Winter concert underscores success of junior high music program
KRHS auditorium packed for the holiday event


The Kittatinny Junior high school Select Chorus performed several numbers Photos provided

By Laurie Gordon
NEWTON --Cell phones were on airplane mode and were only out for one reason last Wednesday evening in the packed Kittatinny Regional High School auditorium: to record the seventh and eight grade students on stage.
At some schools, the arts have gotten lost in the shuffle of all the other activities out there, but thanks to chorus teacher, Christopher Henke, a “not-so-new” Kittatinny newcomer in alumni-now-band-teacher Alexandra Straulina, combined with a very supportive music department, administration, and community, chorus and band continue to thrive at this junior high.
The evening began with a performance of several songs by The Select Choir which is an extracurricular auditioned group of seventh and eight grade students. Last year, this group was selected to premier a brand new piece as part of a consortium which commissioned “The Caged Bird” by Braeden Ayres, a composer in Colorado.
Of music's impact on his students, Henke said, “In 15 years of teaching music, the most consistent impact, and one for which I'm proud to say my own students have recognized me, is creating a welcoming environment for all students to experience music from a diverse set of backgrounds. Students 'know what they know' and are often quite content to end at that point. In my classroom, and in the music department at KRHS as a whole, we make extraordinary efforts to be sure our students grow personally as performers, musicians, and young adults.”
When asked about how the music program gets students away from their cell phones and focused on harmony and melody for a while, Henke smiled and said, “I think my students might take a bit of umbrage at the idea of being 'old-fashioned'in spite of telling me I have 'dad jokes' from time to time. Our Winter Concert is an opportunity to perform older seasonal favorites and more contemporary selections while giving our students a chance to demonstrate both personal and ensemble growth since the Cougar Cabaret, our first concert of the year which was held in October.”
He added, “I can't know, however I hope our concerts throughout the year offer a high quality musical respite of sorts from the everyday busy schedule for our students, their families, and the community. Our department often makes use of the technology our students regularly have with them to assist in learning parts, and preparing for auditions, etc.; the results of incorporating technology are often seen in the number of junior high and high school choir and band students who are members of a wide variety of honors ensembles throughout the region, state and nationally.”
Henke also serves as the Music Director for the Junior High Players which includes acting as both the ensemble director, and vocal coach for the full cast of the school's productions and works with high school chorus director Patrice Kane on a regular basis.
About a month before the school welcomed back Alexandra Straulina as the Junior High Band instructor. “Back” because Straulina graduated from Kittatinny Regional High School in 2012.
“I was a drum major for the 2012 marching band season. I did marching band for three years at Kittatinny, and was in concert band, jazz band, and wind symphony at Kittatinny,” she said. “When I went to college at West Chester University, I was in the marching band for four years (section leader and drum major my senior year) and was in the wind symphony, orchestra, chamber winds, and wind ensemble as a student.”
When Kittatinny Junior High's former band teacher took another job, Straulina was considered and accepted for the position just about two months prior to the concert. In addition, she will be responsible for the Kaboose which is one of two jazz bands at the high school.
“I officially started on October 16th, so it was a bit of a mad dash to prepare all of the concert music in time,” she said. But she did. Of her job, Straulina said, ““It is indescribably great to be back at my alma mater. Nothing like giving back to the program that inspired me to teach, and shaped me into the person I am today.”
Of the concert and the music program at Kittatinny, she said, “I think music is more of a team activity than most people perceive it to be. Every student is important to the success of the group. I think activities like band really benefit students by developing their responsibility and accountability - they're responsible for making sure their parts are learned so that the band as a whole can achieve success. No one can learn the trombone, or the flute, or the trumpet for you. As much as I can help them, they have to match the effort and put in time on their own. I can't practice their parts for them, and that's a big lesson in life... one I think is especially important for junior high students.”
Straulina is also a fan of a good old fashioned winter concert.
“I think it is so nice for everyone to be present in the moment, enjoying the performance of their children,” she said. “Experiencing music together is such a wonderful thing. Also, I defy anyone to play trombone while trying to check twitter. There are ways we can incorporate technology into our craft, but when it comes to the concert, it is simply a beautiful, unifying moment where we can all enjoy the students' hard work and accomplishments.
Henke added, “All the members of the music department embrace the diversity of our students in the junior high and high school band and choir. As a result, our department is often referred to as a home away from home by many of our students. Our newest music department faculty member, Alexandra Straulina is an excellent example of why we are so proud of our students. She is an alumni of the KRHS Band under the direction of our High School Band Director Mr. Jarred Matthes, and now, as a member of our department, continues to build the legacy of the music department that inspired her, with her own students as the junior high band director.”
Thanks to cell phones and technology, teachers are now very effectively able to communicate directly with students to give them updates and reminders. The day after the Junior High Winter Concert, Henke's students woke up to a very special text from him. One of the songs they'd sung on Wednesday night was about a “snow day.” On Thursday morning, he congratulated them on a great concert and let them know there was no school. Turns out that snow day song had predicted the future.