Maria Ramsay and Catherine Butler are passionate-and extremely sharp– orchestra teachers who knew the time was right for their students to prepare for what lies ahead.
Their dedication to instruct and assist in the growth of their young musicians at the Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School took center stage on Wednesday, March 8.
The Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School Orchestra Festival Invitational was performed that morning when Ms. Ramsay’s 8th Grade Orchestra and Chamber Orchestra students and Ms. Butler’s 7th Grade Orchestra musicians were joined on stage by the orchestra from the Passaic Gifted and Talented Academy.
Also on hand were a retired orchestra director and an official from a sponsor of the event, the New Jersey Music Educators Association (NJMEA).
The students excelled in their performance, which both Ms. Ramsay and Ms. Butler had devised in preparation for their roles in one of the premier functions of the school year in the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District—The Festival of the Arts.
The Festival of the Arts is the high-profile event that attracts students from various schools in Bridgewater-Raritan to assemble and perform at the high school.
The event, which is sponsored by the school district’s Fine and Performing Arts Department, is held in late March and in May.
The Chorus Concert is scheduled for March 23, when the extremely popular choral programs from Grades 4 through 12 will gather in the high school’s main gym.
On March 29, the high school gym will be the setting for the Orchestra Concert and the Band Concert will be held in the same venue on March 30. Both of those concerts will showcase students in Grades 6-12. All shows begin at 7 p.m. The Art Exhibit in the Festival will be held on May 17 at the high school.
Since the Orchestra Concert is looming just weeks away, the Middle School teachers realized it was time to make the proper preparations.
“Our festival here (Middle School) was another opportunity for our students to to perform but to receive some great feedback and get ready for the Festival of the Arts,” Ms. Butler revealed while her 7th Grade musicians were just tuning up for their production.
Due to the Pandemic, the Middle School Festival was out on hold, but Ms. Ramsay and Ms. Butler restarted the engines and put their event in high gear.
So Ms. Ramsay connected with the NJMEA and an old friend of the school district responded.
“I reached out to Susan (Meuse) because the NJMEA is always looking to help hold an event like ours,” Ms. Ramsay reported.
Ms. Meuse had served as teacher for the Eisenhower Intermediate School in the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District from 2000-2010.
Today she is the both Orchestra Performance Chair and the Festival Chair for the NJMEA, which is headquartered in Oakhurst.
According to its website, the mission of the New Jersey Music Educators Association is the advancement of music instruction in New Jersey’s educational institutions at all levels that provide in-service and enrichment opportunities for practicing and retired teachers and prospective music educators, as well as sponsoring various festivals and all-state performing groups for K-12 students.
“We (NJMEA) love to help organize an event like the Middle School Festival,’ Ms. Meuse said.
She went on to explain the importance of this event.
“This gives the students the chance to get some feedback from someone other than their teachers,” Ms. Meuse said. “The teachers do all the work and have them ready but it is good for them to listen to others as well.”
Those others are both Ms. Meuse and Michael Berry, who worked for 32 years in the East Brunswick Public Schools system as an orchestra director.
Mr. Berry, who is a consultant for the NJMEA, observed the Middle School musicians and then walked on stage and instructed and shared his expertise.
“I try to pinpoint on what their teachers work on and focus on that,” Mr. Berry explained.
And how did he feel the Middle School students performed?
“I think that they did a great job,” Mr. Berry said.
Ironically, he worked with the incoming school district’s Supervisor of Fine and Performing Arts, Matthew McCarthy, who had taught music for the past 16 years in East Brunswick. He is expected to begin in Bridgewater-Raritan in the coming week when he will replace Dr. Laura Bassett, who was appointed as the principal at Eisenhower on February 1.
Dr. Bassett has remained as the Supervisor Emeritus for the Fine and Performing Arts Department.
The NJMEA was behind the invitation to the third band that performed on March 8 at the Middle School, the Passaic Gifted and Talented Academy, a middle school that is located in the City of Passaic.
“Our kids love this and it is great to see another school. It is great for our students to perform and to prepare for the Festival,” Ms. Ramsay concluded.