Shining stars of music education: Queensbury UFSD’s music department

In the early morning, saunter over to the bright spaces of Queensbury High School’s arts wing and be encompassed with a variety of musical ensembles. Step through the halls and hear students practicing their craft–both voice and instrumental. Some are editing sound for their production class, others are sprawled throughout the orchestra, band, or choral rooms working on technique. 

A commonality throughout the entirety of the music department is the enthusiasm and excitement propelling the three music directors: Jim Cirillo (Band), Matthew Gaulin (Choir), and Gregory Verheyn (Orchestra, K-12 music department chair). 

In even a short conversation with each of them, their commitment to their craft is evident and inspiring.

From L to R: Jim Cirillo, Matt Gaulin, and Greg Verheyn

Queensbury UFSD prides itself on the vast amount of opportunities available to its students. “We are so grateful for the way the board of education and district administration has truly put music at the top of the priorities, even throughout the pandemic, where other districts had put a pause,” says Greg Verheyn. 

The district allows students to begin their music education as early as 4th grade, a recent development. Going forward, everything a child might need to succeed is available to them, either in the form of private lessons that they can seek during a free period, assistance in sourcing instruments, books, or other supplies, or even fundraising for trips and performances that take place outside of the district. 

“We truly feel that it is our prerogative to educate the whole child,” says Jim Cirillo, “and that includes offering enriching opportunities that these students may not have available to them after completing high school.” 

Each teacher has accelerated priorities for their department now that a return to normalcy in a post-pandemic world is progressing. 

“Just on the first day back this year, when I finally had all the students together and able to practice without space or mask mandates, it made a huge difference in teaching choir,” says Matt Gaulin, “and I immediately felt rejuvenated and took a huge breath of excitement for what lies in store this year.”

A multitude of performances are set up throughout each year, whether they be for chamber orchestra, the madrigals, pep band, jazz ensemble, or large-group orchestra and choir–just a few of the groups available. In-house performances such as this year’s musical Shrek, concerts in December, and home-game pep band performances are trickled throughout the school year, and the three directors even plan several trips to outside organizations such as an advocacy campaign performance in the Albany capital concourse, trips to Six Flags or Canada, or even large-scale foreign excursions. The district ensures that funding remains consistent so that all programs have what they need to succeed. 

Overseas trips are also a possibility. Matt Gaulin works with Encore Tours, a travel agency that works with oversea organizations to book, schedule, and provide public relations for our students who are performing in front of an overseas audience. 

“It’s incredible how many people show up to listen to our students, and it is a great chance for the students to bring their passion with them as they see a new city through the lens of a musical education,” Gaulin said. 

“We make sure that each student feels supported in pursuing what they are interested in, and we have several groups, whether it be chamber orchestra or one of the orchestra groups, that allows students at a variety of levels or expertise, to become involved and grow within the program throughout the year,” says Verheyn, orchestral director. “I, and honestly the students as well, try to perpetuate a nurturing environment where students feel they have the space to both try something new, or grow the skills necessary for them to become a full-functioning adult with an overarching appreciation for the art of music. Regardless of their background or situation, we as a music education program want all students to feel encompassed with support and opportunity.”

Superintendent Kyle Gannon echoes these sentiments, saying, “I could not be more proud of the musical team that we have assembled in our school district. They give students the opportunities they deserve and need. I appreciate the dedication and commitment of our teachers and students. I am very proud to be their superintendent.”