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DISCLAIMERThis blog is personal opinion, and is not representative of the views of the Westport School District or Board of Education.
The Staples High School Class of 2017 is now history.
Over 450 members of the 130th graduating class received their diplomas amid the usual pomp and circumstance in the fieldhouse.
It was a day of celebration, joy, pride — and relief, sentimentality and longing.
Graduates and their parents looked ahead — and back.
And of course, everyone took photos.
When Emma Ruchefsky was at Staples — singing with Orphenians and performing onstage with Players — everyone predicted great things.
After graduating in 2015, Emma headed to Berklee College of Music. She’s a professional music major, with a concentration in performance and songwriting. That’s just about the best place for anyone looking to achieve — well, great things.
This Saturday (June 24, 8:30 p.m.), Emma Charleston — that’s her professional name (and her mother’s) — makes her New York debut at Rockwood Music Hall. She follows in the footsteps of Lady Gaga, Jessie J,and Mumford & Sons.
Emma will perform 9 songs — 6 originals and 3 covers. Drummer Joe Zec is a fellow 2015 Staples grad — and a Berklee classmate.
She’s never seen a show at Rockwood. It’s 21 and over, and Emma is just 19. But she and her mother — noted singer Rondi Charleston — went down to the Lower East Side recently, to scout it out.
The age limit means most of Emma’s friends are too young to see her professional debut. But on Saturday, Rockwood will be packed with her parents, and plenty of family friends.
Yet that’s not all the Emma news. She’s released 4 singles, all original songs backed with Berklee musicians. They’re on Spotify, iTunes and SoundCloud — just search for Emma Charleston. An EP is coming Friday.
Then — if you’re 21 or over — you can watch her live in New York, on Saturday night.
(For tickets to Emma Charleston’s Rockwood Music Hall performance, click here.)
It’s one of the longest-running, most enjoyable, most visible — and yet least remarked upon and little noticed — events in Westport.
For more than half a century in early summer, our town has welcomed guests from the United Nations. It’s called jUNe Day — clever, no? — and the 2017 version takes place this coming Saturday (June 24).
Over 300 folks — ambassador types, embassy and headquarters workers, and their families — arrive at the train station. (Whether they come from a 1st or 3rd world nation, they’ve probably never seen anything quite like Metro-North.)
Having overcome that initial hurdle, they’re shuttled to Saugatuck Elementary School for a 10:30 a.m. welcome.
The UN is known for speechifying, but these are short. Then comes the real fun: a tennis tournament and golf at Longshore, tours of Earthplace, a visit to Wakeman Town Farm — you get the idea.
There’s a soccer match between a UN team and the Westport Knights men’s side. It’s not the World Cup, but some years tensions are nearly as high.
Many guests head straight to Compo, or the Longshore pool. They shop. They enjoy Westport.
Sometimes we forget what a day in “the country” can do. Many UN folks and their families don’t get many chances to leave New York. jUNe Day is an opportunity for them to do just that — and for us to show off our town.
We may not be a “typical” American town. But this is our chance to offer typical American hospitality.
Volunteers are needed to serve breakfast and lunch, help out at Longshore, and clean up. “Tour guides” on buses are also needed. If interested, call 203-526-3275, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or just give a big hello on Saturday to anyone wearing jUNe Day hats, and an orange bracelet.
If you’re a Westporter, you probably know Mike Calise.
The 1958 Staples High School graduate and Marine Corps veteran runs the longtime and very successful Settlers & Traders real estate firm. He’s a frequent attendee at town meetings, making sure nothing slips through our boards and commissions’ cracks.
You can find him almost any day — in any weather — at Compo Beach. That’s where he hangs out, by himself or with his extended family. He keeps a loving eye on it too.
Mike has a great back story. While still at Staples, he boxed in the New York Golden Gloves tournament.
While stationed at Camp Lejeune, he bought a 9-passenger Pontiac Safari station wagon. Each weekend he ran a North Carolina to New York transport service ($15 each way; 658 miles in 11 hours).
His mother Louise — of Calise’s market fame — packed a large bag of delicious meatball and eggplant sandwiches for every trip back.
As a Marine from 1958 to ’63, he was assigned to Force Recon — an elite group that was always first on shore. They trained with daily long distance runs and swims.
Mike started an Arnold bread truck route in 1963. He founded Settlers & Traders in 1967. In 2008, he received a Historic Preservation Award for the restoration of his office building at 215 Post Road West. This year, his real estate firm celebrates 50 years.
For all his life — going back to his family’s stores on Post Road West and East — he’s been an important part of life here. He’s a longtime member of the Republican Town Committee; a former delegate to the state Republican convention, and served on the RTM and Architectural Review Board.
Mike loves nature, gardening and canoeing. No morning at the beach is complete without his “Compo Gumbo.”
He loves Compo so much, he’s got it on his license plate:
Mike cherishes his family: his longtime sweetheart Sally; his 5 children (Catherine, Sandra, Maria, Bettina and Frank), and 7 grandkids (Francesca, Trent, CJ, Reed, Charlotte, Cameron and Caleigh).
They love him right back.
As does the rest of Westport — the town he’s loved for over 70 years.
The Weston High School Class of 2017 is now history.
After last night’s graduation came an all-night mystery trip.
The last stop — just after 5 a.m. — was breakfast at Compo Beach.
As a couple of hundred happy — and exhausted — Trojans piled out of their buses, photographer Ted Horowitz was there too. He was capturing the sunrise.
