The school year was drawing to a close last May, and Weehawken High School marching band Steve Spinosa, who is also the school’s music director, was making plans for the upcoming year.
“We were trying to decide on what kind of show we could do for the fall,” Spinosa said. “I gave them some music to play and they weren’t happy with it.”
“It wasn’t that bad, but it just didn’t appeal to us,” said senior saxophone player Katherine Dantis. “We all thought we could do something better. We wanted to do something that was fun and energetic, just like us. What Mr. Spinosa gave us wasn’t that special.”
Senior xylophone player Ashka Gami agreed.
“We wanted to create our own show,” Gami said. “I think when we first heard what Mr. Spinosa was giving us, we laughed at it.”
So Spinosa told the members of the marching band that if they didn’t like the music he selected, then they had to find something on their own.
“I told them to find the music and bring it back to me,” Spinosa said. “Cynthia Martinez came back and she had a group of pieces from Cirque de Soleil.”
The pieces were from the show, “La Nouba,” and needless to say, the music presented major challenges for a high school marching band.
“The first time I heard it, I thought it was really hard,” Spinosa said. “I was a little apprehensive. But the kids had a meeting and they loved it. They thought they could do it. They promised me that they would work hard. So I gave in and said, ‘Let’s see how it goes.’ I gave them the music and told them to work on it during the summer.”
Tough but fun
So the members of the marching band went to work learning the difficult music.
“It was tough, but it was fun at the same time,” Gami said. “We had to work really hard. At first, it was a daunting task, but as time went by, we got better and better.”
English teacher Michele Giorgio, who is also the color guard instructor, loved the music that the kids selected.
“Because of the music, she saw the color guard in a different light and did different things than we ever did before,” Spinosa said. “She envisioned three different colors of uniforms with the color guard, with bright neon colors. They developed a lot of moving and dancing in the movement.”
Spinosa’s wife, Mary Ellen, the art teacher at Roosevelt School, helped to design the elaborate sets.
“They were beautiful sets complete with changing cloths, so the color guard could change uniforms,” Spinosa said. “We never had uniform changes in the middle of shows before.”
“We had to change after the first song and we didn’t have much time,” said color guard member Amanda Ward. “Luckily, we had people back there who helped us change.”
Add in the percussion work done by artist-in-residence Tom Mulvaney and the Weehawken band was set.
“I could see early on how involved the kids were,” Spinosa said. “They had a good feel right away how to play the music. I was actually surprised how everyone so on top of their game.”
So by the time the Weehawken band went to band camp in August, the kids were ready.
“This music was kind of obscure and not the kind you hear on the radio,” Spinosa said. “So they really worked hard to learn it. The work ethic went to another level. The senior class was the best group ever. They came on time, left late, really ran the show. It was very evident that they did their work and came prepared. They understood what was at stake. By the time of our first performance [Sept. 30], these kids were more than ready.”
The first competition was held Sept. 30 at Pequannock High School and Weehawken faced Lenape Valley High School. The locals emerged victorious and swept the individual categories for music, presentation, percussion, color guard and performance.
A week later, they went to Midland Park and faced three bands – Lakewood, Hasbrouck Heights and Waldwick. Again, there was more success, defeating all three schools.
On Oct. 7, the Weehawken marching band went to Giants Stadium to participate in the Yamaha Cup challenge, facing Deer Park High School from Long Island. Again, Weehawken emerged victorious.
“It was the first time we won anything at Giants Stadium,” Spinosa said.
They next performed at the Music Under The Stars Invitational at Hasbrouck Heights High School and faced Waldwick again – with similar results. Another win, another sweep of the individual awards.
Finally, the team participated in the Bloomfield Invitational, where Weehawken took on a perennially strong band from Bayonne High School – and gained yet another victory. Five competitions, five victories. It’s certain to say it was a grand year for the Weehawken band.
“We beat all the bands who beat us last year,” Spinosa said. “It’s very rewarding, especially with the music being so challenging. The concept was challenging. They understood the depth of the work and rehearsed three nights a week at Arricale Field. The town was very helpful, bringing lights there for them. It was such a great year, just mind boggling. It’s the best year we’ve had since I’ve been here and that’s 15 years. It was a perfect season, to be honest. I can’t say enough about the kids, especially the seniors.”
The members of the band were so elated by the undefeated season.
“This has been my favorite year,” Ward said. “It was a challenge to perform this music. I think we’re all really proud.”
Gina Chedid, who is the senior captain of the color guard, had a very busy fall season. She was also a member of the Weehawken volleyball team that qualified for the NJSIAA state playoffs for the first time in 15 years. It took a lot to juggle the two responsibilities.
“It was very intense,” Chedid said. “You just have to find the time to figure out your priorities. Volleyball, band practice, school work, it’s tough to get it all done. But this has been very exciting and it’s a great way to end my high school career. I’ll never forget this. It’s upsetting that it’s all coming to an end.”
“I’m very proud of what we did,” Dantis said. “It’s really incredible to see where we started and then where we finished.”