Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland are still recovering from the horrific act of an irrational gunman who shot and killed 17 students and staff – and wounded an equal number of innocents – in a vile and violent attack Feb. 14 that shattered the joy of a Valentine’s Day and the solemnity of Ash Wednesday.
But those impacted by the shooting haven’t respond in kind. The spirited and courageous student body, staff and parents turned to their strong suit — visual and performing arts — to stem the drumbeat of anger and steady the will to seek vengeance for a senseless act.
In the short span from mid-February to the end of the school year, a barrage of volunteers worked feverishly to organize two concerts to memorialize those who died and underscore the determination of the young men and women, teachers, administrators, mothers and fathers who are leading MSD High into the future. They built their campaign around a quote from conductor and musical luminary Leonard Bernstein, who believed that music was one of the most effective means of creating understanding and peace in the world.
By nurturing music and arts, he said, we can actualize a world “in which the mind will have triumphed over violence.”
On the night of May 22, the first of two response events took place. Called “What We Play is Life,” a Jazz Night concert, took place at the Coral Springs Performing Arts Center. Joining three MSD jazz bands were three world-renowned musicians: Jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, and Cuban clarinet and sax player Paquito D’Rivera.
On June 1, the Church by the Glades on Lakeview Drive, Coral Springs, was filled nearly to capacity for the more classical version of Jazz Night called “Our Reply.”
“This featured the MDS Wind Symphony, which just performed in New York at Carnegie Hall; the MSD Clarinet Choir, Brass Choir, Trombone Choir, and Color Guard,” said Luis Piccinelli, director of instrumental music at Coral Springs Middle School and one of those who helped organize the performance.
The show drew thunderous applause and a multitude of standing ovations as student musicians and guest performers provided what Piccinelli called “an amazing musical experience.”
“We hope this performance will help with healing, as well as raise money for the Alex Schachter and Gina Montalto funds, two band students we tragically lost in the shooting.” Memorial foundations have been set up for each.
To honor Alex, one of the opening numbers featured trombonists lined up across the entire stage. Alex’s dad, Max, was seated in the front row with other Schachter family members.
Later, they took to the stage and Max talked about “my little boy.” He told how his 14-year-old son loved music. “He wanted to play trombone in one class and euphonium in another.”
Max also recounted how he joined the band parents, and “I got to see Alex mature and grow. All his band work paid off.” Dad cried as he thought back to the terrible Valentine’s Day when “17 families descended into hell. That monster shot my son through a window.” He swore he would not halt his campaign for improved security “until all schools are safe.”
Before leaving the stage, he announced he was giving a $25,000 gift to his son’s scholarship fund.
To honor their fallen colleague, Gina Montalto, 14, the MSD Color Guard presented a feature performance of “Hallelujah” in her memory. The touching tribute ended with the girls surrounding and saluting an empty chair with a flower placed on the seat.
Her father, Tony, and brother, Anthony, spoke to the crowd. “As this community moves forward and heals, our families will never be the same.” He thanked the musicians and color guard members “who gave to the memorial foundation for Gina Rose Montalto.”
He concluded his talk by reading one of Gina’s poems, and told how happy she was to have become a member of the Eagle Regiment in 2017.
Taking part in the performance on the expansive stage of the church abutting the Everglades were Joseph Alessi, principal trombonist, and Anthony McGill, principal clarinetist, both from the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.
The June 1 show featured a world premiere of a piece composed and dedicated to the MSD students. Called “Until Morning Come,” the composition was written by Andrew Boss, who was present in the audience. The arrangement was said to “convey a peaceful message, a homage to those who passed away and for those who live on.”
Other guests who came to be part of the concert were Gary Green, director of bands emeritus at the University of Miami, and Frank Ticheli and Johan de Meij, both composer/conductors.
Alexander Kaminsky, director of bands at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, conducted many of the musical numbers at the “Our Reply” show as well as during the “What We Play is Life” concert. “Bad things happen in this world,” he told the audience on May 22. “We have to make the world a better place, and this is going to do that.”
The earlier show included a prologue, with the Coral Springs Middle School jazz band performing in the courtyard while food was served to the audience from the Cheesecake Factory. Volunteer staff members provided goodly portions of sliders, salads, pot stickers, and cheesecake options. Money raised at the event benefited the MSD and Coral Springs Middle School music programs and the Alex Schachter Scholarship Fund.