Looking back to the days at the Middle School
While honoring teachers at the middle school, I must pay tribute to the long-time band director, Tom Tomasello, one of the finest teachers in the district. His love of music started when he was in the fourth grade and began trumpet lessons. At the end of eighth grade, he joined the Garfield High School band and a new drum and bugle corps, The Garfield Epochs. Two years later he joined the Hawthorne Muchachos Drum Corps. It was then he decided to make music his career. He earned a degree in music at William Patterson College and his first teaching job was in the Pinelands Regional School District.
He was soon offered a position as assistant band director under Anthony Guerere at the Hammonton High School and a year later transferred to the middle school as band director.
Tomasello credits Mr. Guerere with helping him gain knowledge and experience that was very valuable to him at the middle school.
Immediately, Tomasello began developing a strategy to increase the size and quality of the middle school band. He decided to go to the elementary school to recruit new members from the fifth grade. All students were given a music aptitude test followed by introductory trumpet or clarinet lessons. Once the interested students learned Hot Cross Buns, they were invited to join a free summer music program on an instrument that best suited them. The lessons were daily for eight weeks and they performed in a summer concert.
During the school years, Tomasello decided to motivate students with after school pizza parties and a special Halloween rehearsal with costumes, refreshments and prizes. The band gave two concerts and several assemblies each year.
The next big step for the band was when Nick DeRosa became middle school principal. It was clear that Mr. DeRosa wanted his school to be the absolute best and that included the music program. He added an activity period each week for band and chorus rehearsal; both grew and improved. The middle school band increased from 30 students and one concert a year to 130 students who performed two yearly concerts.
The band and chorus, under director Cathy Apgood, began participating in music festivals which consisted of performing in the morning and enjoying Dorney Park or Great Adventure in the afternoon. Over the years the middle school band progressed from a good rating to excellent and finally the highest rating of superior. The middle school earned 10 consecutive years of superior ratings before Tomasello transferred to the Hammonton High School to end his career.
One of his best festival memories was on a two-day trip to Williamsburg, Va. where the middle school band received a superior rating and one of the judges said, “If I close my eyes, I would think I was listening to a high school band.”
Many of Tomasello’s students earned individual accomplishments by being selected for All South Jersey Band and Elementary Honors Band. One student, percussionist Meredith Howell, performed so well at an elementary honors rehearsal that the other teachers told Tomasello what a great job she was doing and that she was helping the other drummers. He was proud to tell them that she was in her first year helping third year band members.
Tom is incredibly grateful for all the support and help he received from the teachers and staff at H.M.S. Especially the ones who volunteered their time to chaperone concerts, the most challenging job for supervision. The band members warmed up in the gym which echoed the sound.
Science teacher, Pete Suhmann, took on this responsibility once and when asked how it went, he said, “Fine. I used industrial strength earplugs.”
Tomasello is also extremely proud of all his music students who accomplished so much at the middle school.
As his colleague I witnessed the long hours and the loving dedication Tomasello gave to his students and the loyalty and hard work his students gave him in returned. Today Tomasello is retired, and he and his wife, Marie, spend time in Florida where he enjoys bicycling, whittling, bowling and of course music. He enjoys singing while playing the guitar and mandolin.
Tom is one of my best friends. He was not only a colleague to commiserate with, but he was also a cohort when the middle school needed some fun. We often walked at lunch and several times he helped me lug back a treasure from someone’s trash. Once he helped me carry a six-foot artificial Christmas tree down Bellevue Avenue. It stood proudly in the library for many years.
I can sum up the kind of teacher and friend Tom Tomasello is with this quote, “Best friends are the people in your life who make you laugh louder, smile brighter and live better.”
Donna Brown is a former Hammonton Middle School librarian and a columnist for The Gazette. To reach Donna Brown, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.