June 6, 2019 – 75th Anniversary of D-Day, Omaha Beach, Normandy

June 6, 2019 – 75th Anniversary, D-Day

This day was the sole reason for all of the musicians attending this service trip. My writing today is by far the longest and most detailed. It is important to me to preserve the memories, inscriptions, and history that we absorbed today. Much of the writings on the memorials and information tablets are difficult to take in. Some of these details are especially sobering, and may bring up emotions as you read (I know they brought up emotions in me as I re-read them and typed them out for you).

Pointe du Hoc

Our tour guide, Patrick, worked it out so that we could make our first beach stop at Pointe du Hoc. This was one of the most eerie places that I have ever visited. Walking around, we saw huge craters in the ground that were carved into the earth by bombs and explosions decades ago. They are covered in grass today. Looking through all of the fortifications that were left since WWII, we shuddered as we thought of Nazi soldiers hiding inside. We looked across to the horizon and noted that today was extremely peaceful, warm, and calm. It almost made me feel guilty to view such a beautiful sight at a place that was filled with pure carnage 75 years ago to the day.

We were able to visit the US Army Ranger Memorial. The following text was taken from informative plaques as we visited Pointe du Hoc: In 1943, Allied commanders began the detailed preparations needed to organize, transport, land, and support the hundreds of thousands of troops who would come ashore in Normandy. Allied assault units exhaustively practiced combat operations while logisticians stockpiled weapons, supplies, and equipment. US Army Rangers undertook particularly demanding training exercises in preparation for their crucial role in the invasion. The 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions took part in the Normandy landings. The plan called for 3 companies from the 2nd battalion to assault the cliffs at Pointe du Hoc. If this initial attack succeeded, additional Rangers from the 2nd and 5th Battalions would join them as reinforcements. If they did not receive a signal indicating success by 0700, these reinforcements would head to Omaha Beach instead and attack Pointe du Hoc by land. US Army Ranger units sustained heavy losses during the Normandy Landings. Of 225 Rangers that left the ships in the first wave to attack Pointe du Hoc, only 90 men were still able to bear arms when the relief force arrived on the morning of June 8. In the larger battle, the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions taken together suffered 96 killed, 183 wounded, and 32 missing during the battles for Pointe du Hoc and Omaha Beach. Of the 350,000 Allied personnel who took part in the D-Day Invasion, including the 156,000 troops who landed on Normandy’s beaches, approximately 9,000 were casualties on June 6. By the end of the campaign for Normandy, the Allies suffered more than 200,000 casualties, including over 50,000 killed. The Normandy American Cemetery holds the remains of 9,387 Americans and memorializes 1,557 on the Walls of the Missing.

Omaha Beach

After we visited Pointe du Hoc, we quietly boarded the bus and headed for Omaha Beach. There were hundreds of old army jeeps driving around with military re-enactors walking around. Many of them were drinking lemonade and eating ice cream before the event took place, which initially struck us as strange. We certainly got used to seeing them around! There were hundreds of them, driving their vehicles, walking around, and in duck boats driving in and out of the ocean. Getting off of the bus and approaching the 29th Infantry Division Memorial (Colonel Gabriel’s division), we were hit with how “real” this all started to feel. Again, looking at the beautiful ocean on this calm day just seemed wrong, compared to what he witnessed in 1944. We visited the memorial, which bears the inscription, “29, Let’s Go! From North and South in our land we came that freedom might prevail. On D-Day, 6 June 1944, in the great allied amphibious assault, the 29th Infantry Division stormed ashore on Omaha Beach to win a beachhead. Our fallen lie among you, they gave the last full measure of their devotion. Sleep comrades, forever young. We salute you. Remember us.”

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National Guard Memorial

I want to write the inscriptions of the National Guard Memorial, as they are quite moving. The photos of the memorial are below.

“For our comrades in arms who have fallen, may be the blessing of the almighty God descend upon this spot and remain forever a chaplain. 29th Infantry Division, June 1944”

“Thousands of citizen soldiers of the National Guard stormed ashore on these beaches on 6 June,1944, as part of the Army of the United States. They fought valiantly and with great distinction in all the ensuing battles and campaigns of World War II. More than a quarter-century earlier, in World War I, their fathers shed blood in Europe in the cause of freedom. To all of them, and to the principles for which they fought, this moment is dedicated.”

