His music is the language of exhaltations –
Sanford Sardo, music director at Calhoun High School who has furthered the Calhoun Choral Program to gain a national reputation, was feted for his accomplishments at an after-concert celebration last week that included students, music boosters and alumni.
Sardo was presented with gifts, banners, a huge cake, memories and, above all, love and thanks from every corner of the school community for his 25 years in building up an already first-class choral program to its current status, which includes traveling the country to compete in national and regional competitions.
Nicole Hollings, principal of Calhoun High School, remarked to Your NewsMag that “As someone who came into the district around the same time as Mr. Sardo I can say that I am incredibly honored to work with this outstanding educator. For years I saw his awe-inspiring work while I was at Mepham and now to work with him at Calhoun – he is an inspiration. His students are better people for having worked with him. As someone who has sung in choirs my whole life I wish I had a director like him along the way. He is an amazing person and I am blessed to know him.”
Sardo finally eats his cake!
Your NewMag met with several senior choral students for an impromptu discussion on the program and the impressions the self-effacing Sardo makes on them – which helps them plan their daily lives.
Jack Appello, Calhoun Colts’ football captain and singer whose E-flat bass note has awakened judge’s ears at national competitions, repeated the choir’s mantra: “It’s not in the destination, but in the journey.” He explained that, to him, the music they rehearse forces them to focus on what has to be accomplished at the moment, “here and now,” to make the entire ensemble sound as perfectly as it can.
“Sometimes you just feel it,” admitted Michaela Cassella. “You are put into a situation that is bigger than yourself” and you put yourself on the line every time to make it work for the group.
Michaela spoke of the first time she heard now-alumnus pianist Noah Turner play “Pompeii,” a piece in which Sardo let him work on all of the piano voices in order to perfect it. “After I heard him play that, I wanted to be in the choir,” she said.
Turner, now studying music at SUNY Fredonia, said in an email that he was given so many new opportunities to expand his musical horizons under Sardo, including teaching and conducting his own arrangement, that “The time in the CCP truly prepared me for the rigors of my college music program and beyond.”
Harley Glick said matter-of-factly she doesn’t think she would be the person she is today if it weren’t for the choral program. “It was one of the happiest days of my life making the Calhoun Choral Program,” she continued, because Mr. Sardo “makes it a safe place for us all.”
Sara Grossman said “It’s not a bad thing to be vulnerable and emotional , and Mr. Sardo allows you to be that way by listening to you and offering positive musical ways” to express that vulnerability and work with it.
Lara Klein reiterated Sara’s point on vulnerability – and Glick’s notions of a safe place, saying fifth-period class can indeed be a safe place to come after a morning spent in math and science classes learning to develop reason and use intellect. “Being in Mr. Sardo’s class permits me to breathe again for a little while, it is a place to let go with my emotion and express it through the music.” Mr. Sardo,” she said, “brings out the interior” into an exterior world – which helps resolve the challenges.
“He holds us to high standards,” said James Caracciolo. “We’ve never been this good before,” he said of the current sound of the choir. “He expects the best from us, and he brings it out in us.”
CALHOUN MUSIC BOOSTERS
Peri Hoffer-Hinden, a co-president with Gina Turner of the Calhoun Music Boosters, an all-volunteer based parent group, said they often sit with Sardo to discuss future events and how the group can raise funds for the program.
“We support Mr. Sardo. He is a genuine, caring and passionate teacher” towards his students and clearly sets boundaries between his teaching and his students, said Hoffer-Hinden. Turner added that he shows tremendous enthusiasm toward his students while never displaying a judgmental side toward them at all. “He’s always attempting to lift them up,” whatever mood they may be in.
Meanwhile, Audrey Conti-Levine, a co-president of the Calhoun Music Boosters from 2005-10, said “Sardo teaches more than music. He empowers his students with a sense of responsibility. His students learn that their actions affect the entire ensemble and that no one stands alone.”
Yet, he teaches it all while “his passion is so openly presented to all his students, every day,” announced student Tim Finn.
For Carrie Arzt, Sardo’s discipline-while-being-openly expressive nontheless makes sure all students in the choir focus squarely on the music before them: “To be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, and to be late is to be left behind,” It is an environment, she believes, he has created for his students to follow and emulate.
Elizabeth Herman, a junior among the seniors in the choral program, remarked that even when the group has placed lower at a local, regional or national competition, “It’s still as if we have won, because we are all on this amazing journey” of experiencing the moment while singing, which Sardo instills in them.
Perhaps Amanda Geist, president of the Calhoun Choral President, sums the choral experience with Sardo best. She said Sardo once told her music isn’t meant for the ears, but for the soul. “He gives me my favorite part of every single day,” she said.
“He taught me how to love the challenges and love the work just as much as loving the results.”
And it all begins – and ends – with the heart.