For the first time since 2015, the Williamstown High School wind ensemble was honored at the New Jersey State Band Gala.
The gala is the highest honor for honors bands and wind ensembles as only 12 bands from the state are chosen to play. Four bands are chosen from each of New Jersey’s three regions.
While the 2015 gala was the first and last time the band was honored, the 2019 trip meant more to band director Nick Fantazzi. In 2015, the Williamstown wind ensemble was selected more so on a technicality – a band dropped out allowing an alternate to go in its place. In 2019, the wind ensemble made it on its own, placing third at the Region Concert Band Festival at Rowan University.
“This is the first year we’re going on our own merit,” Fantazzi said. “They ranked us third in South Jersey. It’s a big deal for our group.”
The wind ensemble played three songs at the regional band festival. Two judges, college professors and band directors, according to Fantazzi, listen to the three pieces and rank the bands based on how they performed. The top four from each region’s festival earn a trip to the gala.
“It’s not a competition, but a celebration of the top 12 bands across the state,” he said. “It’s a prestigious event.”
The wind ensemble is Williamstown High School’s auditioned band, meaning the most advanced of the band students are chosen to represent their school. The ensemble consists of 30 students, while the general band population is closer to 55.
Angie Malinski, a senior clarinet player, said making the gala was kind of like her swan song.
“There’s legend of going to the gala, we only made it one other time,” she described. “To actually make it and qualify, it’s a good accomplishment and a good memory to have.”
Sarah Radichel, a junior who plays the French horn, felt like her hard work paid off when the wind ensemble was named to the gala.
“It was so nice being able to see other high school students who worked as hard as we had in the same field as we had,” she said. “You always hear of the sports kids, like the football players went to MetLife Stadium for states. Our band, like our football team, we progressed so much and had amazing experiences this year.”
Both Malinski and Radichel spoke to the importance of practice leading up to the concerts.
“You go there and you have to rely on yourself as well as everyone else,” Malinski said.
The 2019 New Jersey State Band Gala was held at Bridgewater-Raritan High School on May 5. The celebration included an afternoon and evening concert with the Williamstown wind ensemble playing in the first of the two sets. The music selection, chosen by Fantazzi, were “Chase the Shouting Wind” by Vince Gassi, “Again We Rise” by John Pasternak and “Magnolia Star” by Steve Danyew.
Fantazzi acknowledged the magnitude of being invited to the gala, but said it was just as important to see and learn from the other schools in attendance.
“It’s a fantastic experience because our kids get to see other bands they would never see, especially North Jersey and Central Jersey bands,” he said. “They’re very good. They perform at a very high level. I would hope it motivates them to want to do better each year. It’s a great experience.”
With a trip to the gala earned on their own, Radichel believes they can duplicate their success next year. She believes they can continue to grow as an ensemble
“Since I made it as a junior, I’m so ready for what next year has to come,” she said. “I feel like because we made it this year we have a great chance of making it next year. A lot of the same students come back every year. We have so much to look forward to as a band.”