Ridgefield High debuts Ballard Park concert series

The Ridgefield High School concert orchestra and wind ensemble perform in front of spectators outside in Ballard Park.

The Ridgefield High School concert orchestra and wind ensemble perform in front of spectators outside in Ballard Park.

Michael McNamara / Contributed photo

Ridgefield Public Schools are anticipating to host concerts with live audiences again this year. So to get in some practice after 14 months of pandemic restrictions, Ridgefield High’s bands and orchestras debuted its spring concerts at Ballard Park.

Audience members gathered in late May to enjoy works by Beethoven, Mahler, Hazo and many more composers. And while the series was a return to normalcy, it was unique in many ways. The ensembles held two separate concerts, skewing from the typical combined concert held in Ridgefield High’s auditorium. Additionally, all attendees complied with mask and social distancing regulations. The changes were made in order to prioritize the health and safety of both students and audience members.

The safe return to live performing was an emotional experience for many of the young musicians, evoking a sense of normality. “I was so grateful for the chance to connect with my peers for the first time in forever,” said graduating cellist Alexandra Dillulio. “I had never felt such appreciation for the music I was playing.”

Senior trombonist Dmitri Volkov agreed. “The energy of a full ensemble playing for an audience really is hard to match,” he said. “(The concert) was quite refreshing after a year of ensembles playing for themselves.”

As the sun lowered over hundreds of spectators, audience members described feelings of triumph, relief, importance and immense pride — sentiments mutually felt by faculty and administrators.

“Not being able to make music with my students left a hole that couldn’t be filled,” said Orchestra Director Michael McNamara. “To be able to actually be back doing what I love with such great kids was really special.”

For Band Director George Beratis, the series highlighted the importance of music ensembles in schools. “Music is a great unifier, and we should push and advocate fiercely for the arts,” he said. “The feeling everyone gets from music is amongst the most unique and fulfilling there is.”

Due to COVID precautions, both band and orchestra concerts allowed a maximum of 500 spectators each, but the capacities filled within a matter of weeks. Among those in attendance were members of the Ridgefield Board of Education, Board of Selectmen and other town officials.

“It was so emotional,” Superintendent Susie Da Silva recalled. “I was so proud of the work of the teachers, students and families. Faculty and students did not settle this year or take the path of least resistance — they maintained high expectations for themselves and others. It was so clear that families were taking it all in. It was like a trance — all eyes and ears were on (the performers).”

Although COVID restrictions altered concerts last year, the pandemic also ushered in new traditions. The high school ensembles hope to continue with outdoor performances, hinting at pops concerts for the public in the spring.

“It was really well received by the community and such a beautiful setting,” McNamara said. “However, a lot of the nuance and detail gets lost when performing outdoors, so we are still committed to giving our students a spring concert in an appropriate facility as a culminating event. But we think a fun and light pops concert outdoors with a format similar to how we ran FunkRaiser will be a great way for our community to bond through music and end the year.”

“I’m really excited for this upcoming year,” Beratis added. “I think we all have a deeper appreciation for being able to make music together.”

For more information about the RHS music department, visit www.ridgefieldhsmusic.org.