Amar Abbatiello: ‘Singing and dancing is always good for any kid…’

Amar Abbatiello is the Cat in the Hat and Laura Purington is Gertrude McFuzz in Mohawk Trail Regional High School’s “Seussical the Musical.”

MOHAWK—Junior Amar Abbatiello is one hard-working cat. Coming off his amazing performance as the Scarecrow in Mohawk’s 2014 “Wizard of Oz,” he was a natural under the hat in this month’s “Seussical,” which sold out its three consecutive-days’ performances.
He also maintains very good grades, competes in track and field, and works at South Face Farm Sugarhouse in Ashfield.

Performing wasn’t always on his mind. He wasn’t an artsy kid, he said. When he was in elementary school, at Sanderson Academy, he was a tinkerer.

“I liked building things with wood. I did that at home; I didn’t do much in school,” he said.

Even music seems to have been thrust upon him: “In seventh grade band I took saxophone because my brother had, and my mom was like, “I’m not wasting money on this saxophone; you’re going to learn saxophone.’ ” So he did.

Next came chorus. “I got into eighth grade and they were like, ‘You can take chorus or you can take gym.’ I was like, ‘Sign me up, I’ll sing my heart out!’ And now I’m the Cat in the Hat.”

Asked a couple of hours before his March 7 performance what it’s like working with so many kids from all over the school district, Amar immediately said he enjoys it.

“It’s a very good learning experience for both groups. All the elementary school kids get to see how all us slightly more mature kids kind of act about theatre. They can kind of get an experience of theatre and see that singing and dancing — that’s always good for any kid, whether he wants to go into dancing or not.”

He added: “I think it’s just a healthy experience for kids of wider age groups to communicate with each other, because it creates more understanding between both of them and leaves less of a gap between social groups. So you can communicate as a whole better later on.”

RELATED: All-School ‘Seussical’ a District Who’s Who.

All-school ‘Seussical’ a District Who’s Who

Adam Hallenbeck as a beleaguered, true-blue Horton the Elephant. He’s got his hands full with bird girls, the Jungle of Nool citizens, cadets, and Circus McGurkus, and of course the spirited Wickersham Brothers.
Adam Hallenbeck as a beleaguered, true-blue Horton the Elephant. He’s got his hands full with bird girls, the Jungle of Nool citizens, cadets, and Circus McGurkus, and of course the spirited Wickersham Brothers.

MOHAWK—Amar Abbatiello is the Cat in the Hat and Laura Purington is Gertrude McFuzz in Mohawk Trail Regional High School’s “Seussical the Musical,” the dazzling show by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty based on several of the books of Theodor Seuss Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss.

More than 85 students from grades 5 through 12 joined in the fun on stage March 6-8, and members of the Mohawk Concert Band performed alongside professional musicians.

Even the set was an all-school production, with digital, Seuss-like dreamscapes projected behind the players. Costuming, lighting, sound, choreography, and makeup and hair shone as stars in their own right.

Concessions were staffed by the Mohawk Music Association and parents. David Fried’s photographs of dress rehearsals are for sale as an MMA fundraiser.

Each performance sold out. This was a a smash hit.

Director was Shelley Roberts. Assistant director was Eva Otten. Music director was Scott Halligan.

And the elementary school liaison, who shuttled hither and yon and made Whoville happen with grace and cheer? That was Gina Glover.

Gina Glover Seussical
Elementary School Liaison Gina Glover corrals dozens of kids from across the district March 6 during the all-school production of ‘Seussical.’

“It gets them excited.
‘This is what I can do…’ ”

WE CAUGHT UP with middle school music teacher Gina Glover on opening night of “Seussical,” just after her charges — the Whos of Whoville (upper grades from the district’s elementary schools) had finished their first number to tremendous applause and swirled into the school cafeteria.

Glover — elementary school liaison for the Mohawk Music Association — managed the sea of energetic performers with a cheerful, crackling efficiency.

The next day we asked Glover to tell us what she and the kids are tackling next and what’s valuable to the community in seeing greater collaboration in the arts among the elementary schools and Mohawk…

GLOVER: We try to make a lot of connections with all of our schools in the district. April 30 we have our annual Kids in Concert event. This is a culmination of the year’s work — all our kids’ work. I collaborate with Joan Fitzgerald, who is another elementary music teacher, and Sandy Carter. We each teach general music, chorus, and elementary band in our own schools. We combine chorus students and band students in grades 4-6, and have two rehearsals and a concert. We pull it all together with 125-plus band students on stage and 80 to 100 chorus students.

