JEMS are ALL ABOUT JAZZ!
by Cate Murway
“If you have to ask what jazz is, you'll never know.” Louis Armstrong, nicknamed Satchmo [1901-1971]
Do you love jazz? The VJM Band Rocks!
There is something incredibly special going on at Villa Joseph Marie High School, the premier college preparatory educational experience in Holland, PA. The budding first class artists produce quite a tight ensemble, excelling in composition, harmony and musical improvisation. The JEMS’ practically flawless confluence of great performances can transform the filled to capacity VJM auditorium into a kind of almost perfect jazz storm. The talented musicians are diligently working to rival some of the best, in content and fluid presentation, with everything from flourishes to simply amazing feats. The JEMS play their fusions of eclectic rhythms with an almost tangible energy.
Music has the muscle to transcend time, culture, and language, sometimes highlighting our similarities, sometimes celebrating our differences, as we connect with others.
Jazz music is somehow America's past and its potential, an ultimate value of art.
Fine Arts Teacher/ Band Director, Ralph Joseph “Sonny” Facenda, Jr., working tirelessly every day to make a difference, is ensuring that good music does not have an expiration date. Music washes away the dust of everyday life. There’s something very wonderful about excelling in an area of endeavor.
Take NOTE- Music is “all in the family”.
Sonny’s late father, WWII Army Veteran TSgt. Ralph Joseph Facenda, Sr. owned Facenda Brothers Oil in Philadelphia. He too was a musician, playing the saxophone in a string band. The first instrument Sonny’s father gave him was a soprano sax. His late mother, Alice Veronica [Miller] Facenda owned a competitor business, Jos. D. Miller & Son’s Oil, Inc. “She always supported me in my music but she felt oil burner work was the work for me.”
He has two younger siblings, Margaret “Peggy” who played the piano [now Sonny teaches music to her grandchildren], and a brother, Joseph Steven.
Sonny graduated from Bishop Egan. “I was big into sports. We had a great football team and I was real good at high hurdles and I earned a lot of points for them in Pole Vault. I held the record for about 10 years in hurdles with a 14.8.” His track coach was Pete Brett and in May 1966, Sonny and several of his teammates competed in the Pennsylvania State Catholic Track Championships at Reading Central Catholic High School. He attended St. Mary’s College [now Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota] in Winona, MN upon his Uncle’s recommendation. His Uncle was a football coach at West Chester.
Sonny took up wrestling since there was no football team there. He earned a degree in Psychology and continued his education at Trenton State College, now called the University of New Jersey, securing his Bachelor’s in Music Education. Sonny completed his Masters in Music at Villanova University.
“In addition to teaching Instrumental Theory/ Freshman Music at the Villa, I also teach instrumental music at Catholic elementary schools: Saint Bede the Venerable, Saint David and Saint Albert the Great. I direct Jazz Bands, Concert Bands, Junior Bands, and Drumline, that brings the world of "show-style", at these schools as well as the All-Parochial Jazz and Concert Bands.”
Sonny is a member of the Archdiocesan Elementary Music Committee.
“It is great to work with the VJM Arts team: Choir Director/ Fine Arts teacher Alissa Nelson, Drama/ Fine Arts teacher Melissa Holdren and the Fine Arts Department chair, Ellen Brooks.”
He still teaches in the Newtown Music studio and plays in his own bands. He once performed with his now defunct “Sonny F 2 Plus 2”. His current band is “Renditions”, basically a “Big Band/Swing/Blues” orchestra and ensemble that provides performances for concerts, festivals and corporate events.
“Larry McKenna is a phenomenal sax player. He has always been my idol. I have the honor of knowing him personally.” Saxophonist player and instructor, Larry McKenna who has performed with Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Melvin Howard “Mel” Tormé, dubbed “Philadelphia’s Gentleman of Jazz”, was a Guest Professional Musician for VJM’s Jazz Day Special Assembly on April 5th.
Sonny began giving music lessons at VJM in 1999 and his first jazz ensemble started with “just a clarinet, flute and piano player and now there are self-proclaimed ‘band geeks’.” He now directs the very accomplished Villa Jazz Band, Concert Band, Pep Band, Guitar Group and Orchestra.
Sonny was “always looking for brass!” Music Scholarship recipient, Anne Jeanette Ardito plays trumpet.
“Anne Jeanette is a very good trumpet player. She took 3rd seat in the All-Catholic Band.”
Several of the Villa students have distinguished themselves by auditioning and being selected to perform in the Archdiocesan Honors Band and the Archdiocesan Honors Orchestra.
