I grew up in Orchard Park, New York. Home to the Buffalo Bills and Duffs Chicken Wings. I am very proud of my Buffalo roots. I think the city gives its inhabitants a certain edge. We used to talk about it in college with a laugh and a shrug…someone made a politically incorrect statement? “Buffalo.” Someone recoils at the thought of “buffalo wings with ranch”…”Buffalo.” You know you need some blue cheese and some loganberry to wash down your “chicken” wings. There are a bunch of great musicians who came out of Buffalo around the same time as I did, and a lot of us ended up at Eastman. Mike Williams (MiWi), Jared Coen, Lynn Ligamari, Dave DiGiacomo, Mark Filsinger…those guys kept it real at Eastman during the early 2000s. Now theres the new guard of Buffalo cats out there led by Brendan Lanighan, the McGintys, Dan White, Cam Kayne, Matt Michaud…the list goes on. Like any town, theres an instant kinship when you meet another ex-pat, but with Buffalo its different. Somehow heightened. Maybe watching your team lose 4 straight Super Bowls while still in grade school does that to you. I could go on to talk about the Buffalo jazz legends here, but thats not really what Im writing about.
Unbeknownst to me for much of my teenage life, I went to a school that supported the arts in a HUGE way. The more I exist in other schools these days, I realize that my experience was NOT the norm!
Walking through the side door of Orchard Park High School every morning, my first stop was always the band room. It was a place to drop off my mallets and music, but it was also the hang. I remember Mark Filsinger having me stand still while he punched my arm as hard as he could, daily, for about a minute. This was hazing in the music department. I was a freshman and he was a senior. It seemed like all of my friends started our day there, and that was cool. It was a place to feel at home. I spent lunch periods in the band room sightreading saxophone solos on marimba. I spent study halls and free periods in the HALLWAY practicing xylophone, WHILE the chorus rehearsed inside the next room. I spent periods that I was supposed to be in math, english, economics, sociology, math again…pretty much every class got skipped a few times, but I wasnt doing bad things, I was practicing. Mr Himes, my math teacher, he HAD to know that I didnt have three lessons a week during his class. He just kinda half-smiled and let me go. I think he knew my time was better spent elsewhere. I know Don Carducci, my band teacher, knew that I had class. He looked the other way because he knew my time was well spent. I stayed late until everyone had gone. There were times when I was in charge of locking up. My relationship with the night janitor Nancy was far better than it should have been. I was working, and school afforded me a place to do my work. Sadly for my non-music teachers, I had one singular focus.
When I look back at OPHS and my experience, I am pretty amazed. I got away with a lot. Stuff that would be squelched in an INSTANT in todays schools. Had we been driven by the common core, teacher evaluations, high stakes testing and everything else, theres no way that Id have been allowed to hone my musical craft. This happened for a lot of us. And I dont think the result is all that surprising, but it is notable:
We became successful.
See, we were in a place where nobody told us no. Nobody said that we might want to look into college programs that would lead to “real” jobs (well, thats not entirely true. Mrs Lindner, my counselor, DID say this once, but I told her not to worry; I was “REALLY good at drums”). Nobody cared how we scored on science exams. They saw a passion and they not only allowed, but they helped. Nobody ever said this wasnt a viable option. Arts were celebrated and put on display. The marching band wasnt booed at football games. Every concert we did had an accompanying school assembly where we put on the show for the other students. Concerts, musicals and plays were well attended by students, parents and community members. AND we played serious stuff! No pop tunes…we played Carmina Burana, whole thing, band and chorus. We played the Faure Requiem and Poulenc Gloria with the orchestra and choir combined. Bernstein in band! Original music by the orchestra conductor! The choir is singing in many languages! We played hard music, and we played it well. People supported us and encouraged us to do those things, and to make them great. Ill never forget the stoner kid who would scream to anyone who’d listen that I was “the best drummer in the world”. When I sit at my teaching job lately, we end up talking a lot about kids needing a niche. Kids dropping out. Kids finding success. I dont think Id have dropped out if I hadnt had the musical experiences, but let me tell you, I HATED school. Like, I didnt like it at all. If it wasnt for my music classes, I would not have cared a bit. And I dont remember much. I do like to think that Im reasonably intelligent, and I have a Masters Degree, so I think my teachers would consider me to be a success. By not saying no, and by letting arts be not only viable, but vibrant, the adults of Orchard Park High School did us a real service. I now go to work every day and do something that I really love. And so do a lot of other people that were arts kids. A small informal facebook poll told me that the following kids all attended OPHS while I was there (1997-2001) and now work in serious arts-related fields. I think its impressive:
- Aaron Staebell–has released an album, composer/performer, teaches middle school music
- Justin Staebell–sings with Minnesota Opera and Minnesota Chorale
- Melissa Wegner–works for the Metropolitan Opera
- Samantha Klanac–dances for the Aspen/Santa Fe Ballet
- Dan Kushner–music critic for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
- Adam Zelasko–(my homeroom-4 years), lead in the National Tour of Jersey Boys
- Hallie Clarke–(my homeroom-4 years), voiceover work in NYC
- Don Neptun–independent composer and arranger near Seattle, WA
- Kate Gentile–professional drummer in New York City
- Kyle McGinty–professional trumpet player in New York City
- Jon Lorentz–songwriter, singer, sound engineer in Buffalo, NY
- Andrea Smith–clarinetist in a US Marine Band
- Mike Kaiser–stand up comedian in New York, NY
- Geoff and Matt Keiser–are definitely in some kind of band
- Tara Bystran Sasiadek–artist in Buffalo, NY
- Monika Vasey–harpist in Maryland
and then a slew of us who went on to specifically TEACH music to the next generation:
- Adam Bett
- Matt Miraglia
- Mark Filsinger
- Chris Revett (Jr)
- Meaghan (Garbay) Venitelli
- Cheri (Wopperer) Pritchard
- Nate Keagle
- Dan Charland
- Jeff Walling
- Jackie (Philbin) Ripley
- Jennifer (Silberstein) Haines
- John Blickwedehl
- John Reagan
- Kate Cregan
- Jessica Wheaton
- Marc Bridon
Im sure Im forgetting someone, and I really apologize for that (please, send me messages in the contact form so I can expand the list. Its only 1997-2001 now, but lets get a huge one going from OP!)
I think that the fact that there are people to be forgotten says a lot! I hope that this will at least encourage people to think about the fact that jobs in the arts are totally possible and should be supported and encouraged whenever possible!
If you read this far, good for you. You are a good person.