On the edge of glory

by Town Reminder

On the edge of glory
Music students competing to bring tools up to par with talent

By Kristin Will
Staff Writer, kwill@turley.com

SOUTH HADLEY – Merely looking at the South Hadley High School [SHHS] Music Department’s equipment, instruments and band uniforms, one wouldn’t know the concert and jazz bands, marching band and Adrenaline show choir have a bevy of accolades and awards under their belts.
The once-crisp band uniforms are now dingy, becoming threadbare after years of use. Marching band percussion instruments are dinged and well-used after literally taking beatings year after year. And the show choir needs risers on which to stand during performances. The last time any significant purchases were made for any of the groups were in the 90s, nearly 20 years ago. Unfortunately, the groups’ outward appearances doesn’t mirror the high level at which they perform – all groups are consistently award-winning.
But with the hit FOX television show, “Glee,” taking over the airwaves, the spotlight, ironically, is shining more on those who are used to being in it. Recently presented to Music Director BethAyn Curtis was an opportunity from the Glee Give-A-Note Foundation, offering the SHHS Music Department the opportunity to win up to $50,000 to benefit its programs. To enter the contest, a two-minute video was required to be made, detailing the department’s situation and what the department and its groups are all about. Immediately after reading the information about the contest, Curtis contacted video extraordinaire, student Brittany Vardakis, and gathered interested students who were eager to create.
The two-minute video features performances from both Adrenaline and the Tiger Pride Marching Band, behind the scenes practice footage and compelling interviews from select students expressing their desire to be helped by the foundation in a school, they say, dominated by sports programs.
“We’re such a passionate group of kids when it comes to music,” said senior Kyle Whelihan. “We’re such a rare case – we’re taken seriously enough and have enough talent so we compete like a top notch group, but we’re funded like a mediocre one.”
The Music Department is supported by approximately $10,00 from the school budget, which covers busses to competitions, entry fees to competitions and festivals, sheet music and if finagled in just the right way, can be stretched to cover some instrument repairs. “It doesn’t go as far as we’d like, but thank God it’s there,” said Curtis. “It’s like putting a Band-Aid on an injury that needs surgery.”
Fortunately, the Music Parents Association assists in a great way with a yearly contribution. But really, the rest is up to the students’ footwork – literally. Their yearly Penny Drive, during which they go door-to-door asking for spare change, is one of their biggest fundraisers. Additionally, they host family movie nights, a Rock-a-Thon, a poker run and other drives to supplement their meager budget. With their hard work, but mostly their dedication to their crafts, the students alone are able to come up with essentially half of their approximate $60,000 budget on which they need to operate in a single year, which truly is remarkable. And while it can be looked at as a major feat, it’s something they need to do to survive, or at least keep treading above water. Of course, they’re up for the challenge.
In order to win the Glee Give-A-Note competition, the SHHS Music Department must make it into the top 14 category. Once there, judges will rate the videos on criteria including relevance, originality and demonstration of a financial need, accounting for 90 percent of the deciding factor. The remaining 10 percent comes from public vote. But first, the SHHS Music Department is asking residents to vote them into the top 14.
Currently, there are 14 schools from the region in which SHHS is grouped, competing against one another. Rather than group by school size, the contest is grouped by region, so Massachusetts is lumped in with schools from New England, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland. Nationwide, there are 367 schools competing.
“We’re a small town competing with big schools like Andover,” said Betty Czitom, a senior. “We’re doing our best.”
To help vote the SHHS Music Department into the top 14, residents can visit this direct link, http://www.gleegiveanote.com/vote_details.php?id=393, or go to www.gleegiveanote.com, click “vote now,” type “South Hadley High School” into the search bar and click “vote.” Residents can vote once a day, but on a daily basis, until Nov. 7.
Three schools will be chosen to win a $50,000 prize. Ten will be chosen to win $25,000 and 60 will be chosen to win $10,000.
Although both Whelihan and Czitom are graduating this year, they’re still working hard to keep the Music Department’s programs alive. Looking back on their experiences with the department, Whelihan said, “It’s sort of taught us how to be able to shine when you’re completely in the dark. When financially and socially speaking, the odds were against us.”
The popularity of the show, “Glee,” has actually helped the Music Department. “We’re finally giving the Music Department the attention it needs,” said Whelihan.
Czitom said, “The show is changing the music industry” in addition to the typical stigma given to band and chorus groups.
“Whether or not they were neglected [before the show],” said Curtis, “they felt that way.”
In addition to changing stereotypes, “Glee” was the impetus behind the inspiration for entering the competition. It also has clearly helped students identify with T.V. personalities who are very much like them. Whelihan said he feels “Glee’s” New Directions show choir is very similar, if not identical, to SHHS’ Adrenaline show choir. On the show, New Directions is portrayed as the underdog, and similarly, Whelihan said, the SHHS Music Department is “on the cusp of greatness.”