“In the greatest war in history, citizen-soldiers of the National Guard fought in every action in which the United States Army engaged, compiling brilliant combat records in every corner of the world. Some 300,000 National Guardsmen were mobilized in 1940-41 as America made ready for a conflict that was to engulf much of the civilized world. National Guardsmen took part in 34 major campaigns and seven assault landings including the historic assault which took place on the beaches below this site.  On June 6, 1944, thousands became casualties within view of this monument, many of them cut down by fire from the battered enemy pillbox upon which this memorial stands.”

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Parade

A couple of friends and I walked along the beach wall after we sat and enjoyed our boxed lunch that was prepared for us. We were commenting on how incredibly different this day felt compared to the horrific stories that we’ve been told on this trip. We pictured Colonel Gabriel, 18 years old, jumping off of a boat, ready to give his life for our country. It all then felt very heavy, and we had to prepare for his wreath laying ceremony, parade, and our concert. While we waited, we saw the opening ceremony at the American Cemetery off in the distance, about 2 miles along the beach from us. We saw many planes flying through the sky, some letting out red/white/blue colors as they flew over the cemetery. Colonel Gabriel was sitting in his wheelchair, listening to the mayor of the town (Vierville-sur-Mer) give speeches and thank all of us for being there to commemorate this event. The Colonel then rose from his chair, was given a wreath of flowers with a ribbon that said “D-Day Memorial Wind Band”, and placed it at the base of the memorial. He then stared at the words on the stone- we all knew exactly what he was thinking, and who he was thinking of. Then, a Florida State University trumpeter played “Taps”. His salute was a moment that I will never forget for the rest of my life. In the moment of silence after “Taps” was played, his arm floated down, and he began to cry. We all then turned around and sang along to the FSU’s rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner”. It was now time to follow Colonel Gabriel in his Jeep, as he was the Parade Marshall for the one-mile route along the beach wall, toward the D-Day Memorial (our concert site). As we walked along the route, we witnessed people shouting their thanks and appreciation to him. We all waved small American flags as residents of the town waved to us from their front lawns in appreciation. The whole time, my eyes were on Colonel Gabriel and the horizon, just trying to imagine this kind, sweet, smiling man armed with a weapon, storming this very beach 75 years ago. It is beyond imagination, but it is the truth. People died in circles all around him, and we were the lucky recipients of his presence today. I felt fortunate, filled with gratitude for the sacrifice that he made, and the utmost pride and honor to be there with him as we approached his landing site.

The Concert

The concert began after 220 of us musicians put our instruments together and took pictures of our stage for the event. The band was facing inland, to the right of the D-Day Memorial. Colonel Gabriel was looking in our direction, which faced the ocean. I could not stop thinking of what was going through his mind, staring at the horizon while we played “Hymn to the Fallen” and “America, the Beautiful”. I cried, mostly when I was resting. I held the Haynes D-Day Flute #16173 close to my chest when I wasn’t playing, whispering a silent prayer for Mr. Dale Shaffner and his heroic act of bravery in the water behind me with THIS flute in his pack. I was playing music on the instrument today. 75 years ago, the “music” in the air was deafening and filled with terror. How lucky I was to give this instrument a return to this hallowed ground and give it another purpose at Omaha Beach. For the rest of my life, I will remember all of the special moments of this concert, listening to the sound of this borrowed flute. I looked back at Tracy Wright, my colleague from ABC who made the connection to the D-Day flute back in the Fall. He transported it to Europe from Georgia, where it is currently owned by William Fisher, Dale Shaffner’s student. I felt thankful for Mr. Fisher, who allowed a total stranger to take custody of it this week in Europe. The Colonel gave us a life-changing experience on D-Day 75. I know that our music brought peace, beauty, and symbolic messages of unity on Omaha Beach. I am profoundly changed and I know it will take me a lifetime to truly absorb what this experience meant to me.

