There was definitely something unifying about the group of musicians rehearsing at Batavia High School (BHS) Wednesday evening.
It could have been their visible roles with instruments in hand, or the fact that many are BHS alumni. It could have also been the clearly recognizable red, white and blue Buffalo Bills face masks and shirts many of them wore. The garb was part of the concert preparation.
“I’m a big Buffalo Bills fan,” school Superintendent and trombone player Jason Smith said in the hallway next to a boisterous rehearsal. “We will be wearing Bills attire, and we’re doing (the Bills make me want to) Shout song before the Bills play that night. It will be fun to have that Bills vibe.”
The signature song for the hometown Buffalo team is one of several upbeat, jazzy tunes featured for the BHS Alumni Jazz Ensemble this weekend. Billed as a fundraiser for the school’s upcoming Scholastic Winter Guard competitions in Pennsylvania, the concert is set for 2 p.m., Sunday in the high school gymnasium, 260 State St., Batavia.
Smith, a 1990 BHS grad, has been playing trombone since the fourth grade. He initially wanted to play percussion, but since that was already taken, then-music teacher John Ranalli suggested that Smith try the trombone. He hasn’t put it down since.
A 30-year member of Batavia Concert Band and its current general manager, Smith has enjoyed playing in local bands and the alumni ensemble, he said. He has several reasons for why he has been so bonded to music throughout his life, and for why people may want to join the fun this weekend.
“It’s a social outing, it works a different part of your brain, and there are opportunities to reconnect, and in my case, with high school friends,” he said. “Come out and support our winter guard … You can hear some great musicians, some great soloists, and Paul Spiotta, who has a very beautiful voice. There’s an opportunity to hear a wide range of music. Of course, we all love St. Joe’s Drum and Bugle Corps, and you have the wonderful staff and alumni band here too.”
His favorite piece from the concert line-up is "Sing, Sing, Sing," because of its — what else? — good trombone part, he said. This song flares out with fast-moving, snappy brass and recedes in time for a brief drum solo, and back again to the toe-tapping instrumental melody. It’s hard not to imagine a couple on the dance floor performing some lively swing moves.
Music has been a large part of Batavia resident Ross Chua’s life. The 23-year-old plays several instruments and will be featured on trumpet and vocals during this upcoming concert. He teaches beginning guitar, trumpet and song-writing, and helps with engineering, maintaining equipment and playing trumpet at Old Bear Studio on Harvester Avenue. That makes for “kind of a holistic experience,” he said.
His former music teacher, Jane Haggett, who will conduct the concert, asked that he join this musical effort. Chua couldn’t refuse.
“I like to be involved in the Batavia music scene. Jane puts in a lot of effort to develop and maintain that culture,” he said. “And she was my band teacher.”
The 2016 BHS grad performs with a few ensembles and plays upright bass for the Genesee Symphony Orchestra. He is a graduate of Syracuse University with a master’s degree in audio arts, which is more of the technical side of the field versus playing for a live concert, he said. The concert menu has a sampling of new and older pieces with the punch of brass.
“It’s a good mix of stuff; it’s really tied into the stuff I played in high school,” Chua said. “It feels very Batavia brand. It’s pretty upbeat and peppy.”
Alongside the city school district superintendent will be high school principal Paul Kesler on trumpet, and music teachers Sean Williams, Collin Murtaugh and Stuart McLean.
Alumni also include Brandon Luce, Jackie McLean, Matt Holota, Harold McJury, Frank Panepento, Joshua Pacino, Quentin Branciforte, Mark Hoerbelt, Mary Murphy, Jason Mapes and Bob Pastecki.
Joshua Pacino, 39, is a music teacher at Notre Dame High School and, out of the various instruments he plays, he favors the trombone for its endurance in his life. “That’s the one I’ve played since fifth grade,” he said.
He especially likes the ensemble’s rendition of "Land of Make Believe" by Chuck Mangione. The samba features “great flugelhorn parts,” he said. He opted to join the alumni group as a faithful Blue Devil.
“When I’m free and I can help out, I do,” he said.
The BHS Scholastic Winter Guard is hosting this event to raise funds for its plans to compete in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia Winter Guard Regionals and the WGI National Championships, respectively. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students and may be purchased at the door. Money raised from this event will defray the cost of winter guard trips in March and April. This will be the Scholastic Winter Guard’s first appearance at the WGI National Championships.
Top photo: Jason Smith rehearses with the Alumni Jazz Ensemble Wednesday evening at Batavia High School. Jane Haggett leads the group through jazz numbers during the rehearsal; BHS Principal Paul Kesler belts out some notes on trumpet; BHS Alumni Ross Chua, left, in back. Photos by Howard Owens.