Across the country, music education programs are being cut from public schools. And across the country, schools are fighting to keep band and chorus alive.
Cranston High School East is a frontrunner in that fight.
With more than 250 schools participating, Cranston East placed third in the voting portion of the Glee Give a Note competition, garnering 30,463 votes. Sponsored by the National Association for Music Education, television network FOX, and Ryan Murphy (creator of their popular show “Glee”), the Give a Note Competition asked schools to submit two-minute videos showcasing their music departments and explaining why they deserve some of the $1 million being distributed to winning schools.
Cranston East was the only school in Rhode Island to enter the competition.
District Music Director Mark Colozzi first heard about the contest through an e-mail message, and was interested in doing a video for East. He had just contacted a friend to look into shooting a video, when 2011 East graduate Josyln Yeager, contacted him.
Yeager was involved in band since the third grade and was part of the East band and winter percussion for all four years, playing mallet percussion. She is currently a studio television production major at Emerson College in Boston, and is part of the staff for the East band.
Enlisting the assistance of fellow Emerson student, Andre Edmonds, a sophomore film major, they spent one Saturday following the band around.
Yeager served as video producer, while Edmonds directed and edited.
The video starts with the East band stretching before practice, loading the truck, going to the field, and practicing. Later, they follow them to a competition and film them on the buses, getting ready, and then entering the field.
“Band was the most important thing to me in high school. It's that way for most of musicians at East and we tried to show that in the video,” Yeager said.
Edmonds, who is not familiar with the strict routine of the band schedule, was eager to start the video.
“For me, the experience of creating this video was very intense but extremely amazing. What I wanted to do was really capture the band in their most natural element so the story of their challenges can be told from a genuine point of view. Nothing in the video was staged, everything seen I had to catch in real time. I began filming at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning and finished a little after 9 p.m. that night,” he said. “I was able to really walk a day in their lives and see the different struggles they faced with lack of resources, from uniform issues to transportation and so on. But one thing I can say is that every single kid there was extremely happy to be apart of that band and they really worked their butts off in practice.”
Edmonds enjoyed speaking and interacting with the parents as well.
“Speaking with the adults really put the emphasis on the issues Cranston High School East faces. The adults really poured their hearts out on that camera about concerns of possibly loosing the music program,” he said. “They all talked about how the music education programs were cut in the lower grade levels and how it deeply saddened them. I tried to ask the parents simple, open-ended questions to really give them a chance to talk. Everyone’s answers were his or her own, nobody was prompted to say anything scripted and it was beautiful.”
Edmonds commented on how supportive everyone was. No one turned down an interview, they were all on board and showed gratitude for what he was trying to accomplish.
“A lot of the band members expressed how they were best friends and grew up playing music together. It was special for me to see the level of dedication and team work those students put into their art,” he said.
The toughest part of the project for Edmonds was the editing. He had so much footage, but was only allowed to submit two minutes worth.
“I knew going into it that I wasn't going to be able to use everyone's interviews, so I decided to select the best band footage first and then find bits and pieces of the interviews that best told the story of what was being shown,” he said.
Choosing the music was also kind of tricky. Originally he wanted to use band music but the songs he had didn't fit the tone of the video. So after a few attempts and no success, he changed the direction of the music and went with the "Bittersweet Symphony.”
The interviews featured in the video are juniors Tyler Notarianni and Julie Kuhn, senior Melanie Rainone and freshman, Ivy Swinski. The “band parents” as they are known, are Annette Bourne, Joanne Medbery and Deb Squizzero.
Parents, friends, families and supporters of Cranston East voted daily through the Glee Give a Note website. Word of the contest spread quickly through Facebook postings, e-mails and district wide website postings.
“I was a member of the East Band and Stage Band back in the 70's, and I can tell you that it made a huge difference in my life, and kept me out of trouble a bit, I would say. I have voted every day, as part of my routine when I get to my office each morning,” said Glen Hills Principal Jay DeCristofaro.
Colizzi was thrilled for the chance to be part of this competition.
“This contest has been a great opportunity for us as it has been for schools across the U.S. It's not only exciting but has really done a lot to bring people together in support of our program,” he said. “There are folks out in California voting for East Music. We are optimistic that a piece of the $1 million will be coming our way.”
He extended his praise and gratitude to Yeager and Edmonds for their hard and expeditious work on the video.
“Yeager and her crew did a remarkable job with presenting a very real statement from our music family here at East. The love for the art form transcends beyond the music,” Colozzi said. “It digs deep into the soul of every individual, bringing out the best in human nature.
With the voting portion of the competition completed, Cranston East will know officially where they stand on Dec. 1. Check back with the Cranston Herald for updates.