Graduate: Band Program Has Gone From Best to Subpar
She says this is because of the loss of Larry Markiewicz.
One Bridgewater-Raritan High School graduate, and former member of the band program, said Thursday that in the weeks since director Larry Markiewicz was suspended, the quality of the program has taken a nosedive.
"In three weeks, the program has gone from the best in the state to subpar and unmentionable," said Bridgewater resident Becky Orlando. "In a band, the loss of one individual takes a toll on everyone, and thus takes a toll on the entire experience."
On March 5, the board of education approved the suspension of Markiewicz with pay pending further review and consideration by the superintendent. On that evening, hundreds of students and parents attended the meeting to speak about Markiewicz and why he should be allowed back at the school.
Several repeated that plea at Thursday's meeting.
Orlando said she wanted to fill the board in on what has been happening to the band program over the last three weeks. At this time in 2012, she said, the school had the best band program in the state, and, in February 2013, the jazz band earned a superior rating and was named best overall band at a competition.
But on March 12, in a state preliminary competition she said, the same band ranked sixth in its division and 14th in the state, earning a silver rating.
"Last year at this time, the band was tied for first overall in the state," she said. "How can a band decrease in quality so quickly in just over a month?"
"One of the biggest contributing factors to how you do is the overall mood," she added. "Mr. Markiewicz valued his ability to get that mood, and his absence took a toll on the students that night."
In addition, Orlando said, in late May is the state gala where bands are recognized for their achievements. The Bridgewater wind ensemble has been performing every year since 2004—until this year.
"The wind ensemble did not make the cut this year, and they will not be performing at the state gala," she said. "It is not only a shame, but an embarrassment."
"The loss of Mr. Markiewicz has taken a toll on the program and, more importantly, on the students," she added.
BRHS choral director John Wilson said he was inspired by the students who showed up at the previous board meeting to show support for his colleague.
"I am really impressed with the amount and quality of speeches and positive comments made about my colleague," he said. "I spoke to people who had endlessly wonderful things to say."
Dartmouth Avenue resident Cindy Loata, who graduated in 2007, said music has always been her passion and part of that comes from having Markiewicz as a teacher. She said she has always been amazed by his dedication to his students.
"He was my most influential teacher, and taught me to hold high standards for myself," she said. "We need more educators like him who are willing to go above and beyond. The school is top because of amazing faculty members like him."
Loata said she never felt threatened or belittled when working with Markiewicz, but was always motivated, and was part of the school's first jazz band and the sole drum major of the marching band.
"The fondest part was witnessing the level of teamwork among members," she said. "It requires all to contribute to benefit as a whole. A teenager may or may not realize individual decisions may severely affect the whole group."
Many students could not attend the meeting to speak out for their teacher because of the performing arts festival at the high school Thursday, but Ivy Lane resident Phyllis DeMichele said she was asked by her children to speak on their behalf.
"The students have learned more about leadership than I ever thought possible," she said. "They are pulling together toward common goals, learning to represent, the town, county, region and state."
DeMichele said the arts festival is just more proof of the quality of the band program at the high school.
"Students can catch a glimpse of their future potential," she said, saying that she remembers the first time her children heard the wind ensemble and watched them perform a song they had only received that morning. "It was incredible. That was the first day my kids figured out they wanted to be part of the music program."
But on their recent trip to Carnegie Hall, DeMichele said, there was something missing.
"The bands were outstanding, but there did seem to be a sparkle missing," she said. "I believe this has had a serious impact on the students."
Noel Zucchero, a junior at the high school, said she is not in the band, but is in the choir program, and she took a class with Markiewicz last year. She said she is shocked by the current situation.
"I really wish I was in the band, and one of my biggest regrets was dropping flute from middle school to high school," she said. "They are an incredible group, and definitely one of the best things Bridgewater has."
"To take that away based on one negative thing is ridiculous," she added. "The music department is lost without Mr. Markiewicz."
The district administration declined to comment on the status of the suspension, or the reason for it, saying they cannot discuss peresonnel matters.