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Waterbury Students Rock the Palace Theater

Ray Santavasi conducts the North End Middle School Band an arts workshop yesterday at the Palace Theater in Waterbury.

Ray Santovasi conducts the North End Middle School Band at an arts workshop yesterday at the Palace Theater in Waterbury.

Waterbury Teachers Association Vice President Ray Santovasi has an impressive resume to share with his students.

The music educator, who is based at Wilby High and North End Middle Schools, performs often with national acts and is a sought-after transcriptionist for some of the music industry’s famed drummers, including Melvin “Melly” Baldwin of Justin Bieber’s band; Richie Morales of Spyro Gyra; Billy Kilson, who works with Chris Botti; and Aaron Corness of the Spin Doctors, among others.

But Santovasi doesn’t just jet off for fame and leave his classroom behind. He often brings the superstars he works with directly to his students.

Yesterday, Santovasi teamed up with musician Crystal Taliefero for one such learning opportunity. Taliefero created a special workshop program, “Journey to the Arts,” and because of her friendship with Santovasi, asked to debut the event in Waterbury. Santovasi immediately took charge, contacting the superintendent and the mayor’s office, and sent out invitations to city schools, inviting teachers and students to the Palace Theater in Waterbury for a morning celebrating the arts.

Waterbury Teachers Association Vice President Ray Santovasi and professional musician Crystal Taliefero organized an arts workshop for Waterbury students yesterday.

Waterbury Teachers Association Vice President Ray Santovasi and Crystal Taliefero, a member of Billy Joel’s band, organized an arts workshop for Waterbury students yesterday.

Taliefero, who is a member of Billy Joel’s touring band, is a multi-talented singer, songwriter, and musician who is hailed by Rolling Stone Magazine as a performer’s “best secret weapon.” She traveled from her home base in Nashville for her workshop’s standing-room-only premiere at the Palace Theater.

“This is empowering the kids, giving them confidence and self-esteem, and the chance to become productive. They need to see that this is what it takes to become successful. This event has been a privilege and an honor,” Taliefero said. She hopes to bring her “Journey with the Arts” workshop to schools around the country.

The arts event featured performances and motivational words by Taliefero, a showcase of musical acts from Waterbury schools, as well as a performance competition for local students — similar to reality contests like “American Idol” and “The Voice.” The event’s emcee was Kevin Egan, president of the Waterbury Teachers Association, and Santovasi’s band, FourPeace, provided accompaniment. During Taliefero’s performance of her song, “Mary,” local drama students joined her on stage, with interpretative dance and art students gathered for a live sketch session.

The arts workshop also featured a team of industry professionals hand-picked by Taliefero. The group included numerous notables from around the country, as well as Santovasi and Waterbury teachers Heidi Doolan and Gina Pisani-Loomis. After the workshop, Taliefero’s team will choose students from the performance competition to be rewarded with a real backstage experience at an upcoming Billy Joel concert at Madison Square Garden in New York.

Santovasi was excited to give his students not only a chance to meet Taliefero – a working musician – but also the chance to perform on the historic Palace Theater stage.

“It’s important for them to see opportunity,” Santovasi said. “It’s all about believing in yourself.”

North End teacher Doolan had met Taliefero previously, when the musician came to give a master class in songwriting to her students a few years ago. She said the new arts workshop is wonderful in that it gives her students the “opportunity to perform, which is extremely important for musicians.” Several of Doolan’s students were featured in the event. “I am so honored to be invited to be a part of this,” Doolan said. She admitted she was so excited she could barely sleep the previous night. Her enthusiasm translated to her young charges, who buzzed around her backstage.

Santovasi said the arts are an “escape” for many of his students, and also an opportunity for movement and creativity amidst the rigor of the current educational standards. Many life lessons are learned through arts education, he said.

“It’s really about being part of a team, and learning teamwork,” Santovasi said. “And hard work, which pays off.”

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