Thursday, July 1, 2010

Bands team up to save the music

All text and photos by: Jen Cowart
Cranston Herald
July 1, 2010

THE COURT JESTER: Special guest emcee Charlie Hall of the Ocean State Follies donated his time and had the audience in stitches between musical performances.

The budget for Cranston Public Schools had no room for elementary music this year, but a coalition of music educators and local bands came together last Wednesday to save the future of the music program.

The benefit concert at Cranston East was held free of charge, but donations were welcome, both in the form of cash and in the form of gently used instruments.

“It’s very crucial to help support the elementary music program and we feel that by holding this performance, it will draw attention to the importance of music in education,” said Councilman Robert Pelletier.

Cranston East Band Director Mark Colozzi came out to say a few words of thanks before the show began.

“Thank you for coming out tonight and supporting music education,” he said to the audience. “As you know, times are tough and in Cranston Public Schools, it’s no different. Next year is the elimination year for the elementary music program.”

Colozzi went on to say that he was thankful for concerned parents and volunteers who are currently working to get an after-school music program up and running for the fall.

He said nothing is set in stone yet, but a supplemental program is a distinct possibility.

Special guest emcee Charlie Hall of the Ocean State Follies donated his time that evening, and had the crowd laughing as soon as he began.

“It’s great to be in Cranston,” he said. “This concert, otherwise known as ‘help Mark keep his job,’ has already raised enough for one used baritone and two drumsticks.”

Hall left the stage, making way for the Park View Jazz Band to kick off the night’s musical extravaganza.

Park View Band Director Robert Hassan noted that he was serving a dual role both as a director for the band and as a performer in his own band, Rockin’ Soul Horns.

The band played several songs that had the audience cheering. Hassan pointed out several students, including one who had only been in the jazz band for one month and one who was doing her first solo performance.

An audience favorite was the song “Tequila,” which for obvious reasons the band had changed to “Tortilla.”

“It’s an old song with a new name,” Hassan said as he introduced it.

When Hall returned to the stage following the band’s performance, he took the new name and ran with it.

“Let me at least touch upon the subject of political correctness in our schools,” he said, referring to some recent issues with a no tolerance policy in the Coventry Public Schools.

“And now, we can’t even say the word Tequila? What has happened to free speech?” he joked as the audience laughed.

The award-winning Cranston East “Big Band” Jazz Ensemble was next in the lineup of bands to grace the stage that night. Hall introduced them as the “World Renowned” Cranston East Big Band Jazz Ensemble.

“You know that they are well trained, because Mark has to cancel every other Follies performance with me to take them to some competition,” he said.

The CHSE band wowed the audience with their performance, which featured students on drums, guitar, trombones, and Colozzi doing a dual role as keyboardist and director, since the band’s regular keyboardist was not present.

Colozzi made special reference to the fact that some of the seniors who had graduated just a week or so prior had returned for the special concert event.

For the final two East performances, Colozzi welcomed life-long friend and Cranston High School West’s band director, Art Montanaro to the stage. Calling him a “Trombone Extraordinaire,” Colozzi credited Montanaro with introducing him to the trombone during their younger years.

Following the East band performances, Hassan’s band, Rockin’ Soul Horns made their way to the stage. Colozzi introduced them, thanking them for donating their time for the cause.

“We’re glad to be here,” said vocalist Chantal Ambroise. “If it weren’t for me being able to be in music programs when I was in school, I wouldn’t be here tonight. I’m glad to see that so many people came out.”

As the evening drew to a close, the audience could be seen moving to the music in the aisles of the auditorium, and the East band students got a chance to jam with the RSH band.

The bands received several standing ovations from the audience, which included Mayor Allan Fung, representatives from the City Council, the Cranston School Committee, and even guests from as far away as Virginia.

“It was a wonderful concert,” said Shelley Fusco, a parent with two students in Cranston Public Schools. “It was amazing to see how well Park View Middle School played and how incredible the East band was. The sad part of it all is that in a few years, we may not have any of this to enjoy.”

Committee members were pleased with the turnout, and thanked both those in attendance and the bands who donated their time.

A final tally showed that more than $1,000 had been raised for school music programs.

Anyone wishing to make donations can send them to the Cranston High School East Alumni Band Association, 899 Park Avenue, Cranston, RI 02910.

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