Growing up in Howell, Michael Montalto knew he wanted to be a musician. A drummer at heart, Montalto loved practicing percussion, while listening to his favorites, Buddy Rich and Elvin James, on CDs.

Now the band director at Bordentown Regional Middle and High schools, he gets to pass that all on to his students in the award-winning BRHS marching band, which recently won first place and best music and overal effect awards at a competition Oct. 21 at Hopewell Valley Central High School.

The program, called “Outside Of The Box,” has been wowing festival judges with its unique flair and creativity.

“The judges are loving what we’re doing because it’s different, and the kids are so dedicated to it,” Montalto said. “It’s like putting on a theatrical program each time, and the kids are performing at a high level. The musicianship and commitment of the kids is amazing, and I’m so proud of all of them.”

Montalto is a Temple University music education and jazz performance graduate.

“I really love all music,” he said. “I was always inspired by my teachers and band directors at my schools, and I knew that one day, I’d like to perform and teach music.”

Montalto, whose wife Lindsey and one-year-old daughter, Juliette, are also part of the band family, started playing the drums as part of a group in school during his fifth grade year. As the band director at the middle school and high school, Montalto gets to work with the kids who are in 6th grade, helping them to develop their passion for playing music.

“The marching band, started out with 20 kids, and now it has 50, and the middle school band is up to 103 from 20 members when I started,” said Montalto, who is in his seventh year of teaching. “The high school band classes are growing as well, and the kids are enjoying it so much. We want the students to feel like they are in a safe environment, where they can be themselves, and where they can express their love of music without feeling judged by others in the group. What we’ve developed is a safe zone for musicians, and it’s working.”

The band student practice after school, twice a week, for several hours. They look forward to it because they get to share their passion with others, said brass section leader, 10th grader Sam MacFarlane.

She feels that being part of the band is like being part of a family.

“I always want to go to practice, and Mr. Montalto always makes us feel welcome,” she said. “We are always encouraged to be the best that we can be. I love entertaining, and it’s really awesome because, no matter what is going on outside of life, when we practice we just forget about it and have fun.”

The reward of all of this hard work for Montalto and the band members is a season like no other in the school’s history. Montalto has placed a strong focus on helping to grow the program by spotlighting the success that the band is having this year. He hopes it will help motivate future musicians to join the band and become part of a winning program that he says focuses on improving their skills while at the same time having fun.

The “team,” as they call themselves, has earned first place group 2A at Burlington City High School, as well as best music, visual, overall effect and percussion caption awards. The group also had the best overall score out of all the bands who competed. At Rancocas Valley High School, Bordentown earned first place group 2A, best music, visual and overall effect caption awards.

The band won first place group 2A, best music, visual and overall effect captions awards at Hamilton High School West. They placed first in group 2A and won the best music caption award at Jackson Memorial High School.

Most recently, in the Yamaha Cup at MetLife Stadium, Montalto was once again very pleased with his band’s performance. Bordentown finished in second and won a percussion award, as well as winning the Cadets Award of Excellence, which is handed to one band that displays “outstanding creativity and effects.”

Montalto, who looks forward to performing at the high school football games as well as competing, credits his staff members for much of the bands success. Cheryl Stallworth-Glitz, assistant band director, and Brianna Sansevero, color guard director, are a big reason why things run smoothly, he said.

“I couldn’t do it without the wonderful assistants, whose passion for what they do shows at every practice and performance,” said Montalto. “ There are a lot of elements, besides the dedication of the band members, that makes the programs successful. The band parents, and the entire booster club organization, are also amazing, and whether they are carrying equipment for us or cooking meals, they support us 100 percent.”

Junior Cameron Gott, saxophone section leader, enjoys being around friends at practice and while competing, and feels that this is the best season the group has had so far.

“Mr. Montalto has honestly turned around the entire program, and we really think that, because of this, we can come out on top in our two big competitions coming up,” he said.

Senior drum major Joey Dupp, who plays the saxophone, believes that it is the family and team environment that makes everyone feel successful.

“Sometimes, someone will say something so inspirational, and it gets the entire group pumped up,” Dupp said. “When we’re getting ready for a big competition, Mr. M will say something to kick us into high gear, and we perform at an even higher level.”

Sophomore Rachel Scranton, color guard section leader, says that even if someone is feeling exhausted from the day, there will always be some there to lift them up, and motivate them, changing their entire mindset and pumping them up for practice.

“Mr. M. Is always looking out for us,” Scranton said. “He’s also an amazing director. Our program is edgy, in an innovative way, and it’s a way of breaking out of conformity.”

The band’s staff and members are looking forward to the “exciting atmosphere” at the traditional high school Thanksgiving football game, set for Wednesday, Nov. 22. But before the Turkey Day game, they will compete in the national championships in Allentown, Pennsylvania on Nov. 4.

For Montalto and his band members, winning would be “phenomenal,” he said. “Absolutely phenomenal.”