From Chuck Bowden, Director – The Bel Air Drama Company, Bel Air High School:
On Wednesday, May 12th, The Bel Air High School Music Department presented their final concert of the year in the NEW Bel Air Auditorium. It was wonderful to see the students of Bel Air High School carrying on the traditions of the students and teachers who came before them. It was even more exciting to see them doing so in their new home — A state-of-the-art multi-million dollar performing arts venue.
Excellence in the performing arts at Bel Air is a tradition that spans generations. — The Orchestra and Chorus will perform at the 195th Bel Air High School commencement ceremony on June 1st — That’s a long history. Transitional years are a part of that history. There have been changes in teachers/directors as well as changes in the facilities. How fitting was it that in October of this year, the Susquehanna Symphony Orchestra played a memorial concert for former Bel Air Band Director Ray Dombrowski in the new facility when just across the way, the ONLY part of the old structure that was still standing was the old auditorium stage where Mr. “D” directed so many of his concerts. Alumni of the Bel Air High School Music Department would be proud to know that the traditions that they remember from their years at Bel Air are still going strong.
This year has surely been a transition, but Bel Air High has survived many changes in the past. But even as things change, many things remain the same…
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to serve as a judge for “Harford’s Got Talent” (a local version of America’s Got Talent. I was sitting alongside a retired music teacher named Bernie Cook in the Havre de grace auditorium and I took the opportunity to brag about how well you all had done at the county festival on that stage earlier that week. Little did I know that I was talking to the woman who had named the choir “Counterpoints” in 1976 — and she couldn’t believe that we still called the choir by that name.
I can remember watching Mr. Jim Graham conduct the Bel Air High School Counterpoints at a concert in the Wm. S James Cafeteria (must have been in 1983 or 84) and knowing that I wanted to be a member of that group — they were AMAZING! Bel Air’s Choir was known as one of the best high school choirs in the state at the time. As a freshman, there were 3 boys who were recruited to be members of Counterpoints and I recall looking up to all of the senior members who had worked with Mr. Graham. It was exciting for me, but it was a transitional time. Mr. Graham had retired, and Ed Herbold had taken over. The older members were adamant about carrying on the traditions from past years. So we did. It was with Mr. Herbold that we created the Pop Choir. (I even chose the blue “Waiter Vests” that were part of the uniform for a while — Sorry about that…) My Senior year, I had the privilege of serving as the “president” of the choir. Now that we were the senior members of the gr oup, we took pride in carrying on traditions from previous years such as singing “Shalom” at the winter concert with all of the alumni and performing a big combined piece — Usually the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”– with the band during our spring music festival in the Lower Gym (It was always decorated with blue and white streamers).
I don’t know how many of the current students are aware of the fact the Mr. Tony Domenico (our current Director of Bands) isn’t the first Mr. “D” to serve as the director of bands here at Bel Air. Mr. Ray Dombrowski, who started teaching music at BAHS in 1953 is mostly responsible for the strong traditions of excellence that are associated with the Bel Air Music programs. Under his direction, the Bobcat Marching Band grew to over 180 musicians as well as 60+ members in the other units (Color Guard / Flag Squad / Band Front — thanks Mrs. “D”). The band was chosen to represent the State of Maryland at the United States Bicentennial Celebration in 1976. Mr. Dombrowski retired in 1985 after being the leader of the Band for over 30 years. His influence carried on and over 100 of former Bobcat Band alumni gathered together in 2003 for a reunion concert to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his arrival at BAHS. When Mr. “D” passed away in 2008, Bel Air Alumni gather ed together for memorial concerts and the Bel Air Community Band even commissioned a piece in his memory that they were able to perform for the first time in the New Bel Air High School Auditorium. His influence on Bobcat Spirit is still going strong because our fight song “Hooray for Bobcats” was one of his own compositions. Beyond Mr. Dombrowski, the Bel Air Band program flourished under the leadership of Mr. Wes Lockhart, Mr. Don McClure and now another Mr. “D” in Mr. Domenico.
While the school community has moved into a new facility, it is reassuring to know that the core ideas of what “Bobcat Spirit” is all about remains strong. The current band and chorus members are all carrying on the traditions of excellence that are representative of the Bel Air pride and spirit that have existed for so many years.
I had the opportunity to see Counterpoints commanding same kind of respect and awe that I remember feeling from students at the county music festival. They earned a superior rating at the State level and were described as “Spectacular” by the state adjudicators. It speaks volumes for their dedication as well as the talent and expertise of current Director of Choirs, Terri Mathews.
