Esprit de Corps Award underscores Kittatinny's pride for music

Choirs and bands take top honors at Kutztown competition

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  • Members of the Kittatinny Junior High Choir and Band enjoy Dorney Park after winning some great awards at The Music in the Parks competitions at Kutztown University Photo courtesy of Sharon Falchetta

  • Members of the Kittatinny Junior High Seventh Grade Choir perform "Hushaby Mountain." Emily Popek, of Stillwater, was a soloist in the number. That and "Shine on Me" earned them first place in their division at the Kutztown University competition. Photo by Laurie Gordon

By Laurie Gordon

NEWTON — Members of the Kittatinny Junior High choirs and bands performed a brilliant concert at the school on May 30. The concert went on until about 10 pm. The students and parents returned home only to have the students back at the school by 6 am, their concert clothes washed and ready to board buses for a day that would, again, last until 10 pm, competing at Kutztown University before heading to Dorney Park.

Sounds like a whirlwind? To the students and their musical instructors, it was a thrilling musical extravaganza.

“Given the very close proximity to our Spring Concert, the greatest challenge is the logistics of the year-end concert and this trip within a 48 hour period,” said Junior High Choir Director Christopher Henke. “Thankfully, Ms. Straulina, Mrs. Kane, and Mr. Matthes, the Kittatinny Music Staff, are always willing to help and support each other to ensure our collective success.”

For Alexandra Straulina, the Junior High Band Director and a Kittatinny alumnus, the adventure to Pennsylvania was also a trip down memory lane.

“I did go on the trip as a middle school student at Kittatinny,” she said. “Going as a teacher was equal parts more stressful and more enjoyable. More stressful because as a first year teacher, it's a lot of moving parts (and moving students) to keep track of. More enjoyable because I get to see my students' reactions to their accomplishments, with the perspective of seeing their progress and growth from October, when I started working with them, to now. They have grown so much more than they know, and both groups put on tremendous performances. I couldn't be more proud of their efforts.”

At the Kutztown competition, the seventh and eighth grade choirs both took first place in their respective divisions. Both the seventh and eighth grade bands received first place in their divisions. Additionally, the school, which included all choir and band ensembles, was recognized for their behavior and professionalism at Kutztown University with the prestigious "Esprit De Corps" award.

Straulina said, “The great thing about going to these adjudications is that, since we are given feedback, it's nice for the students to be recognized for their accomplishments (with a rating and a ranking) as well as to get advice on how to improve ourselves. Studying music is more than notes on a page. It instills our students with discipline, self-motivation, and diligence.”

Henke said his biggest reward out of the trip was “smiles on the faces of the students.”

“We have spent so much time with as they successfully completed a two-hour concert of amazing music and then continued on to have a very successful day performing in Music In The Parks at Kutztown was remarkable,” he said.

“My biggest challenge in this trip was simply that I had never planned or been responsible for running a school trip before, let alone one of this magnitude," Straulina said, noting there were 195 students involved. “Luckily, I am part of an amazing team of educators and administrators. The day could not have happened without their support and professionalism. My choral counterpart, Mr. Henke, was so wonderful in not only making sure everything got checked off our to-do list, but also making sure that I understood how to do it and why it needed to be done. He walked me through step by step and I have learned so much about what goes into planning an opportunity like this. We would never have made it out of the parking lot if it hadn't been for him.”

The whole event started with Thursday night's concert. It included two songs sung in French by the Select Choir and Belladies, an amazing Disney compilation sung by the seventh and eight grade choirs, outstanding band compilations and a performance by the high school's K-Train Kaboose Jazz Band. And then, a surprise. Members of the eighth grade Select Choir were suddenly and unexpectedly on the risers. With gleeful voices, they announced that they had a “surprise” for Henke. The group proceeded to sing “True Colors” to their beloved instructor.

“I was very surprised they pulled off something like that under my nose with the help of a wonderful and mischievous colleague,” Henke said. “I have been privileged to work with those students and as I said to them, our time together has meant more to me than words can fully express.”

Kittatinny Junior High Assistant Principal Sharon Falchetta said, “Music is tremendously important to the overall student as a whole. Music is cross curricular by nature encompassing different subject concentrations. Reading music is like learning a different language and music itself is mathematical in as far as counting beats and pauses. Students who learn to play an instrument or study vocal performance are truly well rounded. The students who performed at this year's Junior High Kittatinny concert showcased true talent.”

The students arrived back at Kittatinny from the trip to Pennsylvania on Friday evening in the dark amid a thunder and lightning storm: a perfect coda to underscore the exhilaration and “Esprit de Corps” each felt at having been part of such an adventure.

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