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One more show for retiring Greenfield music director and his many students

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Paul Calcari

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Paul Calcari

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Paul Calcari with the Greenfield High School Concert Band

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Paul Calcari with the Greenfield High School Concert Band

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Paul Calcari

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Paul Calcari

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Paul Calcari

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Paul Calcari

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Paul Calcari
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Paul Calcari with the Greenfield High School Concert Band
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Paul Calcari
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Paul Calcari

GREENFIELD — When Paul Calcari walked into the Greenfield High School’s music room at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, many of his students were already there — sitting on the floor chatting, eating breakfast or casually leaning on the back of the grand piano as if it were a breakfast bar counter.

“Hi Mr. C,” exclaimed one girl. Calcari, in his green “Greenfield Music” jacket, smiled and said hello as he crossed the room to his office.

Almost immediately, his assistant director Stephanie Vinci handed him sheet music that required markup and notes before it went off to the photocopier. On this Tuesday morning, there were only three days left before the rehearsal for the year-end spring concert.

After 27 years of concerts, parades and trips across the state and country, this Saturday night’s concert will be Calcari’s grand finale. His decision to retire at the end of the year has prompted hundreds of alumni from the music department’s past to congregate at the high school this weekend to play one more show for their director.

The storyline may seem strikingly similar to a Richard Dreyfuss film — and alumni have pointed out the comparison themselves — but there is one difference. In the months that Calcari, 57, has been planning this event with his trusted music alumni committee, he insisted that the night be less about him and more about the “music family” that formed around him each year, from 1986 through today.

“We’re his kids forever,” said Ashley (Winn) Fitzroy, a 26-year-old who graduated in 2005. “He just wanted to ... play one last time together as a big family.”

Calcari is estimating that “Mr. C’s Music Family Reunion Concert ” — which begins at 7 p.m. Saturday at the high school — will include about 250 alumni in the band, 300 in the chorus. There will be special performances by two alumni: Elvis “interpreter” Travis LeDoyt and Broadway star Kevin Duda.

From the moment Calcari announced his decision to retire this fall, word spread quickly via the Internet to alumni all over the state and country. The alumni committee worked with Calcari to select the music pieces and coordinate the whole weekend — which includes some time for socializing and reminiscing.

The alumni, who will play alongside the current high school students, will rehearse tonight and all day Saturday in preparation of the evening show.

Preparing for a concert

The morning bell rang, but Calcari continued to mark away at the sheet music with his pencil, humming the melody to himself and slightly moving his hand as he traveled through the song.

Minutes later, he stood huddled around the piano with 13 eighth-grade chorus students, set to practice “Rhythm of Life,” one of the songs in Saturday’s performance. As the department’s accompanist Timothy Rogers played piano, Calcari took turns at both the boys and girls’ parts.

He towered in height over the students. His voice was the loudest and his motions the most dramatic: he swayed back and forth during a melodic part, then matched the downbeats of an energetic section by pounding on the piano with an open hand.

But through glasses that hung low on his nose, he made eye contact with each of the students — gesturing at them to match his tone or energy level, sometimes even making a goofy face that caused them to break out into a smile.

The minute the chorus class ended, Calcari was already in motion. He swiftly left the music room and entered a door on the other side of the small hallway, stepping out onto the brightly lit auditorium stage. High school band students were already working to move chairs and stands into position.

Since the band is playing a John Williams medley (including Star Wars, E.T. and Jaws), Calcari began the class by playing a performance of the piece by his 1999 band. It doesn’t happen as often these days, but there was a time when students would routinely engross themselves in recordings of bands past — an attempt, said the director, to know the level that they were expected to live up to.

As the recording played, students tapped their feet, followed along with their sheet music and fingered the notes in silence.

Calcari, standing at the front of the stage, was conducting as if the musicians on stage were the ones playing. His body rocked up and down and his arms swung violently as he gestured and signaled to the instrumental sections.

Calcari was pleased by what he heard when the current band really began to play, and his shouts of encouragement could still be made out over the empowering melody of the “Imperial March.”

But that isn’t to say that the band was perfect. At one point, the students transitioned into the next section of the medley, only to be cut off by their director.

“No, we’re not playing that,” said Calcari. “We didn’t play that well enough to go on.”

Adding to the complexity of this temporary 14-year wormhole in time was a 32-year-old french horn player who sat among the high school students.

Aubrey (Gay) Platek, of Bernardston, hadn’t picked up the french horn since graduating in 1999. She took the entire week off from work to visit the school and get some extra practice time in ahead of Saturday’s concert.

