Clifton High School Wind Ensemble Makes Good on a Three Years Old Concert Date


Bryan Stepneski, director of the Mustang Marching Band and many other Mustang Band ensembles at Clifton High School, including the Wind Ensemble, is a graduate of Montclair State University’s music program. As a student there and a member of the MSU Wind Symphony, he participated in several collaborative concerts, where some of the best bands from across the state were invited to perform as guests. Stepneski could only imagine what an honor it would be someday to be directing his own band and to be invited back to that same stage. That aspiration was set to become a reality on March 20, 2020, when the CHS Wind Ensemble was to perform at Alexander Kasser Theatre under Stepneski’s direction. That plan was foiled when most of the world shut down as Covid-19 swept the globe. The concert, like so many other plans, had to be canceled.

Dr. McCauley, Director of Bands at MSU, did not forget about that missed opportunity and in May of 2022, he reconnected with Stepneski to reschedule the long-overdue collaborative concert. On Saturday, March 18, the CHS Wind Ensemble finally got the chance to play on the Kasser Theatre stage and Stepneski returned to it with a conductor’s baton instead of a trumpet. As an added point of pride, former CHS Mustang Band member John Rivas is a first-year student at MSU, studying Music Education. Now a member of the MSU Wind Symphony, he performed in the collaborative concert that he missed as a Mustang in 2020 under the direction of Dr. McCauley.

The concert was 90 minutes long and included a rich variety of pieces from different composers and genres. The CHS Wind Ensemble opened the concert with a lively piece entitled The Billboard March. Their fourth piece, Remembering the Remarkables, is a modern composition with a timely backstory and relevance as we are in the middle of Women’s History Month. Composed by Grace Baugher, the piece was written to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women's suffrage. The music paints a cinematic picture to pay tribute to the women who have paved the way from over a century ago to today. Baugher uses the metaphor of climbing (and descending) a mountain to tell this story in notes and rhythms.

Jesse Felder-Pfaff, who graduated from CHS and the Mustang Band with Rivas in 2022, attended the concert with another former Mustang, Lucius Patti. Although disappointed that he didn’t get the chance to play in the canceled concert in 2020, Felder-Pfaff said, “Even if I didn’t get to have the experience as a performer, I’m glad I got to have it as an audience member.”

The CHS Wind Ensemble will be reprising two of the pieces from Saturday’s program (Exhale by Sean O'Loughlin and A Longford Legend by Robert Sheldon) next Thursday, March 23, at the NJSMA Region Concert Band Festival at Bergenfield High School. The Clifton Times wishes them, and their director, a great performance at the festival!

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