By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – When Bonnie Narcisi began as the Shrewsbury district director of music 16 years ago, a group of four parents helped support the program. Since then, theatre became more integrated into the curriculum. Concurrently, more parents became involved. Now in its 59th year, the Shrewsbury Schools Music/Theatre Association (SSMA) has 15 members with additional volunteers assisting them.
George Smith currently serves as SSMA's president. His wife, Joanne, is vice president. They became involved with SSMA when their son, Justin, entered freshman year at Shrewsbury High School (SHS). He's graduating this year and they'sl stay active in SSMA.
“I was looking for a creative outlet, so we went to a meeting,” George explained.
“The group of people are fun and very hardworking,” Joanne added.
SSMA helps with over 25 annual performing arts events for students in kindergarten through high school. A year-round fundraiser is refreshment sales during intermission at the middle and high schools.
“We set up a table and sell very quickly,” George said. “For approximately 10 minutes every night, hoards of people come to the table to buy water, soda, baked goods and candy.”
Since SSMA's inception, a popular fundraiser is the Music Drive each fall. SHS students canvas the town door-to-door, selling tickets to a series of productions to be presented throughout the school year. Parents drive and chaperone groups of students in assigned zones.
“That's our biggest fundraiser,” Joanne said. “It generally brings in about $10,000.”
George added, “You wouldn's believe how many calls we get if we miss somebody who wasn's home and they want to buy the Music Drive tickets.”
Also for the past several years in the fall, SSMA has offered the Grand Raffle with a snow blower donated by Caoala Equipment as the grand prize. The raffle typically raises about $5,000.
An example of how SSMA supports students” music education is its funding of the SmartMusic software program on iPads. Now, the students” practice is more focused as they receive evaluations twice weekly from educators.
“That has increased the kids” learning efficiency,” George noted.
“SSMA helped pay for the cost of $40 per student,” Joanne said. “We now have about 120 middle school students with this program.”
An ongoing expense that the SSMA contributes toward is bus transportation. In addition to out-of-state chorus and band trips, students are transported to festival auditions, rehearsals and concerts. Their musical instruments also need transportation, Joanne noted.
“Last year, the band went to Disney World and we gave money for an extra bus to bring all the musical instruments,” she said.
SSMA's annual budget includes some items such as students” performance attire, which is stored at SHS. They also contribute toward some unplanned expenses. This school year, SSMA shared the cost to replace a piano at Floral Elementary School.
Each year, SSMA presents five scholarships at its Music and Theatre Awards Night, which was held May 8 at SHS. Three $1,000 scholarships go to students continuing studies in the performing arts; two $500 scholarships go to students who have been active in the SHS performing arts department and will major in another subject.
Other awards are presented to recognize students in the choral, instrumental and theatre departments, Tri-M Honor Society and national honorees.
“The kids really deserve the recognition for working hard all year,” Joanne said.
“Throughout the school year, we see that theater kids support each other by nature,” George commented. “It doesn's matter if you'se an actor onstage or working backstage, they function as one team and that comes through on awards night.”