It was a beautiful day on Wednesday, Nov. 2, and an exciting one as well.
Music echoed through the Nassau BOCES Long Island High School for the Arts in Syosset, as the student band rehearsed in front of the Ramona’s Gift To Music co-founders. Members of the band, brought together by the British Pop Ensemble course, were rehearsing songs they planned to perform for the Ramona’s Gift To Music Fundraiser event held on Nov. 13 in Patchogue, which featured freestyle and dance-pop singer Alisha Ann Itkin. The mission of Ramona’s Gift to Music is to help children advance their musical studies by providing individual scholarships and awards, supporting music programs and donating instruments.
“No matter what, you’re going to be nervous when you get up on that stage,” student Xaire Romero, a vocalist of the ensemble, said. “You have to use that nervousness to fulfill your excitement.”
Romero appreciates the community here at Long Island High School for the Arts. “It’s been a dream since I was a kid to be here,” Romero said. “It makes my inner child so happy.” Plus, coming to the classes here at Long Island High School for the Arts, including British Pop Ensemble, is just plain fun, said Ray Schwan, who plays the bass guitar for the ensemble.
“It’s my favorite part of the day,” Schwan said. “I get to come here, pick up an instrument and start playing. Really just being here is wonderful.”
Jerry Nobile, the British Pop Ensemble teacher, said he was thankful to Ramona’s Gift to Music for this opportunity to perform in front of an audience.
According to the non-profit’s website, “Ramona’s Gift to Music is a foundation named in memory of Ramona Cuellar Mangione. Ramona was a talented clarinetist and a graduate of Copiague High School. She began playing at an early age due in large part to her father, who had a passion for music, which he passed on to his three children.
Ramona was an honored music student who gained accolades in NYSSMA, All-State Band, All-County Band, and performed private Recitals under the tutelage of renowned clarinetist Naomi Drucker. At the young age of 24, Ramona passed away from Arteriovenous Malformation on June 27,1990. Since that time, an award has been provided to a Copiague student who has excelled in music in Ramona’s name.”
Since her passing, Ramona’s Gift To Music Foundation was created to help children continue their musical aspirations in Ramona’s name.
And coming to the Long Island High School for the Arts for the rehearsal was especially meaningful for Michael Cuellar, Ramona’s brother and alumni of Long Island High School for the Arts.
“Ramona, my sister and who the foundation is in memory of, was a student here going back into the ‘80s,” Cuellar said. “I also was a student here. I graduated from here in 1982. We started our foundation and we were helping other organizations and schools, and it just made sense to be part of this, especially with the connection that we have [with Long Island High School for the Arts].”
Besides the scholarships Ramona’s Gift To Music provides, the non-profit also financially supports students to play at various performing venues. And in return, students from the school will play at Ramona’s Gift To Music fundraiser, in front of a few hundred people. Not a bad deal, some may say.
“There’s been at least two instances where Jerry called and said ‘they’re going to perform somewhere and we don’t have enough financial resources to make it happen for all the kids,’ and we make it happen,” co-founder Cuellar said.
Early in the summer, Ramona’s Gift To Music even sponsored students from the school to perform at the Paramount in Huntington.
“You hear how talented they all are and when it comes together and see how they sound so professional, you understand why they come here everyday,” Cuellar said of the rehearsal. “You really understand their level of music.”
About Long Island High School for the Arts
This Nassau BOCES program provides pre-professional arts education in a creative, hands-on environment. Students come from 39 districts spanning across Nassau and Suffolk Counties, including Jericho Union Free School District and Syosset Central School District, for this half-day program. Here, students can focus on their passions ranging in game design, multi-media journalism, performing, visual, digital arts, music and much more.
“We have two sessions,” teacher Jerry Nobile said. “One session is from 8 to 10:30 in the morning and those students will have their second half of the day at their home school districts. And then [students] went to their home school districts in the morning and come here at 12 o’ clock and stay here till 2:30.”
While the students come from a range of districts, they bond over shared interests, Nobile said.
“They come here to learn how to do this and to do it more collaboratively,” Nobile said of the British Pop Ensemble students. “Some of them here have never been part of a band and they’re getting that experience here and they learn to make friends because they’re all from different districts too… They’re not all from the same town. Students are from all over Nassau and some from Suffolk. They bond quickly because they share a common interest. And there’s nothing better then when you share a common interest with someone.”