Published June 13, 2019
By ALLISON HASTINGS
NORTH READING – This past September, students and faculty welcomed Benjamin Owens, the new band director for the middle and high schools, into the faculty with open arms.
A small search committee searched long and hard to find someone capable of filling the shoes of Eric Forman, who served as North Reading’s Middle and High School band director for 19 years. This committee, comprised of the High School Principal Anthony Loprete, Middle School Principal Cathy O’Connell and music teachers Carla Lister and Allison Kane, as well as Forman, selected Owens for the position.
Having earned a bachelor’s degree in Music Education from the University of Delaware and a master’s in Trombone Performance from Boston University, Owens is well qualified in the arts and has incorporated his own style and energy into the town’s music programs.
When first assuming the position, Owens knew little about the bands’ group dynamics but embraced the task of getting to know the students and their collective interests.
In the fall, he started a bucket drumming unit with the sixth-graders to teach them about rhythm and gave high school students the freedom to choose this past year’s theme of marching band music, “The Rains in Africa.” Songs performed included relevant, popular hits such as Toto’s “Africa” and The Lion King’s “The Circle of Life.” At MICCA finals last fall, the high school marching band earned an overall rating of three stars, which equates to a bronze medal.
Owens looks back on this moment proudly but also acknowledges the hard work and dedication put in by the students. He humbly admitted, “I can’t do it by myself – I’m the leader and I’m the one that everything has to go through, but the students need to have some say.”
Drum Major Jessica Palazzolo and Assistant Drum Major Christopher Nearing are two students he cited as being positive role models for other members in the marching band this past season.
Six high school instrumentalists also auditioned for Northeast Districts in the winter, an event in which students were asked to practice and perform an intensive piece of music before a judge. Owens stated that he wanted those who tried out to “get their feet wet and figure out how to play something different” in order to gain more experience as musicians. Kevin Shang, Jessica Palazzolo, Anthony Juliano, Christopher Nearing, Laura Wagner and Megan McNeil each auditioned for Northeast District, and Shang, who plays saxophone, was selected for the honor.
More recently, the high school concert band received an excellent rating at Six Flags’ Music in the Parks festival which was held in late May. The two selected pieces performed were “The Great Locomotive Chase” by Robert W. Smith and “Among the Clouds” by Brian Balmages.
Student participation increasing
As far as participation goes, Owens is very optimistic about what the future holds for North Reading’s music programs. Chorus is expected to at least double in numbers, and 10-12 incoming freshmen have expressed interest in joining at least one instrumental ensemble in September of 2019.
At the high school level students can join the jazz band in addition to the concert and marching bands.
Younger instrumentalists can be a part of the cadet band in grade six and the concert band in grades seven and eight.
Potentially working with students for up to seven years and seeing them get excited about the music to come is what feels most rewarding to Owens. With regards to the students and their level of involvement, he stated, “I’m never going to stop giving it 100 percent, so if I put out 100 percent and they give me back 100 percent, the only place we can go is up.”
And true to his promise, Owens has already set plans in place for this upcoming fall season of marching band. The theme of the music will be called “Little Red,” in reference to the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, and props on the field will include trees and red color guard flags.
Rising freshman interested in joining either the marching band or color guard are encouraged to email Owens directly at email@example.com with any questions. A band camp will be held in August to prepare for the upcoming fall marching season.