School music project becomes stardust

Posted: July 15, 2001

PROSPECT PARK — Most of the jazz performers with Operation Big Band just became adults in the 21st century, yet the group's musical focus is closer to the time when their grandparents were young.

Playing hits such as Glenn Miller's "American Patrol," the 12-piece band takes listeners on a musical sentimental journey. Operation Big Band, formed as a school project to benefit senior citizens, has evolved into a community musical forum, said founder Stephen Stachelski.

"The whole point of the band was to give free concerts to the community, so when we were asked play at other locations, we agreed," Stachelski said.

"Students in other high school jazz bands who love to play joined us, along with a few parents, alumni, and even a former teacher. It's fun because we all love to play music."

Stachelski, 18, of Prospect Park, and Interboro High School classmate Andrew Stroffolino, 18, of Prospect Park, came up with the idea of forming a student jazz band as a way to meet the school's senior-project graduation requirement. Forming a band to play at local nursing homes and senior citizen centers fit the school's requirement for students to work together or individually on a project that benefits the community.

Founding members of the band are Stachelski, Stroffolino, and Class of 2001 members Fred Warner, 18; Mike Ducassoux, 17; Michelle Thiboutot, 17; and Eric Brolley, 19, all of Norwood. Alumni Aaron Rankin, on baritone sax, and Mike Brolley, Eric's brother, on bass guitar, and Lee Anderson, a retired music teacher, also joined the group.

Since Interboro has a small concert and jazz band, they recruited teen jazz players from Interboro underclassmen and from Garnet Valley, Springfield and Hatboro-Horsham High Schools to fill out the ranks.

The students recruited someone for every jazz ensemble instrument and two drummers. Eric Brolley agreed to put down his drumsticks and conduct.

The students selected about 13 jazz songs from the 1920s and 1930s from the Interboro High School band sheet-music library. They set up concert dates with two local nursing homes, Lima Estates and Fair Acres in Middletown and the School House Senior Center in Folsom.

"At each concert we opened with 'Sentimental Journey,' because we told the audience we were taking them on a trip back through the memories attached to the songs," Ducassoux said.

"Quite a few people would dance. . . . One man at Fair Acres told us he was a drummer from Glenolden. He played along with us, tapping on his walker. He really seemed to enjoy the music."

When possible, Warner said, the band took requests.

"At the School House, we had a request for 'Stardust,' and we just happened to have it," Warner said. "We had never practiced it, but since we are all sight readers, it sounded really good."

The band received the school award for the best project, Interboro principal Michael Pladus said.

"They really did a good job pulling everything together. The band was so successful it is still going after the school year has ended," Pladus said.

Post-project performances include the Ridley Park Presbyterian Church Strawberry Festival, American Cancer Society Relay Fund-Raiser, and Glenolden Park holiday festival. The band was scheduled to perform at a second cancer fund-raising event today.

While members would like the journey to go on forever, many of the band organizers are headed to college in the fall.

Warner will be a music-education major at Millersville University, and Ducassoux will be a music-education major at Temple University. Stachelski and Thiboutot have been accepted at the University of Pittsburgh, where Stachelski plans to study electrical engineering and Thiboutot plans to study neurological science.

"We will help out whenever we are in town, and we will help the younger students if they want to keep it going," Warner said.

"It would be nice to come back and all play together."

Gloria A. Hoffner's e-mail address is gloriah@phillynews.com.

Do you know someone who could be featured in People Next Door? An interesting neighbor? Someone normally not in the news but who has made a difference in your community? Send your ideas to Gloria Hoffner, by e-mail at gloriah@phillynews.com; fax it to 610-313-8227; mail it to her at The Inquirer, 800 River Rd., Conshohocken, Pa. 19428; or call 610-313-8006.

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