In Closing

My hometown (New Bedford, Massachusetts) newspaper did a fantastic article on June 6, 2019, on my involvement in the event on D-Day in Normandy. Please feel free to take a look. It features quotes from myself, my parents, and my grandparents. Much of this trip was inspired by my pride and affection for my grandfather, Antero S. Gonsalves, a US Army Soldier in the 624th Field Artillery Observation Battalion, 6th Army, 11th Corps. He was stationed in the Philippines in World War II. Much of the information about my grandfather was not known to my family and I until we took a trip to Washington, D.C. in 2015. We took Odie (as we call him) to the World War II Memorial. This trip brought back many memories for him, and we were in awe of his stories. We were also touched to see so many strangers coming up to us, thanking him for his service, offering handshakes and hugs. I’m so proud of him and all of the teenagers through adults who answered the call. I’ve always heard people refer to them as “The Greatest Generation”. I finally and completely understand why.

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Paris Day 4-5: Concert at the Eiffel Tower, Driving north to Normandy

June 4, 2019

Today was a day that I never, ever dreamed of. We had an afternoon of leisure time in Paris, which was nice after such a long rehearsal day. During dinner, we heard heavy rain, clapping thunder, and intense hail. Our concert that evening was of course…outside. This storm ended quickly and we luckily were able to salvage a beautifully cool night in the city. The bus drove us to our concert venue, and our jaws dropped. At the end of the Champ de Mars, right in front of the Ecole Militaire, were 200 chairs, a podium, and trucks unloading percussion. Our stage was at the end of the park of the Eiffel Tower. It was picture perfect and none of us could really believe that we were going to play our program under the shadow of the symbol of Paris.

Stage

Colonel Gabriel was so generous with his time, allowing us to take photographs with him on the podium before the concert. Because of the storm, the sky was setting so beautifully, and I was trying as hard as I could to stay in the moment and soak in what was about to happen. I have amazing friends who traveled to Paris to see these concerts take place, and it was truly the most special feeling to look into the audience and see their faces. Amazingly enough, Mr. and Mrs. Reveley (McCarthy Band Parents!) were coming through Paris this week, and the concert lined up with their travels. I was able to catch up with them before the concert, which was so nice. Band is everywhere!

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Colonel Gabriel and I, holding the D-Day Haynes Flute at our Paris Concert.
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Mr. and Mrs. Reveley in Paris!

The concert began with the American and French national anthems. I was overwhelmed at the start of the concert. I ended up being moved to the front seat, to the left of the Colonel. I was able to watch him intently, and I tried to capture mental pictures of this event. How many times in my life would I ever be able to play a concert, 4 feet away from Colonel Gabriel, at the Eiffel Tower?

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We played through our program, which includes marches such as the National Emblem, The Longest Day, and Colonel Bogey. We’re also performing American film classics, such as Hollywood movie medleys and “Hymn to the Fallen” by John Williams. Hymn to the Fallen was difficult to play while watching Col. Gabriel. However, the Carmen Dragon arrangement of “America, the Beautiful” makes me lose it every time. There were moments of that piece that I could barely play because of the emotional climax of the piece. Watching Col. Gabriel conduct it with a wide smile and incredible passion is a memory that I will hold with me forever. Here are some of the photos of this amazing day.

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American Band College group photo with Col. Gabriel
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Miss Morgan, Miss Caroline, and Miss Kait- amazing audience members!
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Mr. (Pete) Sexauer and Mr. Sexauer and I

June 5, 2019

Today was a transfer day between Paris and Normandy. We were able to stop in two French towns, Rouen and Honfleur. Rouen houses a cathedral that was badly damaged in the war, and it is still undergoing efforts to restore it to its original beauty. It was amazing to be able to see it from the outside, and even more so on the inside. The town itself was incredibly charming, with lots of shops and restaurants. Definitely a place to come back to!

After Rouen, we ended up in Honfleur, a seaside town with an old harbor and an AMAZING cathedral, St. Catherine’s. It is France’s largest timber church, and the coolest thing about it is its double nave (two main aisles going down the middle!). It was humbling to walk inside as well. We were told that the architecture was inspired by naval shipbuilding, which makes sense for a harbor town!

Now, we are checked in at our Normandy hotel. Our big day is tomorrow- THE reason why we are here! We’re participating in a wreath laying ceremony at the 29th infantry division monument, processing a mile down the beach toward the Omaha Beach D-Day Memorial, where we will give our concert. I am emotionally and mentally preparing for a day that will certainly be life-changing. I cannot wait to tell you all about it!

