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Music in the Hall

Emily Laufer | August 2016

    Kenmore East High School in Tonawanda, New York recently installed a performance stage in its atrium, near the entrance to the school. The halls around the music wing are now brimming with even more activity and a new energy. Mornings at Kenmore East are often filled with music from band students and the new stage invites even more talent to be showcased in an easily accessible space. Says band director Phil Aguglia, “Students do not need permission to use the stage, just inspiration. We would hear anything from woodwind trios to jazz standards to Billy Joel, and it was common for music to be going in the morning and until 5:30 in the afternoon every day. At Christmastime, there were hardly any minutes where the stage wasn’t being used for Christmas music. It was like walking into the mall.
    “Back in October, we hosted a school from Germany for a jazz festival here in town. They were here from Friday night through Monday morning, and Monday morning before they left, they put on a concert for the entire school. Sometimes, the last thing kids want to do in the morning is go to school. If you hit them with some big band music as they walk in the door, it changes the atmosphere.”
    Aguglia was instrumental in the creation of the new stage. “I took a hard look at the space one day and realized it would be a cool little theater.” The stage, designed with help from seniors Ashley Henderson and Ariana Porter and sophomore Jake Aguglia, brings pizzazz to the hall. “It was simple; we added a stage and a carpet with the school mascot and hung pictures around it. We bought stools and tables for across the hall so it became more of an inviting space to sit and watch.” Posters from previous Kenmore East Fine Arts Festivals will soon also decorate the walls.
    Many people take advantage of the new stage, not only band students. “It was originally intended for the International Baccalaureate students,” said Aguglia. “To graduate, they need to perform solo pieces publicly so they can build their portfolio, but the auditorium is an intimidating place. With the stage, I hoped it would make for a less intimidating environment. With this new hallway space, we have something more intimate than the auditorium. We bought a small dashcam recording device and a tripod, and students can perform for whomever is there and get the credit they need.” Theatre students use the stage for skits and public speaking classes have gone there for practice talking to a crowd.
    A great deal of work was put into making the stage such a beautiful addition to Kenmore East. The building and grounds crew donated both the lumber and the time to build the stage framework, and then a local flooring company had just enough high-end bamboo engineered flooring left over from a job to cover the stage. They charged pennies on the dollar for it.
    To raise money for the materials, the carpet with the school logo, dark blue blinds for the window, 15 stools, and two cafe tables and chairs Aguglia  drafted a letter explaining the plan and asking for donations, promising that those who donated $50 or more would have their names on a plaque. “Our plaque is a blue guitar donated by Music Is Art, a local organization founded by Robby Takac, the bass player for the Goo Goo Dolls. I gave the guitar to an engraver, who put the plexiglass layering over it and added the nameplates.” The music boosters also loaned money to the school to help pay for the installation.
    An underused hall is now filled with activity and expression. Principal Patrick Heyden said, “It’s great to see students up front and center with their talents. They were able to turn that bland area into something that promoted the arts.”