“I have found that making the learning both educational and fun for the students leads to enthusiastic musicians. Playing different instruments gives each student a better appreciation for other parts of the ensemble, along with increasing their confidence.”
He elevates musicianship, broadens perspectives and inspires performance.
Sonny is a master of his instruments and the consistent recipient of praise from former students.
“The VJM Jazz band was an incredible experience, from learning the most difficult music, to improvising skills, to Sonny teaching us to be confident in our soloing skill. The VJM jazz band was amazing. The experience that VJM music has given me is one beyond compare; I have taken all I have learned and that confidence and gone on to really help jumpstart the instrumental music programs at my university, Wheeling Jesuit, and this year, just started our own all student jazz ensemble, to be featured at our largest event, Gaudiosa. VJM Jazz bands give VJM JEMS wisdom and experience for life!” Lucy M. Hritzo, VJM ’14, 2014 John Fisher Citizen Scholars recipient
Anne Jeanette Ardito, VJM ‘19’s father, Anthony F. Ardito, Jr. played the trumpet in the East Stroudsburg University band. His father, Anthony F. “Tony” Ardito, Sr. was a professional trombone player in countless local gigs in many clubs in Scranton and in the Delaware Water Gap area, as well as around the country, ending in Las Vegas. Anne Jeanette’s maternal grandfather, Alexander Hannah played the piano as a hobby.
She first took an interest in the trumpet in 2nd grade and her sister, Allison Marie, VJM ‘21, also a Music Scholarship recipient, began playing the trumpet in the 6th grade and currently performs in the VJM band as an eighth grader. Some youthful whims tend to be as fleeting as they are intense but not with the Ardito family. Fascination with the trumpet has never wavered.
“When I was a student at Our Lady of Guatalupe, I had to pick an instrument and my dad had some trumpets laying around.” Her favorite jazz music is “Moondance”, Van Morrison’s jazz flavored pop classic that is a new level of cool!
The VJM Band recently enjoyed an exhilarating 7- hour bus trip to Copley Square [named for painter John Singleton Copley] in Boston, an unforgettable experience, where they performed in the lobby at City Hall with 6 songs from the Concert and Jazz Bands.
“The girls’ adjudication at Berklee College of Music was so successful. This is by far the best instrumental group that ever went on a Band trip”, Sonny shared with pride. They were ranked “Outstanding”!
They toured Berklee, the premier music college and performing arts conservatory, visited Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox, and the Science Museum in Science Park near the Charles River.
Anne Jeanette is the Band historian, keeping records and taking pictures of each event to complete a memory scrapbook.
Last year, the VJM Band performed at a school near Dorney Park, meriting an “Outstanding” award trophy and they will be making a return trip there on Saturday, May 13th. Anne Jeanette performs in the Concert and the Jazz Bands. The Jazz Band was awarded “Superior”. The JEMS have always given outstanding performances and they serve as the best ambassadors for this event.
The Villa-Ghost Pep Band played at the Wells Fargo Center for the Philadelphia Flyers game on Saturday, February 11, 2017. P.S. They won!
It’s not just music that RUNS in the Ardito family. Anne Jeanette is a competent sprinter, powerfully performing in the 100 and 200 meter events. She also hefts a pretty decent shot put throw. “We won the Archdiocese Division for the 4x100 at the Penn Relays with 56.12 in 6th grade  and 53.12 in 8th grade . She hones her long distance endurance skills running Cross Country on the JEMS’ team in the fall. “Lehigh is my favorite place to run.”
Early morning rehearsals in Regina Hall keep her in tune and she totes her instrument back and forth so she can practice at home. She also plays her Kawai piano at home. ‘Piano man’ by Billy Joel is a favorite.
“Well, we're all in the mood for a melody and you've got us feelin' alright…..”
Anne Jeanette is a High Honors student, eligible to be invited for VJM National Honor Society membership. “It is scientifically proven that Music helps with grades.” Apparently she is correct!
Her course workload includes AP European History, Honors Algebra2, Accelerated English, Honors Chemistry and a 2nd year of Latin. Anne Jeanette is also an active member of the Diamond Key Club, Environmental Club, Math Club, and Community Service Corps. “I love doing something for the community. Math and science are my strengths.”
“He says, "Son can you play me a memory…..
And the Band plays on…..
VJM Band Director/ committed educator Sonny Facenda is passionate about success. His combination of curiosity and music enthusiasm has carried him through a pretty remarkable career. “The most exciting thing at Villa is the way it’s growing and the fact that the new auditorium is being built.”
The boundaries of learning are easily expanded through the development of a relaxed, fun atmosphere that promotes creativity. Villa Joseph Marie High School is always cutting edge, NOT corners, building the future one student at a time.
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