The music program at Gulliver Preparatory School had quite a memorable year.
After taking home every trophy at the Worldstrides Heritage Music Festival, the vocal ensemble, wind ensemble, string ensemble and jazz ensemble were invited to perform at the Lincoln Center in New York City in front of hundreds of spectators.
It took a year of planning, eight itineraries and countless afterschool rehearsals to prepare for the big four-day weekend. But music director Ron Castonguay and the 89 band members were ready to take the stage at Lincoln Center in April.
“Lincoln Center is amazing,” Castonguay said. “For me personally, it was kind of like a culmination of a 20-year teaching career.”
The four ensembles performed in three different festivals within Lincoln Center under Manhattan Concert Productions, a company that offers deserving bands, choirs and orchestras the chance to perform at well-known venues throughout the country.
Gulliver’s jazz ensemble performed April 20. Gulliver’s string, wind and choral ensemble performed April 21. Castonguay was able to choose the three songs the instrumental ensembles played and was able to direct them during the performance. The jazz band performed in the Allen Room while the wind and strings performed in Avery Fisher Hall.
The chorus ensemble participated in a mass choir with students from various schools across the country. They had to learn seven songs, which were not chosen by Castonguay, and rehearsed for nine hours over the weekend before their performance.
“It was a logistical nightmare,” Castonguay said. “Three different festivals taking place at Lincoln Center at different times, with rehearsals and workshops at different times. That was the hardest part of the trip. It was four days in New York. It was crazy.”
Although the music program at Gulliver is an elective, students must receive a teacher recommendation or audition in order to participate. Students receive a grade for the class, which takes place every day, and they are allowed to cross over – to be a part of the choral ensemble and jazz or string or wind ensemble.
Students also rehearse for their annual concerts and compete in several district and state competitions, which means extra rehearsals after school in addition to any other extra curricular activities they may have.
For Nicholas Eber, a graduating senior and a second-year trumpet player for the jazz band, performing for those 20 minutes at Lincoln Center was a moment he will never forget. “It was the most memorable experience I’ve had at Gulliver,” he said. “It was great.”
Eber, who has been playing the trumpet since fourth grade, said Gulliver makes it possible for you to be able to do what you want to do. Besides being part of the jazz band since his junior year, he’s also on the varsity lacrosse team. “Gulliver makes it easy for you to have time to do everything,” he said.
Castonguay knows this is a trip his students will never forget. He feels lucky and fortunate to be able to teach music all day and says being a role model and mentor to students is a great part of the job.
“Ninety-nine percent of them will never perform at Lincoln Center again so it was literally, literally, a once in a lifetime opportunity for these kids,” he said. “Music in our schools needs to be promoted.”