School district's thriving choral program preparing to sing at live concerts

There must be a reason why the choral program for the Bridgewater-Raritan Regional School District has been such a huge attraction to our students.

Well, if you listen to the voices of our school’s choral directors, there are various answers to that question.

“Singing music is a wonderful and joyful activity,’’ Lauren Smith, the Eisenhower Intermediate School Choral Program Co-Director, said. “It is hard to be mad because when you sing you have such a positive attitude. You are having fun and it is so joyful.”

Tony Sgro, the Hillside Intermediate School Choral Program Director, felt that being a member of a choir can result in a positive attitude.

“There is a lot of energy to sing and learn music,” Mr. Sgro said. “I see clearly that singing can help kids in their everyday lives.”

Gabriele Hingelberg, who is the Bridgewater-Raritan Middle School Choral Program Director, shared her thoughts about what she said that it is “unique to be in a choir.”

“The choir forms a community among the students. The choir is bigger than just being students,” Ms. Hingelberg revealed. “Singing is different from being on a sports team or in a club. Our students are creating music together. At this age, they are finding their voice and they are singing together and that empowers them.”

Dr. John Wilson, who is the Vocal Music Director for Bridgewater-Raritan High School, can see how the results can be so uplifting to his students.

“I love the moments in rehearsals when students are aware of the progress that they are making. You can feel the energy of the room change,” he said.

To further explore the extreme popularity of the school district’s choral program, the convenience of participating is a strong recruiting tool.

Chorus is part of the school district’s curricular programs under the Fine and Performing Arts Department in Bridgewater-Raritan, according to Dr. Laura Bassett, the Supervisor for Fine and Performing Arts.

According to Dr. Bassett, all students have their exposure to chorus in fourth grade, when students participate in a full-grade level chorus program. Fourth grade students across the school district have begun receiving chorus instruction, which culminates with concerts that are held throughout the spring at the seven Bridgewater-Raritan primary schools.

“The music teachers at each primary school building lay the foundation for all of our successful school district music programs, as students develop their musical skills through weekly general music classes beginning in preschool and kindergarten,” Dr. Bassett explained. “When chorus begins in fourth grade, our primary music teachers make sure all students have an exciting and positive experience with singing as part of a chorus. Performances for classmates, teachers, family and friends help add to the excitement of participating in chorus in fourth grade and beyond.”

Dr. Bassett further described the process.

“As students move to the intermediate, middle and high schools, the sheer energy, talent and dedication of our choral teachers ensure that chorus is an integral part of our curricular programs. Chorus provides such an unique opportunity for our students to develop as  musicians while they are building collaborative relationships with their peers and developing their own sense of self as a communicator and artist.:”

“At the intermediate level, chorus is built into their schedules and that helps remove the barriers,’ said Lisa Rotondi, who is the Eisenhower Intermediate Choral Program Co-Director. “The chorus is conducive to their schedules and they do not have to miss other extra-curricular activities.”

“We practice during the school day at the middle school but we do have a select choir that sings after school,” Ms. Hingelberg reported. “And anyone can enroll and join.”

Dr. Wilson explained the set up for his high school students.

“Choir, like band and orchestra, occupy a special place on a students’ schedule. These classes often entail trips and performances that happen outside of the school day,” Dr. Wilson said. “They are simultaneously a class and a club. If by club, then we mean a group that meets outside of the school day.”

The numbers are mind boggling, to say the least.

The total amount of students who participate in the choir for the four schools combined---BR High School, BR Middle School, Eisenhower Intermediate and Hillside Intermediate—is an astounding figure of 1,178.

Another attraction is that these skilled and gifted voices can now be heard loud and clear—in front of their family, friends and schoolmates.

“There were times over the past two years we were not able to have performances of any kind. And when we were learning more about Covid, we were not even able to be together in rehearsals,” said Dr. Wilson. “Here now in the fall of 2022, it feels like we’ve started a new chapter as restrictions have eased. The return to relative normalcy was most welcome among our choir parents and students.  I think the combination of eased restrictions and our relatively normal start to the school year has made it easier for everyone who has an interest to be a part of choir, be that as a student or an audience member.”

The audiences will begin filing into the schools.

The high school will be the host to its Choir Parents’ Concert shows on Tuesday, November 8 and Wednesday November 9.

Winter concerts are also on tap at the Middle School, Hillside and Eisenhower.

Hillside will hold its performances for the 5th Grade chorus on Tuesday, December 6 and for the 6th Grade chorus on Wednesday, December 8. The chorus will also sing the National Anthem before the Faculty Basketball Game on Wednesday, November 16.

Eisenhower’s 5th Grade choir will perform on Monday, December 12 and the school’s 6th Grader will sing on Tuesday, December 13.

The Middle School Choir Concert is scheduled for Tuesday, December 20. But Middle School students will also be treated to the chorus strolling through the hallways and caroling during the holiday season.

“Everyone can succeed in chorus,” said Ms. Rotondi, who, along with Ms. Smith, receive assistance in their chorus room from Maddy Kaminsky, a student teacher from The College of New Jersey.

Ms. Rotondi concluded.

“We all sing before we talk.”