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.”
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.
“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.
Watching the filming of an accident scene for “The Judge” on Mechanic Street in Shelburne Falls was exciting, but a real accident there involving any of our children would devastate our community. The town of Shelburne would be on trial if such an accident happened.
Mechanic Street along the Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School property is a problem area posing danger to students, and the time to act is now:
There is no extra parking for families who live close to school. There is no safe winter street parking. There are no prominent road markings for school foot traffic.
Students living within a mile-and-a-half of school have no bussing provided by the Mohawk Trail Regional School District. Lack of bussing requires caregivers drive students to school. Were additional parking provided, the teacher and visitors’ parking lot would not become a parent parking lot.
As likely most of us have seen firsthand, and been part of, nearly all of the cars in this lot require the driver back out before exiting. This puts walking children in danger in the parking lot. This danger is aggravated when snow flies.
When snow piles up along Mechanic Street it is not being cleared from the curb. This problem forces drivers to park into the street or else find parking in the teachers’ parking lot.
How many of us have circled multiple times on these winter days in effort to find parking? The district forces children leaving the building and vehicles to walk into icy roads and parking lots — and out in front of cars, trucks, and busses.
Children attempting to reach parents or caregivers waiting in warm cars try to stop before reaching traffic but before sliding under cars. Parents must choose between children sliding under vehicles or walking out into the road.
Worse still, that’s a road not clearly marked as a school zone. The paint markings on the road meant to inform drivers of the school zone are faint at best. Yes, there is a crosswalk just south of the entrance to the school, but it’s barely noticeable, either by clearly defined paint or by a brightly lit sign.
The crosswalk at the post office intersection is newly painted. Why, then, is the crosswalk serving the school left with old, worn paint? The school signs at Mohawk are new and bright yellow. Why are BSE’s school signs aged and dull?
As a concerned parent, I urge the district and town to come together on this before winter. And before it’s too late.
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