GMU’s music programs carry on strong tradition

Somewhere in the middle of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s famous work, “The Nutcracker Suite,”
Shalleigh Taranto put down the trumpet she had been playing in December’s winter instrumental
concert. The senior at Gilbertsville-Mount Upton Central School stood and walked from the brass
section in the back row of GMU’s senior high band to the flute section, located in the front row on
the other side of the stage.

Taranto picked up a piccolo and began playing, as if she had been there all along.

At a bigger school district, the move might have raised some eyebrows in the audience. At GMU,
where Pre-K through 12th-grade students number just 368, it was a rather common sight—and part
of the way the district’s music program gets around the challenges that come with cultivating a small
collection of potential musicians.

The school has a rich tradition of music that rivals those of much larger districts.
“Music has always been a central component of what we offer here,” said GMU District
Superintendent Annette Hammond, who was a principal in the district for several years before
becoming superintendent. “It’s hard to go anywhere in the school without hearing student-produced
music. It’s a great thing!

“All the credible education studies show that the arts are key to students’ academic development.
Having such a successful music program really enhances the learning experience here.”

At the center of the music faculty is Anne Monaco, general music and band director who came to
GMU in 2000. Monaco directs pre-K through 6 general music, 4-6 band, elementary chorus, and junior
high chorus. She was assistant director of the high school musical and directed this year’s junior
musical for students in 7th grade.

The graduate of Marywood University in Scranton, PA, who grew up in Binghamton said her early
years at GMU were “rocky,” but when she teamed up with former instrumental teacher Matt Oram,
they built a strong program together.

“Believe it or not,” Monaco said, “the biggest challenge we face is a scheduling challenge—making
sure we have everything in our schedule to get the highest number of students who can fit music
into their schedules. Our administration is great for that. They’re one hundred-percent supportive in
making sure the students get music in their schedules.”

An example, Monaco noted, is jazz band, which many districts offer after the school day ends. “Jazz
band used to be an after-school thing,” she said, “and that made it harder to stick with. Now it’s 9th
period during the day, two times a week. That’s great for students and for Will.”

‘Will’ is Will Gilchrest, who started in the fall and whose duties, along with the marching band,
include the junior high concert band, the senior high symphonic band, and the jazz ensemble. A
graduate of the storied music department at Gordon College (Wenham, MA), Gilchrest had heard
about GMU’s music programs while teaching at Schenevus Central School in southern Otsego
County. He also witnessed GMU’s success at the Pageant of Bands, an event sponsored for more
than 60 years by the Sherburne-Earlville School District.

In the June 2018 pageant GMU took first place for small ensemble, second for jazz ensemble,
second for cadence in small marching bands, second in the parade for small bands, and was named
best in class.

“I was very aware of [GMU’s] success at Sherburne and elsewhere—the quality of the music,”
Gilchrest said. “I know Matt [Oram] personally. He’s an excellent musician and a really great person.
“To have 50 students in the marching band, it was daunting in a way to know that I was stepping in
where someone like Matt was leaving.”

Also keeping up the tradition is 2009 GMU grad Nathan Sloan, who studied music performance at
SUNY Fredonia. Sloan filled in this fall for Deanna Perkosky, who returned in December for her
second year as choral and music teacher.

Perkosky, a Mansfield University (Mansfield, PA) grad, noted that all of GMU’s music students are
involved in other activities, too. “Music is really popular in this district,” said the director of the
senior high chorus and ladies’ ensemble. “It’s great to be a part of it.”

Sloan, who among other duties directed the fall production of “Mary Poppins,” was a student of
Monaco “back in the day.” He recalled, “There was always a big competition between us and
[Otsego County school district] Laurens. It’s a great tradition here.”

The outstanding department facilities include a new band room within the last decade and a separate
choral room. It helps the faculty recruit new students for instrumental and choral music when there are a lot of
other options. “Half the cast of 'Mary Poppins' came in for rehearsal from soccer or cross-country
practices,” Gilchrest noted. “The dedication of students here to extracurriculars is really great.
“Anne and Matt created a climate of hard work. I see a lot of kids taking initiative. They’re being
responsible.”

Monaco said the department’s reputation is solid among the student population, “but we’re always
working on them.

“We had a large group of senior musicians in the class of 2018, but we have many talented younger
students ready to fill their shoes.”

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