Dozens of students from New Fairfield’s High School, Middle School, and The Sherman School recently auditioned and were accepted into the prestigious Western Regional Music Program. Highly competitive, the program is run by the Connecticut Music Educators Association (CMEA). With the state split into directional zones, New Fairfield and Sherman students join the bulk of Fairfield County in the Western category. NFHS Band Director Casey Hounsell said that he wanted “to thank everyone in the community for supporting our students and program. Students audition for Western Regions and make it to the festival because of the support and excitement we have from parents, administration, board members, and the community. Our greatest form of recruitment comes from parents who encourage their students to pick up an instrument or sing and support their students to keep with it throughout their education.”
Harkening back to pre-pandemic era, all auditions for students at both the middle and high school levels were in person, which certainly “added to the level of stress,” The Sherman School’s Band Director Christopher Carlone said. All music educators at these schools support the students in their preparation for the auditions. NFHS Choral Director Andrew Gadwah explained, “I prepare my chorus students using a combination of class time and REBEL block group rehearsals. The audition song is in Italian, and so learning that language is an additional challenge for many of the students.” He went on to note that all Chamber Singer students—who audition for entry into the group—learn and perform the audition song for an in-class assessment. “I encourage them to go out for an audition since they already know the song! That preparation pays off—five of the six chorus students who made it into Regionals are Chamber Singers students,” Gadwah said.
NFHS Band Teacher Jessica Pratt, Music Teacher Stacey Ogden, and The Sherman School’s Music Teacher Steven Trinchillo all provide the music that is needed for auditions and offer extra help for students. The Sherman School students have the opportunity to mock-audition for their peers in class, as well as record themselves and evaluate their own recordings. For band students, Carlone explained that, “we also had students perform the audition material several times for varying audiences before the audition.”
Once accepted into Western Regionals, students attend collaborative, weekend-
long festivals that celebrate their communal love of music. There are intense classes and
rehearsals that culminate in choir and band concerts at the end of the festivals. The high school
festival is this weekend, and the middle school version is in March.
Many local music educators took part in this program in their teens and are excited to have their students participate. Gadwah says, “I remember my own experience participating in the CMEA regional choir when I was in high school—for someone who enjoys being a part of school music ensembles, to be a part of the regional ensembles is a whole other level of amazing! The fact that you get so many students together, with the strongest voices in the region, all of whom are motivated and enthusiastic in their love for music and singing—it’s unlike anything else. Not to mention working with an amazing conductor on some challenging and satisfying music repertoire!” Pratt agrees, saying “When I was a middle and high school student, I participated in all of the CMEA festivals. I met and made amazing friends, got to work with top-notch conductors and played amazing music that I wouldn’t have been able to play in my school band. I encourage students to participate in Western Region in the hopes that they have the ability to have a similarly rewarding experience.”
Gadwah is in his third year of serving in a unique volunteer role as the CMEA’s Region Director. He describes the position as “a very satisfying one” and said, “it’s more about the large-scale planning for these events in our region, as well as working with the CMEA board on behalf of our region.” As Region Director, he communicates with all the region’s secondary teachers about upcoming auditions and events, and he fields questions regarding logistics, saying, “it is a lot of work but very rewarding.”
Six choir students and one band member will represent NFHS: Blu Arbesman, Nicky Eklund, and Christian Eklund (tenors), Vito Carlucci (bass), Chloe Petzold (alto), Sarah Bollacke (soprano), and Frankie Colao-Pineyro (bass clarinet); seven vocal students and one band student from NFMS: Katherine and Sophia Pankiv, Augustina and Apollonia Sbano, Ammarah Basha, Madison Johnson, and Frank Pintauro (alto saxophone); and The Sherman School had twenty-eight students make it in: Allegra Linero (soprano), Sally Hafer (soprano, jazz trombone, trombone), Abi Pease (soprano), Charlotte Steiger (soprano), Curran Palancia (alto), Alana Barton (alto), Netanya Dorman (alto), Julian Seda (trumpet), Ty Murphy (jazz trombone, trombone), Isabel Vazquez (jazz alto saxophone, alto saxophone), Helena Pallante (clarinet), Mackenzie Bonner (clarinet), Logan Jacobowitz (jazz alto saxophone, alto saxophone), Matthew Tangredi (alto saxophone), Josie Piel (clarinet), Brayden Vore (jazz alto saxophone, alto saxophone), Dylan Ribisl (alto saxophone), Audrey Wiggins (flute), Wesley Clark (trombone), Owen Dube (trumpet), Ylli Lekaj, (trombone), Quincy Rianhard (trombone), Nate Setzler (euphonium), Brennan McGuire (bass clarinet), Finley Hafer, (trumpet), Elijah Dickey (percussion), Casey Witt (clarinet), and Evan Rich (trombone).
With a new high school set to open in the fall, Gadwah supposes that hosting the middle school festival is a possibility in the future. The new high school building, “amazing as it will be, will probably not have enough large rehearsal spaces for all of the high school region festival ensembles, nor enough seats in the auditorium for concerts,” he said. Gadwah and Hounsell are excited that “The new auditorium will be a way to encourage the community to come together and highlight the amazing music we have in our school and community,” Hounsell said.
By Sarah Opdahl