Like many music students, past and present, the music room served as Platek’s “home away from home.” Calcari calls the room “The Mothership” — the place that students flock to before, during and after school.

“I lived here practically all day,” said Platek. “It was the best time of my life. It really was.”

A career teaching music

Calcari was an eighth-grader at Ralph C. Mahar Regional School when he realized that he wanted to become a high school music teacher.

He was over 6 feet tall and a self-proclaimed “angry kid.” His father had died six years prior and his mother was working full time.

But he can remember watching in awe as music director Bob Ellison channeled the focus of his students, including Calcari, into performing music together as a singular band.

“Music kind of saved my life,” Calcari recalled more than 40 years later. “I wanted to give back. ... I wanted to make a difference.”

And so he became a teacher: first at Mahar for 10 years and then at Greenfield.

When he took over the Greenfield job in fall 1986, he had a band of nine students and a chorus of six. During an all-school assembly, he invited any interested students to join, then took only a few steps out into the hall when he was approached by a freshman.

“I just wanted to play cowbell,” said Ken Fortin, 40, who now works at the high school as a building monitor.

By the time he graduated in 1990, Fortin had learned to drum, play the guitar and piano and sing tenor. In the 23 years since, he’s played professionally in bands up and down the East Coast.

“If it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t have even graduated high school,” said Fortin. “It changed my life, really.”

Within weeks on the job, Calcari had built up the music department in size. In the years that followed, he worked on building up its reputation.

The marching band attended parades all over western Massachusetts and students caroled at a dozen local church each holiday season. Band performances — both during football games and in concerts — were considered premiere events for the school and the community to attend.

But the department’s “hardcore” days of the 1990s would come to an end during the next decade.

In 2001, Calcari suffered two heart attacks, which scared him into reducing his event schedule. And budget cuts and a School Choice student exodus in the late 2000s pared the program down even more — although Calcari firmly believes that despite the challenges, the band and chorus never once had a bad year.

The sudden death three years ago of longtime University of Massachusetts band director George Parks, whom Calcari considered a friend and colleague, contributed to the Greenfield director’s decision to make this his final year.

“I don’t want to retire. ... But I know if I stay, I won’t make it,” said Calcari.

“You climb out of this place. You don’t walk out,” he said. “Sometimes you get out of here at 11 (p.m.), sometimes you get out of here later than that. It sounds crazy, but that’s what it takes.”

Calcari is hoping that Vinci, his 25-year-old assistant director, will take over for him next year. She spent a semester last year at Greenfield as a student teacher and was brought on as an assistant director this year to learn under Calcari’s guidance before applying for the job herself.

They share the same goals and vision for what the director should focus on: people first, music second.

“We’re not in the business of making professional musicians,” said Calcari. “We want people to learn how to work together and be good team members. ... Music is like a vehicle to teach the child to be an active participant in life.”

A goodbye for the whole family

During an afternoon high school chorus class, Calcari’s students were once again gathered around him at the piano.

But this time, Calcari was the one playing. His fingers danced across the keys while he sang Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed.” The students sang harmonies in the background and swayed back and forth. Calcari scanned the crowd to make sure that their dance moves were era-appropriate.

“They definitely didn’t do that in the ’60s,” he said to one student, as the class laughed.

The McCartney tune will be one of four songs that Calcari will perform on Saturday with a small jam band, which features some of the director’s oldest friends and high school classmates. Some of his current students, in both chorus and band, will provide backup vocals and instrumental parts.

With the jam band set as the last act of the evening, these songs will be Calcari’s final performance on the Greenfield High School stage.

He envisions it as an extremely emotional moment.

“This job was all-encompassing in the sense that if you do it the right way, it takes over your life,” said Calcari.

His family’s year started on Sept. 1, not Jan. 1. His wife, Janet, used her work vacation time to travel and help out on band trips. His daughter Christa was born on the day of his first spring concert at Greenfield, and his son P.J. grew up thinking that the band’s Columbus Day parade participation was in celebration of his birthday.

“When I finally decided to retire,” said Calcari, “(Christa) said, ‘Dad, I don’t think you realize. You’re not retiring. We’re retiring.’”

Alumni are thrilled to participate in their director’s final show.

“His family is everything to him, whether it’s his (music) family or his actual family,” said Kate (Porter) Seaman, a 2000 alumna who emceed many shows in high school and will reprise the role on Saturday.

“It’s going to give him a tremendous amount of pride to see us all together,” she said. “I don’t think there will be a person on that stage whose life was not impacted by Paul Calcari.”

You can reach Chris Shores at:
cshores@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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