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.
A JAZZY EDUCATION
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.
STARVING ARTIST SYNDROME
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.”
NOW EVERYBODY TANGO
“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.”
PIT BAND TALENT
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.
WE HAVE A WINNER
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.”
GET YOUR TICKETS HERE
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.