Music, memories in perfect harmony for Staples’ 75th Candlelight Concert
Music and memories spanned decades this weekend in Westport.
Marking its 75th anniversary, the Candlelight Concert filled Staples High School with a holiday glow, complement by a celebration at Westport Inn where generations of Staples music alumni gathered to reminisce about the signature seasonal songfest.
“Tonight is an opportunity for alumni of Staples High School to come back and basically reacquaint themselves with old friends and reconnect,” said Diana Sussman, the event’s chairwoman.
Staples alumni from near and far gathered at Saturday’s pre-concert reception, remembering moments from holiday concerts past and shared vignettes from present-day life.
“We got a note from someone who graduated in 1949 who lives in Hawaii,” noted Adele Cutrali-Valovich, the orchestra director who had the idea of making this 75th anniversary concert a special event.
The concert itself, which sold out the Friday and Saturday performances, opened with a short video that featured interviews about the Candlelight traditions, including warm words from the late Dorothy Straub Genualdi, a longtime music teacher in Westport. Following that, the performance began with the now-legendary candlelight procession to the strains of “Sing We Noel.”
“Just the fact that it’s been in existence for 75 years I think is amazing because nothing exists in education for 75 years,” said Cutrali-Valovich.
“It brings the community together,” she said, “and just the whole format is so wonderful … Other schools have candlelight concerts, but it’s just not the same.”
While some well-known Staples music teachers from the past were unable to attend, others’ reminiscences kept the Candlelight Concert traditions burning bright.
“It brings back such powerful memories,” said John Hanulik Jr., whose father was the orchestra director many years and who himself graduated from Staples in 1977.
“In a town like Westport you have such a complex mix of people and the music was such a unifying thing,” he said, noting his father’s influence on himself and his three siblings, all of whom have made music their profession. “It elevated us and it also made us all equal at the same time. It was a really wonderful thing to experience as a young person and I’m sure that carries through today.”
“Our lives revolved around the Candlelight Concert,” said Kim Weigle, a 1979 Staples graduate whose father, George, directed the choir for many years. “He was always so busy doing that that Christmas only started after the Candlelight Concert.”
“The education we got at Staples in music is what really propelled us into a lifetime,” said Class of 1961 graduate Jane Schaefer Johngren, who continues to sing in choirs and who made the trip from Hartwick, N.Y., for the worth.
“Music was my saving grace in high school,” she said. “It opened up a whole new world that I really had not experienced … I felt like I belonged.”
Now she was back again, part of a longstanding tradition. “It’s been an exciting night so far,” she said.