The Bordentown High School Jazz Ensemble is used to being on the road. After all, the band has played around Bordentown, as well as Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.
But performing overseas is a whole other thing. Come June 30, the ensemble and its director will be taking a 10-day trip, flying across the Atlantic and spending seven days attending workshops and performing at the Assisi Performing Arts Summer Music Festival in Italy.
Assisi, a hillside town, located in Italy’s Umbria region, is regarded as the birthplace of St. Francis and St. Clare. It boasts several medieval castles and, most importantly, has become known for showcasing and mentoring young musicians at its annual summer music festival.
The jazz ensemble performs throughout the year for military groups that come through Bordentown and at a number of local “Music in the Park” events, said Michael Montalto, director of bands for the Bordentown Regional School District.
Every year, the ensemble also plays at Essential Ellington at Temple University in Philadelphia, which is co-sponsored by Jazz at Lincoln Center and includes post-performance workshops. This year, the band won Best Rhythm Section, and vibe player Nicholas Demkowicz won the Outstanding Soloist scholarship.
And, in January, the ensemble, whose repertoire consists of mostly traditional, big-band style music, and includes trumpet, trombone, woodwind and rhythm sections, along with two altos, a tenor and a baritone vocalist, traveled to New England to play at the Berklee High School Jazz Festival. The Berklee College of Music hosts the festival at the Hynes Convention Center in Boston. The annual event is the largest of its kind in the United States, with 150-plus high school bands from 15 states. The ensembles are judged by a panel of Berklee’s top faculty members and given written critiques of their work. This year, Bordentown finished second overall in the competition. Two of the musicians—trumpeter Samantha MacFarlane and lead alto Nik Romano—won outstanding soloist awards.
The Assisi festival offers non-competitive solo opportunities in opera, musical theater, classical, jazz, sacred music and chamber music. The annual program is open to young musicians from all over the world, where, each June, they converge to perform.
So how did it all come about? As Montalto explains, “Basically, representatives from the festival approached us. Bob Violette [a concert and theater producer, as well as an international opera and concert singer], along with Mayor [James E.] Lynch, have done a lot for the Bordentown community in terms of coordinating events that the band has played at. Bob, who is on the board of directors for the [Assisi] music organization, has seen the band and knows the level and caliber of the musicians; he is the elite liaison between us and the festival.”
In September, Montalto said, Violette approached him about bringing the band to the festival.
Montalto went back and forth with Violette a few times on the idea, and, after having a few parent meetings, agreed it would be a terrific experience for the students. ‘This is my first experience taking my group out of the country: it’s definitely exciting for me, as well,” Montalto said.
Sixteen out of the current 20 band members will be going to Italy from June 30 to July 10. The traveling group includes two alto sax players, Nikolas Romano and Kyle Meier; tenor Colleen Ritter and baritone Dhruv Prasanna; six trumpet players (Samantha MacFarlane, Lauren Redwood, Benjamin Heller, Christopher Roman, Patrick Conroy and Christopher Packard); three trombonists (Kevin Ritter, Lucas Schuck and Miles Morris); drummer Cerezo Diccion; vibes player Nicholas Demkowicz, and bass player Jamie Nasatka. “My students will be doing three concerts in Assisi—I believe that two are outdoors and one indoors—and we will also be visiting Rome for three days to do some sightseeing there. But while they are in Assisi they will also be working with professionals and taking master classes with professors from various universities.”
What makes the trip particularly special is that Assisi Performing Arts will be celebrating its 20th anniversary this summer, as well.
To prepare for the festival, the students will be rehearsing and adding to their repertoire throughout the rest of the year.
“By the time we get to June, we will have a whole library of pieces to perform,” Montalto said. “And we are doing a lot more public performances this year. So far, we have only done our Winter Concert; jazz competition season begins after winter break, but we have also done clinics with Terell Stafford when we were at Temple University.”
To help defray the cost of the trip, Montalto has set up a Go Fund Me page and will be looking into other fundraising ventures before June. “It’s $3,700 per student, so it’s a big expense for each family. And I have two sets of siblings in the band, too, so we are trying to do what we can to get that number down for these families,” he said.
Montalto adds, “This music festival will be great for the kids. They will get to see other performances and be a part of an international festival. It really is pretty cool that we are going.”