More than a dozen Indian River High School students played and sang their way into All-State band and chorus this year, and Department Chair Mark Marvel made no secret of his pride in the talented young musicians.
"It’s very rare that Sussex County gets any kids in these bands, so we were really fortunate,” Marvel said. “Ninety percent of the kids who are in it come from upstate.”
Out of perhaps six or seven Sussex County students per year, Indian River sent three to the 2004-2005 All State Band (Josh Ritter, Catherine Clark and Jordan Hale).
Ten students made All-State Chorus, all the more notable because, as Marvel admitted, “I never trained to do chorus — I’m a band guy.”
In fact, Marvel recalled his consternation as he picked up the assignment when the chorus teacher retired six years ago.
“I never learned to play keyboard very well, and I thought ‘What am I going to do,’” Marvel said.
He’d majored in trumpet at college, and pointed out, “You can’t teach the (voice) parts in trumpet — you’ve got to be able to play and talk at the same time.”
Luckily, he said he played the guitar pretty well.
Marvel, or “Marv,” as his students have nicknamed him, not only directs both chorus and band, but also encourages Indian River musicians to get out and see the world at least once a year.
He’s been running a band trip rotation between Florida, Canada, Boston and South Carolina.
This year, the band is going to Canada (May 12). Marvel said there’d be some opportunity for sightseeing (Toronto, Niagara Falls) with a competition to highlight the trip.
“It’s not a direct competition with other schools,” Marvel explained. “Professional musicians come in and judge their performances, and then they come up on stage and run kind of a clinic workshop – it’s very educational.”
He said the trips were getting more expensive every year, but he tried to set up three or four fundraisers to help the students defray their costs.
The music department hosts a couple Em-ing’s barbeque dinners during the school year, including one to precede the first date for the annual Variety Show.
For more information on the dinner, or tickets to the show (Friday and Saturday, March 18-19), call Indian River High at (302) 732-3800.
“It does sell out every year,” Marvel noted. “For several years, we just had it on Friday night — it was standing room only, and we’d have to turn 40 or 50 people away.”
They initiated the second show date a couple years ago.
Marvel consistently downplays his role in the success and popularity of the Indian River productions, preferring to turn the spotlight toward the students.
He noted three promising seniors in particular on Feb. 22 — Melissa Alesi, Jordan Hale and Eric Tsavdar.
“All three are really into learning how to arrange and write music,” Marvel pointed out.
Indian River bands have practiced and performed compositions from each artist this year.
Alesi, a soprano, has been accepted to the Shenandoah Conservatory of Music, but might hold out for the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University.
She regularly performs with the Southern Delaware Choral Society, and is a two-time recipient of that organization’s Lee Mitchell Scholarship, for voice training.
She starred in several acts at last year’s Variety Show, including a pair of numbers from “Phantom of the Opera” (a solo, and a duet alongside tenor Stefan Botchie).
Marvel praised Alesi for her ability to take tough assignments and turn them into successful performances. “She’s made All-State Chorus every year,” he pointed out.
For this year’s Variety Show, she’s working on a rock treatment of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
Alesi expected the level of difficulty would increase at conservatory, but she expressed confidence. “I figure, if I just work hard, it’s never going to be a problem,” she stated.
A career as a vocal performance artist remains the goal, but Alesi also holds first chair, percussion, at Indian River, and made All-County Band for that work.
Hale made All-State both ways — Band (clarinet) and Chorus.
He recently auditioned at the University of Delaware (UD) and James Madison University (JMU), but said he was really hoping for JMU.
“It’s a great school,” Hale pointed out. “It’s academically and musically challenging, and there’s a lot of other fun stuff going on there, too.”
He has one more audition to go, and is preparing to perform the second movement of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto.
According to Hale, it isn’t a terribly difficult piece, but “You have to be musical to make it sing.”
He’s played with the wind ensemble in the grand finale of Variety Shows past, and was considering a repeat performance this year, or perhaps another comedy skit.
Hale also led the marching band as drum major this year (with Kathleen Bernsten).
Like Alesi, he said he hoped to become a performer, or the next best thing — a music teacher.
Tsavdar, affectionately referred to as a “fluke of nature” by his stepfather (Marvel), is primarily self-taught, with an instinct for theory.
“He plays trumpet in my band, but he’s an incredible keyboard player,” Marvel stated. “He’s been a real asset to me every year in my variety show, and will be again this year.”
Tsavdar has auditioned on trumpet for UD, JMU and planned to try out at the Shenandoah Conservatory as well. However, because he plays piano by ear, his strong suit remains hidden (for now).
He made County Band for trumpet, but for the Variety Show, has his focus set on keyboard work.
Despite opinions to the contrary, Tsavdar said he didn’t consider his abilities uncommon.
“I think anybody can sit down, and if they play long enough — and if they’re doing it because they want to, so it stays fun — they can do this,” he said.
He said he wanted people to enjoy his compositions.
However, perhaps as important, Tsavdar said he hoped to convey the notion that musical accomplishment shouldn’t — or couldn’t — be attacked like a chore. “It can’t be deliberate,” he stated.
While some might not want their stepfather as a teacher, Tsavdar said he felt the quite the opposite, and he credited Marvel for awakening his passion for music.