He offered to take a group shot. So Ted climbed on a lifeguard stand …
… and snapped the group’s final “class photo”:
On July 1, 2003, a small group gathered underneath a pear tree, on a patch of grass separating a rutted parking lot from the sprawling, 1-story Staples High School campus.
Several speakers at the low-key ceremony praised the high school as “the jewel in the crown” of the Westport school system.
Then superintendent of schools Elliott Landon, principal John Brady, 1st selectwoman Diane Goss Farrell, Board of Education chair Sandra Urist and 10 other educators, politicians, citizen-volunteers and Turner Construction Company representatives turned over symbolic shovels of dirt.
Ground was broken for construction of an even more sprawling, 3-story school. Another major chapter in Staples’ fabled history had begun.
The Westport News ran a front-page photo of a young boy helping out:
As the caption noted, 4-year-old Jacob Leaf was the grandson of Dan Kail, chairman of the Staples School Building Sub-Committee.
The paper was wrong, however. Jacob is a member of the Class of 2017 — not 2018.
Tomorrow (Thursday, June 22, 2 p.m.), he and over 450 classmates graduate.
They’ll do so in the fieldhouse — one of the only parts of the building not touched by the $84 million renovation.
The project — completed in 2005 — transformed Staples forever. It is a 21st-century building, and this year’s graduating class have done their high school — and town — proud.
Sitting especially proudly in tomorrow’s crowd will be one of the Westporters most responsible for the modern Staples High School: Jacob’s grandfather, Dan Kail.
Congratulations to all the graduates; to all who made Staples possible, and all who continue to do so.
Josh Duchan grew up in Westport. But, he says, “as the son of 2 New Yorkers, Billy Joel was the soundtrack of my childhood.”
Records filled the Duchans’ High Point Road home. Cassettes played on the radio, as Josh was shuttled between activities.
Duchan took piano lessons. He discovered that rather than looking at every note, he could read guitar chords and “fake it.” He bought scores to Billy Joel songs, and learned to play and sing along.
Duchan was a talented musician at Long Lots Elementary and Coleytown Middle Schools. He played Will Parker in Staples Players’ “Oklahoma!”, then wrote the score and conducted the pit for their production of “The Tempest.”
Staples teacher Alice Lipson cultivated Duchan’s love for choral music. Her theory classes showed him “the amazing ways music really works.”
Private instructor Bill Hall shaped Duchan’s tenor voice. Billy Joel is a tenor too. If you think Duchan was a fan of the singer/songwriter then — read on for today.
Duchan graduated from Staples in 1997. After majoring in music at the University of Pennsylvania, he earned a master’s and Ph.D. in ethnomusicology at the University of Michigan. He loved studying the intersection of music and culture. Mozart fascinated him; so did Native American and South African music.
But when his first major paper was assigned, Duchan nervously pitched the idea of … Billy Joel.
His master’s thesis was not on Billy Joel. But, Duchan notes, “I used him for just about every example of musical meaning.”
His doctoral dissertation was about a cappella groups. His research led to Duchan’s first book, “Powerful Voices: The Musical and Social World of Collegiate A Cappella.”
Now he’s written a second. If you can’t guess the subject, I guess that’s just the way you are.
The idea for “Billy Joel: America’s Piano Man” began in 2013, when Duchan gave a presentation on you-know-who at a meeting of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music. Two attendees were editors of a book series on 20th century musicians.
Four years later, “Billy Joel” has just been published. If you think it’s worth reading: You may be right.
Duchan says, “Billy Joel was not just the soundtrack of my childhood. He was the soundtrack to many people’s lives.”
The singer/songwriter’s music offers “a window into what people cared, thought and worried about” from the 1970s through the ’90s, Duchan says.
On the surface, for example, “Allentown” is about a struggling city. But it represents major changes in American manufacturing, and difficult decisions about staying in your hometown, or leaving. Duchan puts that song — and many others — in the context of how it was written, and why it appealed.
The book is not a biography (several have already been written). Instead, Duchan examines a selection of songs — some mega-hits, many not — in a series of themed chapters. Songs about places, for example, cover Joel’s well-known home (“New York State of Mind”), as well as Los Angeles (where he once lived) and the familiar concept of suburbia.
Other chapters cover topics like relationships and history (“We Didn’t Start the Fire”).
“Billy Joel” is also not a book filled with technical music jargon. Duchan aims for a general readership.
The book’s subject loves the project. Duchan — who has seen Joel in concert a few times — scheduled an hour phone interview in September. The more insightful Duchan’s questions became, the more enthusiastic Joel got. He had not had many opportunities to think — and speak — so introspectively about his music.
Duchan had to hang up to teach a class — his day job is professor of music history, ethnomusicology and pop culture at Wayne State University in Detroit — but they agreed to meet in person.
Duchan wanted it to be in a place with a piano. A month later, he flew to Joel’s home near Oyster Bay.
Their scheduled hour interview turned into 4 hours (including lunch in his kitchen). Joel played classical music as well as his own songs, explaining melodies and chords along the way.
Joel then added a coda: A great blurb for the back cover.
Library Journal gave it a very positive review (“must-read analysis”).
Now Duchan is planning his next project: the same sort of how/why deep dive into creativity, with another popular composer. His sights are set on James Taylor.
But right now, Josh Duchan is enjoying his Billy Joel moment.
And so it goes.