 

 

Day 2-3: Paris Pantheon, Riverboat cruise on the Seine, and meeting “the flute” that would change my life forever

June 2, 2019

Yesterday was a half day of sight-seeing, and then we met up with our D-Day 75th Anniversary Wind Band Tour. A few of us spent the morning at the Pantheon, which houses an amazing pendulum and a very large crypt, which rests some of the most famous Parisians (Victor Hugo, Voltaire, and Pierre & Marie Curie, to name a few).

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Voltaire
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Pendulum
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Pantheon, from a side street!

The evening was spent reuniting with some friends from the American Band College, which is where I completed my master’s degree last summer in Ashland, Oregon. Many of the musicians were in Paris for the first time, so we decided to take a boat cruise on the Seine. We hopped in a couple of taxis and got on the Bateaux Mouche, near the Eiffel Tower. It was a perfect way to spend our first night together here, seeing the sights along the river! The other musicians from Chelmsford on our tour are Mr. Matt Sexauer (CHS Band Director), and his father, Mr. Pete Sexauer (retired Chelmsford music teacher). Enjoy some photos of our time on board!

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The Eiffel Tower lights up and sparkles for 5 minutes each hour late at night!
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Me, Mr. Sexauer, and Mr. (Pete) Sexauer on the riverboat!

June 3, 2019

Today was our big rehearsal day with Colonel Arnald Gabriel. He is a U.S. Army Veteran of WWII, and later spent decades in the U.S. Air Force, rising to conductor in many USAF musical ensembles. His story is absolutely incredible. He landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy on June 6, 1944, and survived the deadly “D-Day” battle (that lasted for 45 days!). In May of 1945, he went to work in a factory, canning beans and peas. His high school band director came to the factory and questioned why he didn’t go to college. Col. Gabriel said that he wasn’t going to college because he couldn’t compete with graduating high school students. His director came back a week later, told him that his tuition was waived and he paid Col. Gabriel’s matriculation fee at Ithaca College. That moment started a storied music career, and he became an American treasure as a veteran and as an influential conductor. He turned 94 years old on Friday, May 31st, hopped a plane to France, and here is with us, putting on concerts in Paris and Normandy with a band of 220 people.

Today’s two rehearsals lasted for 3 hours each. Colonel Gabriel has memorized every score that we are playing, down to the measure markings, notes, harmonies, dynamics, articulations (you name it- he knows it). It is astounding to experience.

I have the VERY lucky opportunity to perform on a Haynes flute that landed on the beaches of Normandy on the back of a soldier named Dale Shaffner. Mr. Shaffner’s student, William Fisher, currently owns the flute. Mr. Fisher is a friend of Tracy Wright, who is a friend of mine from ABC. Mr. (Tracy) Wright posted the story of Mr. Shaffner’s flute on Facebook earlier this year, and I immediately contacted him to see if we could get the instrument to France to reunite it with the Normandy beaches 75 years later. Mr. Fisher allowed us to bring the instrument. Imagine…a flute that was in the pack of a soldier, who jumped off his Higgins boat on D-Day on June 6, 1944, survived. Not only did it survive with its owner, it is now coming back to the very spot to perform a concert, memorializing the event that killed 9,000 allied soldiers 75 years ago. To be able to play the instrument in this concert is simply profound- I felt it the most when we rehearsed The Star-Spangled Banner, America the Beautiful, and the Stars and Stripes Forever. This instrument is a symbol of strength, bravery, beauty, culture, and peace. I am forever honored.

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Mr. Shaffner’s Haynes Flute, which survived D-Day 75 years ago.
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I was able to practice on it for about 20 minutes before rehearsal. It plays beautifully!
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My “work station” for today!
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An amazing moment- catching up with Colonel Gabriel, showing him the instrument, and thanking him for his service (as well as thanking him for spending time with all of us making music).

Paris, Day 1 (May 31-June 1)

I am happy to say that we have arrived in beautiful Paris! The weather was warm here today, so we stuck to the shade in the parks and along the River Seine. With me today are two of my close friends from home, Miss Caroline and Miss Kait. Miss Kait’s sister, Miss Morgan, will be joining us on Monday. These wonderful people have come along to Paris for a vacation, as well as to watch our concert in Normandy on June 6th. Kids, when you are adults, find awesome friends who like to travel! 🙂 Also with me today were two other music teacher friends, Mr. Pedro (tenor sax) and Ms. Davis (alto sax). They will be performing in the band as well!

