By Catherine Twing, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – The Marlborough High School Jazz Ensemble has had a busy spring, and even with the school year coming to an end, they aren’t slowing down. With three festivals and a concert down, the group now has the opportunity to perform at the Hatch Shell in Boston.
“It’s pretty awesome they get to perform on the same stage the Boston Pops play on the Fourth of July,” said Jazz Ensemble Director Jimmy Verdone.
After earning a Gold Medal at the Massachusetts Association for Jazz Education (MAJE) Central District Festival, the group advanced to the state festival where they also earned gold, qualifying them for the Gold Medal Showcase. They will be one of eight groups to perform in the showcase at the Hatch Shell Sunday, May 19, in Boston.
This is the 12th year the Marlborough ensemble has earned gold at Central Districts, but they have not always advanced to the showcase. Recently the Hatch Shell was under construction and not open to ensembles, so this group of students has never performed there.
“The group has grown very close throughout the year and kills the set we have put together,” said senior tenor saxophonist Matthew Pearl, who earned overall MVP of the MAJE Festival. “Performing at the Hatch Shell would be a great honor and something I have always wanted to do.”
Verdone came to Marlborough in 2018 to fill the vacancy left by longtime Marlborough music teacher Gary Piazza. Before coming to Marlborough, Verdone served as the only music teacher at Northbridge High School for nine years, where he directed all of the classes and ensembles.
The students’ level of performance has inspired him to continue improving as a director.
“The more they grow, the harder I have to work,” he said. “They have made me want to work harder so that they are getting the same rigor and same level they are used to.”
In April, the work continued to pay off at a national festival in Washington D.C. where the jazz ensemble earned a Superior rating, the highest a group can receive.
The ensemble meets four to five times a week. Students also put in a great deal of practice outside of class to ensure the success of the group.
“It’s one of the only classes where your grade affects somebody else’s,” Verdone added.
This is an auditioned ensemble, primarily made up of sophomores, juniors and seniors, and a group which many students aspire to be a part of one day.
“I practice on average 10 hours a week but it fluctuates around performance times,” said senior trombonist Maddy Silverman, who hopes to study music education at Westfield State University. “I’ve had the honor to participate in my schools’ jazz bands since sixth grade. Ever since then I’ve grown such a love and appreciation for big band music. I really enjoy getting to mentor other musicians in the group now as one of the older members and as the vice president.”
Pearl said he practices around three hours each day. He hopes to make jazz music into a career by attending the University of Hartford for jazz studies.
“Jazz music is my favorite genre of music and once I started listening to it, I could not stop,” he said. “It’s so cool, complex and hip.”
Pearl, Silverman and fellow musician Ben Simmons, were all recognized as Outstanding Musicians at the MAJE festival.