhaps, she says modestly, “I could be helpful in some way.”

Valovich is now one of the legends of the Westport music department. But she remembers her first townwide department meeting well.

“I’d already taught music for 6 years. I’d built 2 programs. I thought I knew some things. But I sat there surrounded by Dorothy Straub, John Hanulik, Jack Adams, Jim Papp, Jim Boston, Frank Coppola and so many others. I thought, ‘Just shut up and listen.’

“There were no egos. All they cared about was the music, and teaching children.”

Adele Valovich’s 2014 symphonic orchestra.

For 42 years — 36 in Westport, 27 at Staples — Valovich has done what’s best for students. She’s taught them, inspired them, and by providing a home in the orchestra room has broadened their perspectives, given them self-confidence, and fostered a lifelong love of the arts.

That’s quite a career.

But before she leaves, there’s one last performance.

This Friday (June 8, 7 p.m., Levitt Pavilion), the 3rd annual Pops Concert will entertain and awe an already sold-out crowd.

The orchestra will start with “Phantom of the Opera,” one of Valovich’s favorite pieces. They’ll perform “Danzón,” a Mexican piece the seniors love (and requested).

The grand finale is “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

“Nothing is better than that,” Valovich says.

And for generations of grateful students, parents and music-lovers,  nothing is better than Adele Cutrali-Valovich.

11 responses to “Adele Valovich’s Grand Finale

  1. Adele Cutrali-Valovich you will be missed. A passionate teacher and beautiful human being. Thank you.

  2. We greatly appreciate Adele’s contributions to music in Westport. Her shoes will be tough to fill.

    We also agree with Adele’s points about the importance of visual arts, music and theater and that Staples should add a dance program. The town’s students and schools should heed her advice.

    Brava Adele!

  3. I am grateful for “Val” – she has been an incredible teacher, friend, counselor, and cheerleader for my child for the past three years. Mrs. Valovich, you will be sorely missed. I am so glad that Abby has had you in her corner for most of her Staples career. Your faith in your students and expectations of what they can (and do) achieve has been inspiring. If only more teachers had the passion, commitment, and love that you do! We wish you all the best in your next chapter and will miss you terribly!

  4. Jim Honeycutt


    Great, great piece. Loved how you used my video. I will be shooting Pops so I hope to have that for you too.

    Best, JIm Honeycutt

    Sent from my iPad


  5. She did an outstanding job with the Staples orchestra. My youngest son played under her throughout his high school career, and my wife and I attended all the concerts. We were always amazed at the professional quality of the sound she managed to elicit from a bunch of very young amateurs. . Best of luck to her for a happy retirement – she’s earned it.

  6. Oh my! I am a product of the Westport School Music system ever since my debut on clarinet in the 3rd grade, at the now-defunct Burr Farms Elementary School. I started on the bassoon in 7th grade, thanks to John Ohanian’s urging ( he needed one badly) and eventually a member of virtually every musical group possible – band, marching band, orchestra, choir, Orphenians, chamber music, pit orchestras, and “honor musician” at my Staples graduation. . The programs are stimulating, high level, and always had remarkable teachers – the real driving force behind the success of this art form.
    I have witnessed the declining numbers of students who participate in music programs, many of whom have other interests that were once allowed to flourish simultaneously with their musical pursuits – like sports programs that did not require them to be at the beckon call of coaches 7 days a week or penalized for being well-rounded. And I have seen the emphasis on stringed instruments – whether violins or guitars -, or “schools of rock” drawing young musicians away from even beginning another instrument or learning music theory before they play a tune.
    So Kudos to the great teachers like Adele Valovich who dedicate themselves to the preservation of classic structures and study and performance that form real musicianship in this age of the video with sound that passes for a song. I hope her successor will be given the opportunity to make us as proud of our students’ values and abilities as we have engendered in this town for so many decades.
    Richard Epstein, co-chair of the Westport Arts Advisory Committee

  7. Thomas B Hood Jr

    With 3 kids, 4 years separated, that all progressed through the Westport schools we always enjoyed the musical performances at schoo. Valovich has always been there and involved. Now we are empty nesters and miss those performances. We will miss Valovich as well. Thank you for the happy memories.

  8. Craig Clark

    “To be a leader, you have to have STEAM. The ‘A’ is arts,” she explains. “There is no innovation without creativity. And there is no creativity without arts.”

    No truer words were ever spoken. Hopefully Westport’s School Leaders will recognize and support the arts.

  9. Kathie Fording

    Bravo Adele on a a beautiful, generous career. She is one of the shining stars in the wonderful music program this town is lucky enough to have!

  10. Morgan Patrick

    Congratulations to an inspirational conductor, musician and teacher. You’ve left an indelible mark on so many of us over the years, and Staples will not be the same without you.

    Morgan Patrick
    Staples ‘10

  11. Lisa Marie Alter

    Mrs. Valovich is nothing less than a treasure. She provided a wonderful continuum from and capstone to my son’s fabulous earlier school music experiences (thanks to Suzanne Propp, Ellen Hardy, Michelle Anderson and Carrie Mascaro).

    Agree with someone who stated above: “Val” has always challenged her orchestra groups – and they always rose to the occasion… some pieces performed with such skill and confidence, it was hard to believe one was listening to a mere high school orchestra.

    My husband and I attended every one of our son’s concerts, without fail, and will be teary-eyed as we attend Val’s final Westport performance this Friday evening at the Pops Concert.

    I’ve always told my son that there are a handful of my teachers that I have never forgotten – not doubt, Val will be one of those for him.

    Thank you, “Val,” for your passion and commitment… it lives on in your students. Congratulations on your retirement and forthcoming metal arts career !!!

    Lisa Marie Alter

    P.S. To those students who are dropping their participation in music, so they can take cooking, or digital darkroom – I strongly advise: STICK WITH THE MUSIC ! There is a lifetime to take “continuing ed” or evening classes, but music participation can be the ticket to get one into a competitive college. Furthermore, it’s much more challenging to take up music once one is no longer in school… it’s second nature for my son – just another language in which he is fluent – while I struggle to grasp it.