We took a long walk in the afternoon and ended it at Notre Dame Cathedral. You can’t get close to it, as they are beginning the long recovery process after the terrible fire that they had on Marathon Monday. It was heartbreaking to see the devastation to this beautiful and important place in Paris. We stayed at the outskirts of the church for a while and stared in disbelief. I come to Paris about once or twice per year, so this was a shocking site to see. The roof is completely gone, and they have temporary windows on the outside of the building. It was eerie to see so much transparency through the architecture. As we looked at it, we were reminded how lucky it is that the entire cathedral was not lost.

We are very jet-lagged and tired! I will write again soon. Mr. Sexauer and his father, Mr. (Pete) Sexauer, will be joining our crew tomorrow! Thanks for reading, friends!

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Hundreds of people sitting under the shade of the Luxembourg Gardens trees.
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Cafe de Flore, a famous Parisian cafe!
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Seine Riverboat
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Notre Dame from the south side.
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Zoomed in shot of the scaffolding and repair work.
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A heartbreaking image of flowers (now dried) placed at the perimeter of the cathedral area.
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A completely changed view of the church.

Scale Workouts (9/28/18)

The weekend should be a great time to start exercising your scales skills! It’s super important for every musician to play scales well. For the band students, we’ve been playing our first five note scale, the “concert B-flat” scale from Do to So.

For “C” instruments, such as the flutes/trombones/mallets, the notes are: Bb, C, D, Eb, F

For “B-flat” instruments, such as the clarinets/trumpets, the notes are: C, D, E, F, G

For E-flat instruments such as the alto saxophone, the notes are: G, A, B, C, D

Each pitch is assigned a solfege syllable (Bb=Do, C=Re, D=Mi, Eb=Fa, F=So). These syllables can be sung by everyone, which is why we use them in band. You’ll notice that Do is a “C” for the clarinets and trumpets, and a “G” for the alto saxophones.

Practice the following scale pattern called the “rolling scale” when you warm up. It helps your sound, intonation, interval jumping, and articulation improve!

  • Do, Re, Do
  • Do, Re, Mi, Re, Do
  • Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Mi, Re, Do
  • Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, Fa, Mi, Re, Do

Use the following video to see an example of a rolling scale.

Practice the following scale pattern called the “interval workout” when you warm up.

  • Do, Re, Do
  • Do, Mi, Do
  • Do, Fa, Do
  • Do, So, Do
  • So, Fa, So
  • So, Mi, So
  • So, Re, So
  • So, Do, So

Use the following video to see an example of an interval workout.

Best of luck in your practicing- a little bit every day makes a HUGE difference!

Google Classroom Videos: A Tutorial

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Mr. Wright and I assigned your first Google Classroom video assignment of the year today. It is due by midnight on Friday, September 28th. I’ve attached the instructions for logging into GC in this email, just in case you have not joined your appropriate class.

Tip: If you have a smartphone or a tablet, Google Classroom has an app! It is very simple to submit your video this way.

Video Instructions:

  1. Position yourself in front of your camera so that we can see your hand position and embouchure (for wind players, we need to be able to see that you are forming the correct shape with your mouth/lips on your instrument).
  2. You can introduce the video and make it personal.
  3. You may use a metronome (here is a free online metronome!) or use a handheld metronome on your music stand. This is recommended to keep a steady tempo. Playing your excerpt at a slower tempo with accuracy is preferred. We would rather you take it slow and perform the solo at a pace that is comfortable for you. We will often give you tempo guidelines- if you must modify your tempo, please write us a comment in the assignment before you hit “submit”.
  4. Take as many “takes” as you need to submit your best work to us.
  5. We are NOT taking away points if you make mistakes. We are grading you on effort, improvement from week to week, and a positive attitude. We do not expect you to submit perfect videos and recordings; we know that you are beginner and intermediate level players who still need to work on these skills! Just show us your best work and let us guide you with our comments.

Once per month, we will assign you a “wild card” assignment. This can be a song of your choice- and you can choose to perform it with props, costume, or even family members/pets! We want you to have fun while you’re practicing. You should be practicing your instrument daily. Set small goals for yourself, and base each practice session on those goals. You will get better every day if you do this, and you’ll feel great about how you sound!

