Four Jockey Hollow Middle School students, from the main campus and STEM Academy, were selected from among the best middle school instrumental students from all over the Western Region of Connecticut to be in the Western Region Concert Band, Jazz Band and Orchestra — which are essentially all-star ensembles.
Jockey Hollow and STEM Academy Band Director Mark Bilotta said his music students were chosen based on their outstanding auditions for the Western Region Middle School Music Festival at Fairfield Woods Middle School Saturday, Dec. 9.
The festival will be held at Wilton High School in March.
Caleb Purdy, from main campus, was selected on bass guitar for the jazz band; Laney Stillway, from STEM Academy, was selected on French horn for the concert band; Emily Lin, from the main campus, was selected on violin for the orchestra; and Ryan Panella, from STEM, was selected on violin for the orchestra.
For the audition, students had to learn and perform a solo piece for their instrument as well as several memorized scales and sight reading exercises (playing music they have never seen before, on the spot).
The auditions are highly competitive and only a select number of students are chosen for each instrument, so this is truly a great accomplishment for these four incredible musicians, according to Bilotta.
Now that the ensembles have been chosen, students will go to Wilton High School in March for two days of intensive rehearsals with prominent guest conductors and clinicians, culminating in a concert on the second day in the performing arts center.
“I am extremely proud of both Laney and Caleb,” Bilotta said. “Not only are they both great students and talented musicians, but they’re also leaders in all of the groups they perform with both in and out of school. They instantly bring up the quality of any group they’re a part of. They worked really hard to prepare for this audition and are so deserving of the recognition.”
“Besides playing the violin, Ryan is a talented soccer player,” said Lisa Homann, the STEM Academy strings director. “He enjoys the outdoors and is the leader of our pretty small eighth grade strings group at STEM. We are lucky to have him!”
“After a hiatus from playing the violin, Emily joined the eighth grade Jockey Hollow Orchestra after the 2023-24 school year had already begun,” said James Bettincourt, Main Campus strings director.
“She has seamlessly picked up where she left off in her music studies and has become an integral part of the orchestra, as well as one of its leaders,” he said. “We are very proud of her accomplishment making Western Regionals in her first year back to playing!”
Honors Band Festival
Another annual event the Connecticut Music Educators Association holds is the Honors Band Festival for the best of the best fifth and sixth grade band students in Connecticut. This festival takes place at the annual CMEA in-service conference in Hartford.
Students are nominated by their band teacher and then presented to the festival committee, which makes the final selections. Students who are selected attend a full day festival which includes rehearsals and performance under regionally and nationally recognized conductors, sectionals, lunch with many new fellow musicians and culminates with a concert to share all that they have put together that day.
This year, selected for the Honors Band was Marcelo Valecillos, a sixth grader from STEM Academy, on trombone.
“Marcelo is an incredible trombone player and overall musician,” Bilotta said. “Not only is he a valuable member of our sixth grade band, he also plays trombone in the Jockey Jammers, our middle school jazz band, also an audition-based group. The fact that he has accomplished so much musically already in sixth grade is truly impressive. I’m so proud of him and know he will represent his school and community well!”
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