We also have our Heath string program, led by David Haskell. They perform as well. In the elementary school world, that concert is the next big thing coming up. It’s huge.

FLOW: What’s the benefit to these younger kids in working on these larger, all-school productions?

GLOVER: It’s a huge benefit. They get an immediate connection to the school. The majority of them will be coming to this school. The connection that these guys have with me being the middle school music teacher, they know me coming in. I’m a known quantity. It’s welcoming. It helps with the transition.

And it helps with retention, definitely. I have about 40 kids in my chorus between seventh and eighth grade, and about 30 in the band. There were some years in my band I only had, like, 15 kids, and even 20-25 kids in the chorus. This works.

And it gets them excited. They say, “This is what I can do when I get to Mohawk…” In [2014’s] “The Wizard of Oz” they were in two scenes. They get to see, “Well, there are seventh-graders on stage, so when I’m in seventh grade I can have maybe a larger role, and then when I get to high school I can have this really big role.” They can see this natural progression.

FLOW: And the benefit to the older students?

GLOVER: I think the older kids take the younger kids under their wing. I think they like to be an inspiration for them as well.

FLOW: Is this a formal plan? Are we going to have a K-12 music department?

GLOVER: That’s our goal: to have it streamlined K-12, and I think we have a fabulous group of teachers who really want to work together to see this come to fruition. And Mr. [Scott] Halligan at the high school is doing his thing — we’re banding together and seeing what we can do to help each other out and make the department even stronger than it’s become.

Another outreach we do, Scott Halligan and I, at the end of the year we team up and take both of our ensembles and tour the elementary schools and have performances. It’s a great way for the kids to see what we do and to see what their next step is as musicians.

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RELATED: Amar Abbatiello: ‘Singing and dancing is always good for any kid’

His business is coming up sunny-side

Joy logoFIFTH-GRADER Griffin Kearney has 19 chickens and a rooster. They’re Rhode Island Reds and Ameraucanas. He says the chickens lay blueish-greenish eggs in addition to white eggs, and they’re all delicious.

And he’s selling them from his home in Shelburne Falls, $3 per dozen.

Griffin and the first egg produced for his business.
Griffin and the first egg produced for his business.

“I wanted to try this as a business. It’s really cool to have fresh eggs every morning. I just thought I’d try it out and see where it goes,” he said.

Griffin said his business started this past summer when he checked out his neighbor’s chickens and he thought it would be something he could get into. He sells all the eggs he raises that his family doesn’t eat.

“It’s going pretty good. Business has been a little slow, but I have hopes it’ll pick up soon,” he said.

He also said he likes to crush the bad eggs.

The chickens are hard at work. Griffin said he hatched seven chicks from an incubator, and they were the mixed kind. So they will be egg layers. Griffin is getting more chickens in the spring.

He’s not stopping here, either. Griffin said he might be getting bees in the spring as well, so he can sell honey.

Stay Open to What Fourth Grade and Life May Bring

Bennett-mugWHEN I STARTED fourth grade this year I wasn’t expecting it to be this fun. I was nervous to see my friends after the break, but I was also relaxed.

My teacher, Ms. Hyer, is AWESOME, and we learn a lot of new things like long division and advanced multiplication and fractions. Recently we did this activity called Scrambled Multiplication Tables. It was a box and only some of the boxes were filled in with numbers, but not all of them, and you had to figure out which numbers go where in the multiplication table.

We have Read-Aloud every day. We’re reading “Wonder” by R. J. Palacio, which we reviewed recently. I love it. It’s about a kid who has a somewhat deformed face, and there is one kid, named Julian, who makes fun of him. It’s a very interesting book.

Also in fourth grade, I joined this AMAZING newspaper staff. For this issue and the previous one, I am the editor in chief. I help lead meetings and I’ve settled a couple of disputes. It’s fun. I love working on stories, writing funny things, and seeing our people being productive.

In the February  issue, when we reported about the school budget, I wrote an editorial saying I thought our school computers should have “Minecraft” on them, and after the paper came out we looked again and found out someone put “Minecraft” on the computers. Maybe they did it because of the editorial.

I think people who aren’t in fourth grade yet should look forward to it. I am already looking forward to fifth grade.