By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Somehow, even with a smile spreading across his face, Tim Burgess managed to play a perfect solo on his baritone horn.
It was the last day of Summer Sonata at Niskayuna High School, a two-week music program for students entering grades 6-8. Burgess was proud to show his family what he’d learned.
“It was a lot of fun,” Burgess said.
He became involved in music just two years ago, but now, just a few weeks before starting sixth grade and moving up to middle school, he’s practically an expert.
“You have to set the mood for the music,” he said. “Usually you do it with dynamics, like loud and soft.”
Matt Cremisio, director of music education for the Niskayuna Central School District, said the purpose of the camp was to help kids find the fun in music by challenging them to try lots of different projects.
“Music is instruction, but it also has to be fun,” he said.
Clearly, it was. The July 31 performance concluded with a slideshow of photos from Summer Sonata set to an original rap song, written and recorded by the 43 Summer Sonata participants. The kids, seated in the front row of the auditorium, beamed and giggled when they heard their verses.
“To be honest with you, I was just trying to give them a project that would keep them all focused on one thing,” Cremisio said.
So he crafted a beat on his laptop, told them to write rap verses about Summer Sonata, and turned them loose in the high school recording studio.
“Being in the studio and watching them as they heard their composition come together … it was just really good,” Cremisio said.
During the school year, Cremisio juggles the details of numerous music groups in the elementary, middle and high schools. This coming school year, he’ll put much of his energy into a new curriculum for eighth-grade general music at Iroquois and Van Antwerp middle schools. But there’s still time before all that.
The summer program was a reprieve from the school year’s complexities that allowed him to slow down and witness kids’ individual improvements.
Virginia Moraga, a sixth-grader, worked on her singing skills under high school music teacher Christina Pizzino-Catalano.
“I’ve had a lot of trouble breathing when I’m singing,” Moraga said. “She taught us to pretend you’re sipping through a straw.”
After her Summer Sonata experience, she feels ready to sing her heart out in middle school.
“In chorus, it’s going to be a lot easier to breathe, and I think I’ll be a lot faster with the notes,” she said.
Three hours each day voluntarily learning things in school is a big commitment for any kid on summer break.
“At first, I didn’t exactly want to,” Moraga said, but her friends were going, so she joined in.
“I’m actually really happy I did,” she said. “It was a lot of fun.”