Thursday, March 26, 2009

CHCS to present ‘Superhero’ musical

By Deanna Roux

Josh Guerraz, co-writer of the original musical that will be on stage at the Belchertown High School this weekend, started playing guitar at six years old. “My uncle taught me. He couldn’t read music, but he taught me chords and things like that. Then I started getting books as gifts and I ended up figuring it out. I taught myself how to read music and as I got older I started playing guitar in the school jazz band,” said Guerraz.

During high school Guerraz realized he wanted to play music for a living. He attended Western Connecticut State University and majored in jazz performance. “In college I got really big into music composition and arranging. When I graduated, I taught guitar lessons as a private teacher. As I continued with that, it sort of propelled me into getting more into education. Then I went back to school to earn a master’s degree, which I’m working on right now,” said Guerraz.

Guerraz’s main goal during school was to simply play music, but the real world of the starving artist put things into perspective. “If you asked me ten years ago [at twenty] what I would be doing in ten years, I would have said, ‘Oh, I’ll be playing on 52nd street in New York City.’ I wanted to be a full-time musician,” Guerraz said. “As I graduated, I got a reality check. That’s why I’m so glad I had education to fall back on, because I can make a living and still play in bands.”

“Perfectly Normal: The Superhero Musical” was written in about three weeks time last summer. Guerraz teamed up with fellow Chestnut Hill Community School (CHCS) teacher, Steve Walkowicz. Walkowicz wrote the play and the lyrics, and Guerraz wrote the melodies. “There are six original songs. I wanted to expose kids to different styles of music they never played before,” Guerraz said, “So if you notice, there’s a reggae, there’s a tango, there’s an old R-and-B church style, a fast fifties style, and a ballad.”


The pit band is composed of all sixth-graders, with the exception of one fifth-grader. The audition process began right away when school started in September. Of the 30 or so kids who tried out, about 20 of them made it into the band. “We have four clarinets, four alto sax, a baritone sax, a trumpet, a trombone, three pianos, two guitars, two drums, and three flutes. I’d say about 90 percent of the pit band is in the school band,” explained Guerraz, “Most of these kids just started playing their instruments. My [main] piano just started playing over the summer.”

The mutual respect and admiration between teacher and student is apparent at rehearsals. The kids may get a little loud and Mr. G., as he is referred to, lets them know with authority that they’re there to work. The rapport they share allows for work in the classroom and a high-five in the hallway.

“All of my pit bands before this were at the high school level. Last year was the first year I had a pit band this young. I was blown away with the talent,” said Guerraz, “Many of those kids are in the pit band this year and they’re better than some of the high school bands I’ve worked with. They’re dedicated; and this is tough music!”

Pit band members Jaclyn Symiakakis, clarinet; Alice Langlois, clarinet; and Joseph Brozek, trumpet,take a short break from some hard work.

Pit band member, Alice Langlois (pictured above, center), plays clarinet. However, her musical creative outlet doesn’t end there. Langlois entered the play’s contest to come up with the best logo. She started her idea with the Superman emblem, but changed the “S” into a G-cleft. She added the silhouettes of the superheroes and the winning entry was born. Her winning logo is featured on the commemorative t-shirt. “I was just really excited,” Langlois said, “When they announced my name and that I won, everyone in my class clapped for me.”

The original musical has caught the attention of Belchertown’s local cable channel, BCTV (channel 5). They’re producing a "Behind the Scenes" look at the making of the play. “We've had a team of students shooting film for two weeks and the results have been sent to BCTV for editing,” Walkowicz explained. “The final product will air on BCTV during play week and will help us, we hope, promote the performances.”

There will be two 7pm performances on Friday, March 27 and Saturday, March 28. Tickets are selling fast. Information is on display at Stop-N-Shop, the Town Hall, the Clapp Memorial Library, and in the lobby at CHCS. Tickets cost $5 for adults and $3 for students and senior citizens. For more ticket information, e-mail Steve Walkowicz at

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

New Journey

New Blog

When you go through a difficult change or a major challenge in life, writing about it often presents things in a more clear and honest way. Well, for me anyway.

I am going through a big change in my life. I've been struggling for many years to overcome what I perceive to be the only problem in my life - my weight.

My new blog will track my journey and help keep me committed, accountable and honest with myself.

I welcome comments, support and sharing on my new blog. I have a top ten list, a link list and a poll. And I have cookies! Just kidding. But it is pretty sweet looking.

Stop by, if you like.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Vintage Shopping Bag

Just because you don't always get what you expect, doesn't mean you won't love what you get.

The other day I took a drive down to Conn. in search of a guaranteed find at a bargain price. Is that what I found? Well, kinda.

Rewind about two years (ish). My mom and I are at the Brimfield Antique Market (click image to the left to learn more) in, you guessed it, Brimfield, Mass. and we are on a quest: find vintage buttons to add to my (then small) collection. Here's why.

First, let me tell you that if I am in search of anything, my mother is the one I want to take with - she will uncover every nook and cranny like she's searching out my heart transplant donor. Plus, she will get the price that is fair - with just a raise of the eyebrow. AND you cannot find a better support system. Yeah, momma's got my back.

