City students sing—and play—for their supper

Thanks to steady leadership in the classroom, students at Buford Middle School continue to make musical strides.

Under the tutelage of band director Joe Tornello, the Buford Band recently captured “straight superior” ratings at District Music Assessments. This marks 31 consecutive years in which a Buford band has received the top rating.

“When I got here the assistant superintendent said that the music program was floundering and that they wanted it changed,” Tornello said. “After 34 years, the kids are remarkable.”

Each year at assessments, students must perform a concert march, two of three prepared concert pieces—one selected by the judges and one by Tornello—and they have the option of participating in an additional sight reading assessment.

This year the judges rated the Buford Band a one—the highest possible score—in each category.

A Long Island, New York native, Tornello began playing percussion when he was eight years old, and credits his teachers and band directors for his “fundamentals” approach to teaching music.

“Every day the students come in for class there is a warm-up routine, so they know exactly what to expect,” Tornello said about the importance he places on the basics, which he also cited as the greatest teaching challenge.

“Every musician, to be good, has to be fundamentally trained, and that’s hard to do,” Tornello added.

But the students are grateful for this approach.

“He really knows the fundamentals and he gets things done,” said Sydney Lewin, a 7th grade clarinet player who enjoys the communal elements of music.

“You play and you disappear,” Lewin said. “It’s about how well you play and it’s not about you.”

“I guess you could call him old-school, but if he is, school would be a lot better if it were old-school,” said Cole Fairchild, a 7th grade saxophone player.

“I’ve played music for three years now, and I’ve enjoyed it, but never as much as I’ve enjoyed it when I’m here because of the environment, the level of playing, and the biggest thing is our teacher, he makes it the one thing I look forward to in the day,” Fairchild added.

Walker Upper Elementary School and Charlottesville High School also performed well.

Under the direction of Bob Dunnenberger, Walker’s 62-member concert band took home a superior rating on level two music.

The music the schools can choose from is ranked one through six, six being the most difficult level that is often performed by high schools.

CHS’s string ensemble earned a top score on the most challenging level of music they could have performed—a streak dating back to 1984.

What’s more, the Virginia Music Educators Association donned CHS with its ninth blue ribbon for earning a superior ranking in band, choir, and orchestra.

The Buford Band plans to repeat their award-winning performance at their spring concert in April.