For Wednesday night’s concert, Counterpoints and the Symphonic Band (the two upper-level performance ensembles) presented a combined piece (reminiscent of the “Battle Hymn” during the old Spring Concerts). The piece, entitled “Sapier’s Story“ by composer Brian Balmages, is an emotionally intense work is based on a poem written by a 5th grade girl (Sapier) who was in school one block away from the World Trade Center when it was hit on 9/11. Two weeks prior to the performance, both groups had the opportunity to spend the day in a workshop session / rehearsal with Mr. Balmages. This was an outstanding experience for the young performers and resulted in a superb performance of the piece at the concert. I enjoyed watching the combined groups work with the composer on this piece almost as much as I enjoyed listing to the actual performance, mostly because it showed the respect these young people have for the art as well as the pride you have in the music program.
It is special thing for me to be a member of the team of teachers that are carrying on the traditions of the performing arts programs here at Bel Air. I hope the community recognizes how lucky we are to have some of the best student performers in the region right here in Bel Air. After almost 200 years of history in this school community, there are some really big shoes to fill as teachers/directors of these programs, and Ms. Mathews and Mr. Domenico are doing a great job. We shouldn’t take them for granted.
It is so often that we hear about the failings of the school system and the bad decisions the our young people make. As we wrap up this first year in the NEW Bel Air High School, take a moment to think about the successes of our students during this transitional time. They are still carrying on the spirit excellence that has been part of BAHS for so many years. We should be proud of their accomplishments this year…I know it makes me proud to be not only a teacher here, but also an alumnus.
In the words Ray Dombrowski — “Good Job, Bel Air”
BAHS — Class of ‘93
Director — The Bel Air Drama Company
Bel Air High School
Kelly C. Class of 94 says
Loved reading this, Chuck. Nostalgia is sweet–thanks for reminding me of this. Bel Air High is lucky to have someone like you so rooted in traditions. Reading this brought a smile to my day.
Hooray for Bobcats!
As a recent graduate and former member of the counterpoints, reading this makes me really miss it all. While Mrs. Mathews wasn’t and I’m sure still isn’t everybody’s number one fan, she was one hell of a music teacher. Being apart of the Bel Air Music department was truly an honor, and I’m confident that Bel Air will continue to shine for years to come as Harford County’s finest in musical talent.
Phyllis F says
As a BAHS alumni, it is gratifying to know that the music program at Bel Air High School is alive and thriving. I was fortunate to be a part of the program when it was run by Mr. Dombrowski, Mr. Sharnetzka, Ms. Cook and Mr. Graham. The lessons we learned from these outstanding teachers have lasted us a lifetime. And now the pattern continues. Good job, Bel Air!
Phyllis (Bollinger) Fowler
BAHS class of 1979
Founder, Dombrowski Reunion Band
Jacob Silverman says
My name is Jake Silverman. I am a jazz pianist who is currently enrolled and studying at the Oberlin Concervatory of Music. The worst bullying and harassment I’d ever experienced was under the instruction of Mr. Domenico. I went to Bel Air High school for my freshman year of high school before transferring to Patterson Mill. During my time at Bel Air, I participated in the Jazz Band which was directed by Mr. Tony Domenico. From the beginning of the year to the very end, Mr. Domenico proved to be one of the most mean spirited bullies I’d ever dealt with in my life. During the first month of school, he told two girls in our class that “Women can’t seem to play jazz.”. He then went on to say that if they wanted to play jazz they would have to “grow a pair”. Mr. Domenico also had a knack for exposing a students greatest weakness and then humiliating them with it. Mr. Domenico often told students that humiliation was one of his favorite teaching tools. I was not the greatest sight reader of music at the time and it was a skill that I was working on very diligently. Mr. Domenico did his best to make fun of me for it every day. For a while I would leave class and go straight to the bathroom every day so that I could cry alone. When I informed Mr. Board about the situation, he did everything he could to ensure that Mr. Domenico was protected. He had no concern for my well being as a student. After that year I came to Patterson Mill and began working with Mr. Ron Burke. I can’t begin to describe what an relief it was that I could enter a class room and not have to worry about being humiliated or made fun of. Under the instruction of Ron burke, I practiced my instrument relentlessly and built my confidence back to where it had been before it was torn down by Mr. Domenico. Under Ron Burkes instruction, I made it into the All State Jazz Band 2 years in a row, Received the award of Finalist in the Maryland Young Arts Scholarship Competition, and was accepted into Oberlin Conservatory with a $24,000 per year scholarship. I believe to this day that if I had stayed at Bel Air, I very well may have quit music all together. I will not soon forget the humiliation I underwent in Mr. Domenico’s class and I hope that someone brings him to justice in the future.