So there we are in the midst of thousands of dealers on twenty different fields, all lining a one-mile stretch of Route 20. We park down this long alley, pay our five-dollar parking fee and get out of the car. We pass the port-a-potties and head straight to the first pavilion. Behind the very first case we see is standing a friendly, chatty woman. I ask if she has any buttons and there began my serious quest for antique buttons. She whipped out tons of special beauties - metals, glass, mother of pearl, ceramics - you name it, she had it. I picked out my favorites and I walked away with a happy little bag full for 20 bucks.

On this day we visited a permanent building that I had been to once before (months earlier when I dragged my helpful children to join my search - but that's a story for a different day). This place is called the Brimfield Antique Market. Straight through the door, hang a left at the back wall, down several feet and there lies the mother lode of all mother lodes. I picked but didn't buy much there because I was out of cash. But I vowed to be back.

So fast-forward a few months. I go to the spot of the mother lode and to my horror, mother lode has packed up and left town! What a disappointment. The woman working there, who probably sensed I was on the verge of tears, was kind enough to give me the name and number of the owner of the mother lode - a.k.a. "the button guy."

I got in my car and called the button guy right away. I felt like I was on a drug quest - I needed to gain access to those buttons! The button guy had moved his stuff to a new location - the Vintage Shop in Conn. - his own shop. Whew.

So this week I finally made it down there and was surprised to learn that not all of the buttons had made it. He said he has more in storage and I'm convinced those are the ones I came to see. Well, I browsed around anyway and I found some very interesting collectibles.

(click image to enlarge)

  • Two silver button hooks that were used in the late 1800s to early 1900s for buttoning up items with many small buttons - womens' garments and boots.

  • A hand-carved bone hair pick/hair stick/hair pin - something like that - ca. 1800s - I'll have to do more research on this item.

  • A pair of large green celluloid buttons - they almost look like carved wood. I think these are from the early 1900s.

  • A bunch of small carved mother of pearl buttons with a purple tint added - gorgeous!

  • Some glass buttons from the turn of the century - they actually look like they may be mother of pearl.

  • Three different sizes of mother of pearl whistle buttons from the same time period.Whistle buttons have one hole on one side and two holes on the other.

  • And some snap cuff links from the 1920s-1930s - never saw these before and had to Google them to confirm my suspicion - art deco era.

There are some other items too: a pair of resin covered golfers, more mother of pearl finds, some hefty wooden buttons, a couple brass beauties and a tiny 4-H pin that I found cute.

My favorite? The snap cuff links - because they're new and interesting to me. I searched them out online and found similar pairs going for upwards of $50 - wow.

So, how much did I drop? A measly 15 bucks. I got an excellent deal and the "button guy" has definitely found himself a return customer - even if he didn't have what I was expecting to find.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Perfectly Normal: The Superhero Musical Hits the Stage in March

by Deanna Roux

Two Chestnut Hill Community School teachers, Steve Walkowicz and Josh Guerraz, teamed up last summer to write an original play called “Perfectly Normal: The Superhero Musical.” At the end March, all their hard work - and the hard work of 100-plus students, teachers and parents - will be presented on stage in two performances at Belchertown High School.

“We had to write a play that involved fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders. It had to be kid-oriented with a lot of speaking parts,” Walkowicz said, “We had about five rewrites. It was like a summer job,” he laughed.

Josh Guerraz, Music Teacher,
rehearses with the "Super Chorus"

Guerraz, music teacher and life-long musician, wrote all the original music for the play and Walkowicz, sixth-grade math teacher, wrote all the lyrics, as well as the play itself. All the acting, singing and musical instruments are performed by the students. “We have six original songs in it and there are eight scenes. At times, we’ll have 100 kids singing on stage,” Walkowicz said.

This isn’t the first play the two have produced. “In the last two years we spoofed High School Musical and we called it ‘Elementary School Musical.’ So we rewrote the songs and it was really successful,” Walkowicz explained, “The kids loved it. We saw that kids really aren’t afraid to sing. Maybe it’s the American idolization of kids,” he added. This year the two decided to write their own musical to avoid costly fees incurred by copyrighted material.

“Perfectly Normal: The Superhero Musical” is the story of a fictional country that segregates all of the super heroes. They live in a camp called Super City. “The superheroes are obviously not too happy about this so they come up with the idea of inviting a perfectly normal family to live with them to show that perfectly normal people can live side by side with super heroes.” Walkowicz explained.

The play centers on this “normal” family and how hard it is for them to blend in with the super heroes. “It’s all about fitting in and what it feels like when you don’t fit in. It’s also about equality,” said Walkowicz, “It’s supposed to be funny - that’s what we try for - but it also has a serious side to it.”

In addition to the speaking parts, the show boasts over 50 cast members in a Super Chorus which sings throughout the musical. With the help of one of the teachers, they design their own super hero costume, write their autobiography and essentially create their own character.

To help pay for the play, the kids paid $15 to participate. So far, that fee has paid for cast t-shirts and part of it will go toward the background scenery. Ticket sales will fund things like lights, sound, and janitorial services. “The program will feature small ads bought by moms and dads. It’s all self-sufficient. There’s no money from the school and we didn’t get any grants because we started kind of late, but we’re learning what to do for next time,” Walkowicz said.

Walkowicz admits that it’s challenging to get through a 100-person rehearsal, but adds, “Five minutes after it’s over I always feel good about how much fun it was and how charged up the kids are.”

There will be two 7 pm performances on Friday, March 27th and Saturday, March 28th. Tickets are on sale now and cost $5 each ($3 for students and senior citizens). For more information, e-mail Steve Walkowicz.