Tag Archives: Staples High School music department

Candlelight Concert Tickets Available Next Monday

The weather may be cold.

But it’s the hottest ticket in town.

The 78th annual Staples High School Candlelight Concert will pack the auditorium for 3 performances next month: Friday, December 14 (8 p.m.), and Saturday, December 15 (3 p.m. and 8 p.m.).

This annual gift to the Westport community showcases the diverse talents of Staples musicians (and their teachers). There’s music from around the world, and of course the opening processional, inspiring “Hallelujah Chorus” and creative production number.  

Groups performing include Bella Voce, Choralaires, Anima Cantorum, bands and Symphonic Orchestra. 

Because it’s a gift from the Staples music department, tickets are free. But they go very fast. They’re available to the public starting at 9 a.m. this Monday (November 19). Click here then to get yours! 

The always-evocative “Sing We Noel” processional. (Photo by Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Pop! Go The Concerts

If you missed last Friday’s Staples High School concert, you weren’t alone. Tickets went faster than “Springsteen on Broadway” (and, being free, for a lot less cash).

But you don’t have to wait a year for the next one.

Here, thanks to the indefatigable Jim Honeycutt, is the entire show.

The symphonic band and orchestra, jazz band and choral group Orphenians — they’re all here.

So is a special tribute to retiring orchestra director Adele Valovich. The show is narrated by actor/director James Naughton.


BONUS REEL: As if that’s not enough, here’s the recent spring concert, featuring Nick Mariconda’s Staples jazz band, and their Bedford Middle School counterparts, led by Gregg Winters.

Pic Of The Day #417

Okay, so it isn’t a picture. But it’s still worth far more than 1,000 words.

Here’s Adele Cutrali Valovich — Staples’ beloved orchestra director — leading the Symphonic and Sophomore Orchestras a few minutes ago in “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

It was the finale of Staples’ 3rd Annual Pops Concert — and the final performance of Valovich’s 36-year career in the Westport schools.

She sure went out on a high note! (Click the arrow below to play video.)


BONUS PHOTO: Here’s a small section of the jam-packed Levitt Pavilion:


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.

Staples Sings With One Voice

Staples High School’s many choral ensembles — male, female, mixed, from freshmen through elite Orphenians — came together last Friday for a special “One Voice Concert for Unity.”

They sang by themselves and together. There were featured solos, and soaring, intricate group selections. Orphenians performed 2 pieces by Jake Runestad, the heralded composer whose work they’ll showcase this summer in Australia.

And there was a compelling rendition of “Tell My Father,” Sullivan Ballou’s tender Civil War letter to his wife, put to music.

It was an outstanding evening. Just when you think choral director Luke Rosenberg and our town’s teenagers can’t set the bar higher — they do.

(Hat tip: Jim Honeycutt, videographer)

Staples Pops Tickets Go On Sale Monday

In just 3 years, the Staples High School Pops Concert has become the town’s newest tradition.

And its hottest ticket.

This year’s event is set for Friday, June 8, at the Levitt Pavilion.

Free tickets will be available online at www.StaplesMusic.org this Monday (May 14), at 9 a.m. They’re first-come, first-served. For the past 2 years they’ve been snapped up almost instantly.

The inaugural Staples High School pops concert at the Levitt Pavilion. (Drone photo/Brandon Malin)

Like its wintertime cousin — Candlelight — the Pops Concert is a Staples music department gift to the town.

Modeled on Boston Pops’ famed Esplanade series, it features popular classical and contemporary music from the high school’s symphonic orchestra, band, jazz band and Orphenians.

It’s a chance to enjoy great music on the Levitt lawn, greet friends, picnic, and watch the stars of the future as the stars come out.

But first you need tickets. Mark your calendar: Monday, May 14, 9 a.m.!

(Pops festivities begin at 5:30 p.m. on June 8, with pre-concert musicians and food trucks. The concert starts at 7 p.m.)

Stars and stripes on the Levitt lawn, during last year’s Staples Pops “Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Youth Concert Excites, Inspires And Awes

For decades, the Youth Concert has been a wintertime highlight — for performers and audiences alike.

Over 200 Staples High School students present a multimedia, interdisciplinary thematic show for every Westport 3rd through 6th grader.

Elementary and middle school music teachers prepare their students well. Their kids are engaged and excited.

Many of the Staples musicians on stage remember well their own excitement, sitting in the audience a few years earlier. For some, it sparked their passion for music and the arts.

