Tag Archives: Staples High School music department

Youth Concert Brings China To Westport

Years ago, the Westport Youth Concert began as an opportunity to enrich students’ cultural awareness, through music.

As the school district’s emphasis on global understanding has grown, so has the Youth Concert. It’s evolved into a cross-cultural, collaborative event involving not only music, but Westport Public Schools’ visual arts and world language departments.

Outside organizations like the Westport Library, Westport Public Art Collections and PTA Cultural Arts have signed on as community partners.

A scene from last year’s Youth Concert.

This year’s event exemplifies the music department’s mission. “Music of China” features Staples High School musicians, the award-winning Middle School Percussion Ensemble, and guest artists from the New York Chinese Cultural Center. They’ll perform a lion dance and musical piece using a pipa, guzheng and erhu — with mini-lessons about each instrument.

The feature performance is Tuesday, February 4 (7 p.m., Staples auditorium). On that day, and February 6, in-school educational concerts for 3rd through 6th graders will complement the public concert.

It’s a huge undertaking. Youth Concert planning begins at the start of the school year. Coordinator Candi Innaco creates a classroom guide. It introduces the theme, and includes links to resources and classroom instruction.

Leading up to the event, teachers at Greens Farms, Long Lots and Saugatuck Elementary School had students design China-related art: hanging lanterns, wish kites, brush paintings, Ming Dynasty vases and the like.

Westport student art: Ming Dynasty vases.

All elementary music instructors are teaching the tune and lyrics to “Jasmine Flower.” At the concert, students will sing it from the audience — led by Staples’ Orphenians.

Staples’ world language department is involved too. Mandarin students will emcee the concert, and photos taken by teacher Chris Fray on his recent visit to China will be shown.

WestPAC, meanwhile, is displaying art and photography from China at their traveling pop-up galleries, at every school.

In March, the Westport Library will bring the same guest artists from the New York China Cultural Center, to perform again.

China lion dance, performed by members of the New York Chinese Cultural Center.

The public is invited to the free February 4 evening performance. For more information about this event and the Westport music program, click here.

Candlelight Concert: The Video

Couldn’t get tickets to this year’s 79th annual Staples High School Candlelight Concert? Couldn’t get there, because you live far away?

Couldn’t listen to the WWPT-FM broadcast or livestream? Couldn’t figure out how to access the Soundcloud audio either?

No problem! Jim Honeycutt — longtime Staples media teacher, now retired but still a music department fan and Santa’s-elf-like helper — shot and produced a video of the entire event.

So sit down and relax. Grab a glass or mug of your favorite holiday cheer. Then click below, to enjoy another marvelous performance by our town’s very talented choral, orchestra and band members.


Did You Miss Staples’ Fall Music Concerts? Here They Are!

With so much going on every day, you might have missed the Staples High School music department’s 3 fall concerts.

Or maybe you’re an alum, living far away.

No problem! Thanks to the magic of former media lab instructor Jim Honeycutt, all 3 are available now.

The chamber, symphonic, sophomore and freshman orchestra’s concert was called “Something Old, Something New.” It featured music from the Baroque era, to contemporary works.

The choral concert highlighted music of the Renaissance.

Meanwhile, the symphonic band and wind ensemble presented “Winds of Change.”

Finally, here’s an extra feature: an interview with Phil Giampietro. The new bands director talks about his plans for the pep band:

Let the music play!

Water, Water Everywhere …

As Westport prepares for heavy rain and possible thunderstorms tonight — with  coastal flooding and shoreline impacts from midnight through 4 a.m. — alert “06880” reader JP Vellotti forwarded this text:

His only comment: “Kinda ironic.”

Pics Of The Day #781

In just 4 years, the Westport Schools’ Music Department Pops Concert has become one of the true highlights — and must-have tickets — of the spring.

The choruses, bands and orchestras are phenomenal. The Levitt Pavilion locale is stupendous. The evening is warm — in both the weather and community senses of the word.

It’s a sure sign that summer is almost here.

And that this is a town that loves and supports music, in all its forms.

A variety of chamber groups entertained early arrivals…

… as did the very talented Middle School Percussion Ensemble, playing traditional rhythms of Senegal.

A small part of the large Levitt Pavilion crowd.

The Westport Police Department color guard. (Photo/Tomas Curwen)

Symphonic and jazz band leader Nick Mariconda retires this year, after 41 years with the Westport schools. He was honored at his final concert.

Three of Mariconda’s former students — Jon Owens ’86, Andrew Willmott ’85 and Michael Ances ’90 — came back. They played trumpet — Mariconda’s instrument — on “Bugler’s Holiday.” All are now music educators.

Between sets, Staples musicians hung out by the river.

First Selectman Jim Marpe, interim superintendent of schools Dr. David Abbey and former Staples High School principal/Pops emcee John Dodig enjoyed the show.

The Orphenians wowed the crowd with selections like “And So It Goes” and “Unclouded Day.”

Orphenians director Luke Rosenberg.

Another view of the great crowd. (All photos/Dan Woog unless otherwise noted)

Staples Pops Concert Tickets Available Soon

In just 4 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 7, at the Levitt Pavilion.

Part of the large crowd at last year’s Staples Pops Concert.

The Levitt Pavilion lawn opens at 5:30 p.m. There’s pre-concert music, mingling, and food from 3 trucks. (Bodega, JR’s and Jim’s Ice Cream all donate part of their proceeds to the Staples music department.)

Free tickets will be available online at www.StaplesMusic.org next Monday (May 20), at 9 a.m. They’re first-come, first-served. For the past 3 years they’ve been snapped up almost instantly.

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.

Jim Naughton — emcee for the past 3 concerts — is unavailable this year. Pinch-hitting is one of Westport’s foremost arts patrons, and no stranger to Staples High School: former principal John Dodig.

The Pops Concert is 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 20, 9 a.m.!

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.