They say “time flies,” and I guess it must be true. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was enjoying my own high school years at the old P.H.S. building (now the Junior High School) on Ringgold Street. In those days I was known as “the actor” and spent a lot of time on the high school stage. How could I know then that my track teammate, George Pataki would go on to be New York’s governor, or that my friend Susan Polis (co-editor of our 1962 yearbook) would become one of the most noted authors and businesswomen in America? In the fall of ’62, as I left Peekskill with pal, Jeff Lancaster, to attend the University of Texas in Austin, I was just as unaware that my new association with the Lone Star State would continue into a new millennium.
All of these thoughts ran through my mind as I accepted the recent invitation of a member of the Peekskill High School Hall of Honor, my sister, Sally Bentley. Sally thought I might enjoy a visit to the campus of the “new” Peekskill High School for the annual Spring Concert. Sally was right! I was about to experience one of those sweet moments in life that renew one’s faith in humanity.
The program included performances by the Mixed Chorus (lovingly and ably directed by Phoebe Hamilton) and the Jazz Ensemble and Concert Bands, both under the skilled direction of veteran teacher, Thomas Piliouras. The Jazz Ensemble opened with “Blue Monk” by Thelonius Monk. India Diaz (tenor sax) and Matt Darling (trumpet) provided pleasant solo moments; but best of all were the smooth, jazzy sounds of the full ensemble. Next came the Latin rhythms of “Blue Bossa” featuring a well-received solo by Greg Fils-Aime’ (tenor sax). There were wonderful brass sounds in “All Blues,” led with smooth, clear tones by Peter August on trumpet. Louis Prima’s classic Big Band composition, “Sing, Sing, Sing” featured fine, pulsing drum work from talented Jeremy Boniello.
The Concert Band opened with the rousing Gershwin standard, “Strike Up The Band.” Their wistful “Shenandoah” featured John Testa on baritone horn, and seemed just the right offering for a river valley community like Peekskill. With solo moments from Paul Romano, Roderick Burns, and both Jeremy and Jason Boniello, the group tackled Robert W. Smith’s “To The Summit.” It was a sophisticated and complex work, full of musical variety and ever-escalating excitement. It seemed a perfect piece for the kind of pleasant summer Sunday nights my family has enjoyed for years at the U.S. Military Academy’s Trophy Point band concerts under the stars.
With barely a moment’s rest, the band moved on to a crisp performance of Bach’s “Little Fugue,” and Carl Strommen’s “To A Distant Place.” A medley of tunes from “Phantom of the Opera” followed. With distinguished gray hair and beard, and dressed in an elegant tuxedo, Piliouras spoke with great affection for his graduating students: “This group sounds so well because of our senior leadership!” That affection was certainly mutual as the seniors presented him with several gifts of appreciation. Finally, with Edward Williams on congas, there came the jazzy conclusion of a “Caravan” I am sure would have greatly pleased composer, Duke Ellington.
The Mixed Chorus delights began with an upbeat “The World’s Greatest,” featuring the solo talents of Florentina Garcia. It was a real hand-clapper with great counterpoints. The joyful smiles of the performers were another reminder of the joys of high school. And speaking of counterpoints, the complexities and echoes of the sweetly melodic Sephardic folk song “Durme, Durme” were beautifully performed. Nancy Inga was warmly received when she surprised the audience with a performance (in Spanish) of “My Heart Will Go On.” And for gospel lovers there was “The Gospel Ship” which was beautifully interwoven with “Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore.” If there had been an altar call after that number, I suspect many would have come forward!
G. F. Handel’s “Art Thou Troubled” had an elegant sweetness and was proudly sung. The unusual “Bohemian Rhapsody,” by Freddy Mercury, had solos by Hector Garavito (electric guitar) and drummer Boniello. Then, almost as though they knew I was coming, the chorus concluded with songs from this old-timer’s era. First, with lovely Amanda O’Donnell substituting for an absent soloist, there was a delightful “When I Fall In Love.” Finally there was a “Forever Doo-Wop” smorgasbord featuring a terrific medley that included “Teenager In Love,” “Sh-Boom,” “Book of Love,” “In the Still of the Night,” “Save the Last Dance for Me,” and a “Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight” that had the audience howling with laughter as Peter August performed the amusing bass vocal refrain.
Director, Hamilton, was quite right when she addressed the audience saying, “These young people have shown us how to take pride in ourselves!” I felt as though any of these students would have fit in nicely in the class of ’62; and it was a special satisfaction for this retired music teacher to see the songs of my era flourishing at the Peekskill High School of 2002! Maybe you can “go home again!”
(The North County News 5.1.02)