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Norfolk/Wrentham - Local Town Pages

Alumni Music Students Give Back Masterclasses Aim to Encourage, Inspire High School Musicians

Dec 30, 2020 02:54PM ● By Grace Allen

Nick Beltramini, left, and his band participated in “The Alumni Series” at KPHS.

The pandemic has taken a lot away from high school students. For music students in particular, it’s taken away the joy of playing with and for others. While the music has not been silenced, it has definitely been lowered.

How then to find inspiration? At King Philip High School, they turned to the music program’s alumni.

Last month, the school held a series of virtual performances and clinics by program graduates. “The Alumni Series” provided a way for current students to learn from and interact with former students.

“I believe the opportunity to engage with young and successful alumni is a possibly transformative experience, even over Zoom,” said Michael Keough, the high school’s band director.

“The Alumni Series” in December included Ben Webster, a composer and clarinetist, Allison Parramore, a flutist and music lecturer, and Nick Beltramini, a saxophonist and college student, along with his jazz band Slightly Tooned.

On December 14, Beltramini and Slightly Tooned held their virtual masterclass for students, discussing their experiences, answering questions, and performing their rendition of holiday-themed songs. The Medfield High School music program was also invited to the Zoom class, because one of the Slightly Tooned members is a graduate of that program.

“It’s really tough right now for these students to find inspiration to make music because of social distancing issues,” said Beltramini, a Wrentham resident. “At one time or another, I’ve been inspired by others to continue to pursue my craft so I think this is a great way to give back.”

After the masterclass on the 14th, Slightly Tooned held a live-stream concert with the proceeds going to the Louis Armstrong Emergency Fund for Jazz Musicians to help jazz musicians affected by the pandemic (see accompanying article for a review of the concert). While at King Philip, Beltramini was the recipient of numerous awards, including the prestigious Louis Armstrong Award. 

“It’s a really cool way to come full circle,” said Beltramini.

Slightly Tooned was formed while Beltramini was still in high school. When the members are home from college, they play their version of jazz, funk, and rhythm and blues at venues all around the greater Boston area and on the Cape.

Beltramini graduated from King Philip in 2019 and now attends Oberlin Conservatory. At Oberlin, he is a member of the elite Sonny Rollins Jazz Ensemble, which serves the community through music. Beltramini says his desire to give back was solidified during a phone call with the jazz legend.

“He told me, ‘trust that later on in life there’s something bigger for you when you give back to others’ and I’ve really been trying to adopt those words. Putting on this masterclass at King Philip is a great way to serve the community.”

While there are no concerts in the high school students’ immediate future, the masterclass series, which will continue through the winter, should help bring some extra mentorship and musical encouragement during this challenging time, noted Beltramini.

This year has forced students and teachers to adapt to the circumstances and become more grateful for the experiences they can have together, said Keough, the band director, who noted when the weather was warmer, the students practiced their instruments outside on the bleachers, socially-distanced.

 “I think the students, and certainly I, have come to really value our time together and the opportunity to make music when we can,” said Keough. “What really impresses me about our music students this year is how resilient they’ve become to every obstacle the pandemic has created and how, when they have the opportunity to play, even if it’s only for each other, they do so with as much passion as ever.”