UNION, NJ — It was a bittersweet day for the students in Burnet Middle School’s vocal and instrumental ensembles as they competed in “Music in the Parks” on June 7, without the leadership of Michael Hamilton, their music teacher; but that didn’t stop the young musicians from shining.
Although Hamilton, who is recovering from a serious accident that took place in May, was unable to assist with final preparations for the competition, the school’s administration, music teachers and Union High School instrumental music teacher Laura Muller all stepped up to help. With all the assistance, the 113 middle school students were able to take home the top prizes in numerous categories.
“Music in the Parks” provides a year-end assessment by an outside panel of judges that helps to reinforce the music skills students have been learning during the year. Ensembles from around the country, as well as Canada, attend the event, which is held at Pennsylvania’s Dorney Park.
The competing ensembles included the jazz band, concert band, string orchestra, full orchestra and, for the first time, the show choir.
The show choir performed selections from “The Little Mermaid,” featuring solos by seventh-grader Chloe Lee-Freeman and sixth-grader Ellis Foreman.
According to Muller, the school has been attending the festival since 2011.
“Their successes have grown each year they have participated,” Muller told the Union Leader in a June 12 email. “This year was an exceptional year for them, and I am sorry Mr. Hamilton was not the one leading them at the culmination of their success. I believe their accomplishments at ‘Music in the Parks’ had a therapeutic effect on the kids in the BMS music program, as they were so proud to have accomplished their amazing performances in Mr. Hamilton’s honor.”
Muller called Hamilton a wonderful music teacher who is adored by his students.
“It was very difficult for them to perform without him,” she said. “They had cute little chants such as ‘for Mr. Hamilton’ to hype themselves up for their performances, not just at the ‘Music in the Parks’ festival, but at the Memorial Day Parade and spring concert, both of which I also covered in place of Mr. Hamilton. His groups were very well prepared and on their way to successful performances under his tutelage prior to his accident.
“They were very grateful when I came to work with them, because they knew my presence meant they would be able to hold all of their spring events as best as we possibly could. They were very flexible, congenial, a true pleasure to work with and I am very glad I got to know them, though I certainly wish it had been under different circumstances.”
In a June 8 press release, Hamilton expressed pride in his students’ achievements.
“It would be impossible for me to be any prouder of the Instrumental Music students from Burnet Middle School,” he said. “The last few weeks have been extremely difficult for all of us, but the students handled themselves as true professionals. They never lost sight of the end result — a great performance.”
Hamilton lauded his students for persevering in the face of adversity. “It would have been very easy for them to give up but instead they continued to work toward the goal that we set for ourselves at the beginning of the year,” he said. “To me, that shows how much they learned by being a part of the Instrumental Music Program. Yes, we teach music, but I feel the greatest lessons learned are dedication and persistence. These are the skills which will help them the most as they continue to grow into awesome young adults.”
Muller said that, although her role was to make the
transition as smooth as possible and maintain a sense of normalcy so that Hamilton’s students could continue to work to their full potential, the students did most of the work themselves.
“The students were already running their race when I got there,” she said. “I just worked with them to get them over the finish line.
“Mr. Hamilton is a good friend and collaborator and I was happy to do anything for him and his students. Such professionalism in the face of adversity is not often seen in such young students. I am proud to be a part of a music department that fosters such a sense of community with our students and parents.”
Final competition results include; first place, superior rating for the jazz band; soloist award, Ivana Brito, eighth grade, baritone saxophone; first place, excellent rating for the concert band; first place, excellent rating for the string orchestra; best overall middle school/junior high symphonic orchestra, and first place, excellent rating for the show choir.