This year’s theme was “Global Cultures.” And — for the first time ever — there was an encore performance at night, for parents.

Jim Honeycutt — who retired 2 years ago as a Media Lab video production teacher — loves the Youth Concert. He came back this year to tape the evening show.

He produced 2 videos. One includes the multimedia video shown above the performing musicians, on a screen. The other is without it.

Enjoy either (or both). You’ll be amazed at the talents of our high school students.

And — like their young audiences — inspired by the power of music.

(Staples’ Youth Concert musicians were led by Adele Valovich [orchestra], Nick Mariconda [band] and Luke Rosenberg [vocal].)

Today’s Extra-Special Holiday Gift

Santa has his elves. The Staples High School music department has Jim Honeycutt.

Though he retired in 2016, the video production teacher returned this month to coordinate video coverage of the Candlelight Concert.

Now — with help from audio production instructor Geno Heiter and consultant Mike Phillis — Candlelight fans around the globe can enjoy the 77th annual show.

Highlights include:

  • “Sing We Noel” is at 8:35.
  • Luke Rosenberg’s choral groups (15:45 27:35, and 36:00).
  • Adele Valovich’s symphonic orchestra (46:40).
  • Nick Mariconda’s symphonic band (59:15).
  • Don Rickenback’s production number (01:20:00).
  • The rousing “Hallelujah Chorus” (01:34:10).

Unwrap this gift carefully. It’s very precious!


Two Christmas Carols

Staples High School’s Candlelight Concert is the music department’s gift to the town.

It’s the gift that keeps on giving.

On Friday night, Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston threw their annual holiday party, at their beautiful Myrtle Avenue home.

Like many gatherings around Westport, it was a warm, wonderful way to catch up with friends of all ages.

But Steve and Rondi’s party was extra-special. Their daughter Emma — now a student at Berklee College of Music — joined with fellow former Orphenians for a few Christmas songs.

No offense to any other party with carol singers, but — well, take a listen:


Thanks to Emma Ruchefsky, Joe Badion, Bailey Claffey, Ian Goodman, Nick Massoud, Nick Ribolla and Sarah Quagliarello for reminding us all why music may be the greatest gift of all.

SPECIAL HOLIDAY BONUS: Last week, Staples’ Audio Production and Theater 3 classes combined to produce a live radio broadcast of “A Christmas Carol.”

It includes all the voices from Charles Dickens’ classic — plus music, clever sound effects, even old-time radio ads for products like Pepsodent.

If you missed it on WWPT-FM, just click here. Instructors Geno Heiter and David Roth, and dozens of students, offer a perfect soundtrack to your holiday.

And so — in the immortal words of Tiny Tim — “A Merry Christmas to us all!”

Staples Music Department Plays For Hurricane Relief

Last month, Hurricane Harvey roared through Texas. In addition to many damaged homes and businesses, countless small reminders of the storm’s devastation remain.

For example, school districts lost music libraries. Some had been meticulously grown, for decades.

Help is on the way.

Luck’s Music Library has pledged to match every dollar donated to a special fund.

The Staples Music Department quickly joined in. The goal is to raise $10,00o here. Thanks to Luck’s, that would mean $20,000 worth of music for Texas.

How will Westport do it? Let’s count the ways.

On Wednesday, October 18 (7:30 p.m., Saugatuck Elementary School) the Staples Strings Concert kicks off the drive, with a pass-the-hat collection.

Lauren Schmidt, Jessica Xu and Scott Adler rehearse for the upcoming Strings Concert.

At halftime of the Friday, October 27 home football game, the Jazz Ensemble will appear on the big scoreboard. That’s followed by video of a Houston high school. Tri-M music honor society members will then collect funds in the stands.

A “Chamber-a-thon” is set for Friday, November 3. From 3:30 p.m. on, musical groups play for 20 minutes each. They’ll ask Westporters to sponsor their segments, and a case will be open for other donations. The music department is searching for a high visibility location like Barnes & Noble for this event.

After Thanksgiving, there’s a Radio-a-thon with recorded Staples music and pledges.

Funds will also be collected every concert in town from now through Candlelight. A board sign near the tennis courts will show progress.

Meanwhile, all donations are welcome. Checks can made out to “SHS Music” and sent to: Staples High School Music Department, 70 North Avenue, Westport, CT 06880. Please write “Hurricane Harvey relief” on the memo line.

Logo by Tomaso Scotti, a Staples student in Carla Eichler’s graphic design class.