Bigger, better Carrigan School band to march in 1st West Haven Memorial Day Parade

The Carrigan Intermediate School marching band that will, for the first time, march in West Haven’s Memorial Day Parade.

The Carrigan Intermediate School marching band that will, for the first time, march in West Haven’s Memorial Day Parade.

WEST HAVEN >> Don’t be alarmed if you happen to see a huge — and rapidly growing — tidal wave of musical kids flowing up Campbell Avenue during Monday’s West Haven Memorial Day Parade.

It’s just the Carrigan Intermediate School Band, marching in its first Memorial Day Parade since the city converted what used to be Carrigan Middle School to a citywide intermediate school for fifth- and sixth-graders seven years ago.

The band program at Carrigan, which feeds the programs at Bailey Middle School and West Haven High School, is back — in a huge, downright ecstatic way — and it’s bringing with it all kinds of good repercussions.

In just two years since Carrigan’s instrumental program fell to 100 participants, the program has ballooned back — in large part due to the intense recruiting efforts of veteran music teacher and band instructor Angelo Vessicio, his colleagues said — to 230 kids last year and now to 356 kids this year.

That’s nearly 38 percent of the school, which has about 950 kids.

About 90 of those kids, those who have made it to the intermediate level, will march in the Memorial Day Parade, which will begin at 10:30 a.m. and will head up Campbell Avenue from Captain Thomas Boulevard, past City Hall to Center Street.

But that pared-down band still will be almost as big as the 110-member West Haven High School Blue Devil Marching Band.

If all of the kids in Carrigan’s program marched, it would be the biggest band West Haven had ever seen at any level.

“This is the largest band that West Haven has ever had in any school,” said Vessicio.

For the folks teaching all those kids, as well as for their bosses, it’s uncharted territory.

“This is new to me, too,” said Vessicio, who is in his 26th year of teaching. Last year, he was the band program’s only music teacher — but this year, he is one of three teachers who are all working hard to keep up.

But that’s OK, because he sees good things happening.

“It’s the best year!” Vessicio said. “These kids are just amazing!”

Prior to last year, “our numbers were really down,” Vessicio said.

So, at the start of last school year and again this school year, “I went into the all the classes” and spoke to kids “one on one” — even playing all the instruments for the kids to show them how they worked and talk about the characteristics and advantages of each, he said.

When school officials saw how many kids they had this year, it was time for them to make some decisions.

They brought back Matt Lupoli, Vessicio’s cousin, who a few years ago had been transferred from Carrigan to Bailey, to help out — and even drafted West Haven High School music teacher Cassandra Marcella, the high school’s band director, to work part-time with the Carrigan kids.

Vessicio said the additional help has been a blessing.

With that many kids, “I would have sunk by myself,” he said.

While it’s additional work for Marcella, who some days finds herself shuttling between the three schools, “I love it!” she said. “It’s added years to the end of my career ... to be working with beginners again.”

Marcella is in as good a position as anyone to see how much the good work being done at Carrigan will help the kids and the schools’ respective band programs as kids move up.

“In one year, from this year to next, we will triple the size of the seventh-grade band because of what we did here,” she said.

A little farther up the road, “there’s potential for a 600-700-piece band at the high school in the years to come,” Marcella said.

But while West Haven was able to shift people around for this year without hiring anyone new, the administration now is going to have to come up with some money to hire someone new at Bailey, which teaches seventh- and eighth-graders,.

“Because they’ve done such a good job,” the school system needs someone to help teach all the new band kids who will be coming up from Carrigan, said Superintendent of School Neil Cavallaro.

And while West Haven has had some fiscal challenges in recent years, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that it will meet this one.

“We have to find the money for that,” Cavallaro said. “Kids are really thriving and flourishing ... I really see it as necessary and essential.”

In fact, “when we closed the two elementary schools and brought the kids over to Carrigan” for the 2010-11 school year, “this was one of the things we hoped would happen,” he said.

And growth is coming not just in the instrumental program but in the district’s choral and drama programs, as well, Cavallaro said.

“I can’t believe it,” he said. “If you go to some of these concerts, just how they fit them all up on stage; it’s amazing!”

But nowhere is the excitement about the band’s growth and development more real than in the eyes of the kids.

“It’s fun!” said Jocelyn Acevedo, 12, a sixth-grader who is one of seven Carrigan drummers who will be marching Monday, “because I know way more people than before I was in the band.

“You don’t feel lonely while you’re marching in the band,” Jocelyn said.

For sixth-grader Monika Valdez, 11 — one of just two baritone players in the band, along with Layla Horner — “I’m excited about performing in front of people and showing that I’m confident.”

In fact, “I feel very excited,” Monika said, and “I feel it helps build new friendships.”

Sixth-grade flute player Rachel Casanova, 11, is just as excited about marching.

“It’s really fun — especially that I get to walk out with my friends ...” she said. “I feel really good about it because my mom can see me and it’s her birthday!”

For sixth grade drummer Kevin Gardner, 12, the band is more than just a learning opportunity.

“I feel like it helps build friendships and feels like a family,” he said.

Kevin also is excited because his older sister, McKenzie and he both will be marching this year. McKenzie is an eighth-grader who plays trumpet in the Bailey Middle School band.

“I’m excited about the experience!” said Jayda Johnson, 12, a sixth-grader who plays the clarinet.

“I feel very confident!” said sixth-grade trumpet player Jason Jones, 11. In fact, “I feel great! I feel it’s a great opportunity for the whole band.”

Sixth-grader Abigail Sanchez, 12, plays flute in the sixth-grade beginner band, but will be able to march on Monday because she’s one of the kids who holds the white Carrigan banner that will announce the band’s presence as members march up the avenue.

“I’m excited!” Abigail said. “It’s the first time that I’m participating in marching.”

Clarinet player Shirleya Lawal, 11, may only be in sixth-grade, but she’s got big plans.

Those plans include “becoming a professional player,” Shirleya said. She’s looking forward to marching because “I’ll get to see all the other bands that have been there before,” she said.

Sixth-grader Shyanne Raccio, 12, is another student who plays the clarinet in the beginning band. But she’s got a huge role to play when Carrigan makes it’s debut in the Memorial Day Parade.

She’s the one who will be carrying the American flag — and is also the one who will be stopping and starting the band as it marches along the parade route.

“I feel honored to do it,” Shyanne said.