Let’s “band together” and get this first assignment in on time!

Miss Lacasse & Mr. Wright

Beginning Band: The “FIRST WEEKEND” With Your Instruments

We use “solfege” in band every day. This is so the students can sing the pitches that we expect them to play on their instruments. Solfege will help us stay on neutral syllables, because we are dealing with two “key groups”. In short, flutes/trombones/mallets are pitched in the key of C. Trumpets/clarinets are pitched in the key of B-flat. When the flutes play a B-flat, a clarinet will need to play a C in order to produce the same pitch that the ear hears. This is called transposition.

The students should be used to singing in band every day, and we encourage them to sing the pitches before they play them on their instrument. This will develop their ear-training, which is a necessary skill for any instrumentalist. Brass players should always warm up with long tones on their mouthpieces. The buzz is the most important part of sound creation. Clarinets should always warm up with their mouthpieces and barrels (not a LOUD volume, but controlled), and flutes should warm up with their headjoint sounds.

If anyone forgets hand position or posture, that’s fine! Please visit www.lacasseintune.com and search for your child’s instrument. It contains photo reminders of how to hold the instrument, which fingers to put down for the first three notes, and much more! Also, if you click on the button for the beginners one-stop-shop, you’ll find photo reminders of how to put the instruments back in the cases properly. If an instrument is not placed in the case correctly, you could bend the instrument when you close the case.

Students should practice enough to get better at a goal each day. We do not put a time minimum on practicing at home. Everyone develops at their own pace, which might mean that a student could spend 20 minutes practicing a song to get it right, while another student could gain the same amount of progress in 60 minutes. One of our most popular phrases in the band room is “fair is not equal”. Everyone should persist in getting better, remain patient with oneself, and take one step at a time.

As always, please feel free to reach out if you have specific questions. We are so proud of everyone! Have a great weekend of practicing, and please remember to bring your instrument, pencil, binder, and book on Monday, September 9, 2018!

Miss Lacasse & Mr. Wright

Lacassea@chelmsford.k12.ma.us
Wrights@chelmsford.k12.ma.us

About Miss Lacasse

IMG_1720Welcome to Band! My name is Allison Lacasse (Miss Lacasse), and I am extremely proud to be a co-director of the McCarthy Middle School Band Program in Chelmsford, Massachusetts.

I have been a music teacher in the Chelmsford Public Schools since 2007. In addition to my role at McCarthy, I am the Associate Band Director for the Chelmsford High School Band. I also co-direct the CPS Grades 6-12 All Town Wind Ensemble, a volunteer group of musicians from the Parker MS, McCarthy MS, and Chelmsford HS Band Programs. I maintain an active flute studio of private students and continue to advocate for new student ensembles and performing opportunities. Each summer, I host the Chelmsford Summer Flute Camp at the Chelmsford Center for the Arts, a program for beginner and intermediate flute players from the Chelmsford area.

I am an active orchestral flutist and chamber musician in the Greater Boston area. I have performed on flute/piccolo for local orchestras including the Cambridge Symphony, Boston Civic Symphony, Arlington Philharmonic, Fall River Symphony, Newton Symphony, New Hampshire Philharmonic, Lowell House Opera Company, South County Chamber Orchestra, and the Cambridge Symphony. I have performed in special performance halls such as Jordan Hall and Symphony Hall. Most recently, I was fortunate enough to conduct the Chelmsford All Town Wind Ensemble on the Perelman Stage at New York City’s Carnegie Hall. My chamber ensemble performances include local and tour concerts with the Fusion String Ensemble. I performed in the NYU Chamber Music Institute in 2010, and was in the Fellowship program of the Imani Winds Chamber Music Festival at Juilliard in the summer of 2012. Performing music professionally is extremely important to me. I find that it balances me and helps me be the best conductor I can be.

I received Bachelor of Music degrees in Music Education and Performance from the University of Rhode Island (2007) and a Master of Education degree from Cambridge College (2009). I am currently working on a Master of Music in Music Education degree at the American Band College of Central Washington University (anticipated graduation in July, 2018).

This website is a project for my third year coursework at the American Band College.

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