Rising local musical star Peter Tront of Waretown is one of the several featured performers Saturday evening, May 24th, at the Cecelia Foundation Talent Showcase in Manasquan’s Algonquin Arts Theatre.
Father Alphonse Stephenson, host of the fund-raising event reports that Tront, a 2011 graduate of Southern Regional High School, will treat the audience to the historic first Garden State performance in 80 years of two “lost” ragtime pieces.
“The arrangements for xylophone and marimba will be played note for note from antique Edison wax cylinder recordings found in attic only recently,” Father Stephenson stated, “We will hear improvisations just as they were played on the priceless recordings by both George Gershwin and legendary percussionist George Hamilton Green Jr.”
Tront, now a Junior at Cleveland State University, majoring in Music Performance, will play the xylophone in duet with one of his earliest teachers, Bill Trigg, conductor and music director for The College of New Jersey Percussion Ensemble, on marimba. The performance will mark the latest in almost a decade of collaborations between the young musician and Father Alphonse, widely known and loved as the “must-see maestro.”
“I don’t think my life would be centered around music,” Tront stated, “if it was not for Father Alphonse and the Cecelia Foundation.” When he was 15, Tront was brought to the Point Pleasant Beach for a performance of Father Alphonse’s 45-person-symphonic ensemble, The Orchestra of St Peter’s By The Sea, at the Festival of The Atlantic.
“After the concert, when I was introduced to Father Alphonse and he heard that I was a percussionist, he invited me to play with the orchestra,” Tront remembered. “I was out of my mind with excitement. Not only did I get to play, but I was mentored by the great and kind professionals in the orchestra.”
“Father Alphonse really is the sole reason why I became so involved in music. I was into sports. My mom suggested marching band, but instead, I have had several opportunities with Orchestra since I was 15,” said Tront. “Best of all, Father Alphonse has let me conduct the orchestra on several occasions. And I got to spend an entire summer learning directly from him between my junior and senior high school years. Seven to eight hours a day, ear training and playing lessons.”
Tront also noted how important the Cecelia Foundation has been to him. During his junior year at Southern Regional, Tront was gifted his first professional drum, and since then, the Foundation “has been very generous with financial support for my music and college studies.” That drum, by the way, is now part of Tront’s growing collection of diverse percussion instruments.
Cecelia Foundation will again gift instruments to surprised young NJ musicians
Since he created The Cecelia Foundation, Father Alphonse has “given away violins, violas, cellos, basses, flutes, trombones, drums…you name it.” The new instruments are awarded during a concert as a surprise to their young recipients.
“It is always an emotional moment for everyone at the event,” Father Alphonse stated.
Primary funding for the Foundation have been from sales of the Orchestra’s recordings and through the generosity of the Paul F. Zito M.D. Foundation. The gifting criteria include a recommendation from the musician’s teacher, a respectable academic record and financial need. “Financial cutbacks in school are the order of the day,” Father Alphonse laments. “Arts programs are often among the first to be cut, and family budgets are strained. The quality of instruments available to aspiring musicians through school systems often discourages the student from practicing. As the student begins to gain a certain degree of proficiency, an instrument capable of responding to the evolving talent serves as an encouragement to the growing musician.”
The May 24 Showcase at 8 p.m. will feature several other duets between long-time friends of Father Alphonse - from Music Theatre, Cabaret, the Concert Hall and Opera -- and promising young performers. Among the stellar professionals lined up for the evening’s entertainment are Father Alphonse’s “soprano sister,” Maria Zito-Kaufman, and the international-award-winning pianist/conductor Eugene Albulescu, whose many credits being invited to the White House to play for the Millennium celebrations and a stint overseas as director of the French Chamber Orchestra.
Tickets can be reserved by calling (732) 528-9211, going online to algonquinarts.org and by visiting the Algonquin Arts Box Office at 173 Main St, Manasquan.
Since the Cecelia Foundation is a 510(c)(3) non-profit organization, all tickets are tax-deductible donations to the full extent of IRS regulations. Seats are available starting at $40 for seniors, $42 for adults and $30 for students, along with extra discounts for groups of 10 or more. Individual tickets are subject to a $2 per ticket processing fee.
Tront reports that the two songs he will perform are the classic George Hamilton Green, Jr. piece “Watermelon Whispers” and a special version of Gershwin’s “Swanee”. Green was a xylophonist, composer, and cartoonist born in Omaha, Nebraska. He was a popular recording artist starting in 1917 with the Edison Company and was employed, along with his two brothers as the original sound music crew for Walt Disney’s first three cartoons. “Watermelon Whispers” is an early example of the foxtrot, which provided the basis for the development of novelty ragtime. Green often "ragged" popular dance tunes, as well as writing some amazing novelty xylophone rags of his own.
George Gershwin wrote “Swanee” in 1919 with lyricist Irving Caesar. The song is most often associated with Al Jolson who sang the piece in the first “talkie,” The Jazz Singer. Caesar and Gershwin, who was then aged 20, claimed to have written the song in about ten minutes riding on a bus in Manhattan, finishing it at Gershwin's apartment.
Father Alphonse’s unique multi-faceted calling as a Roman Catholic priest has included being conductor of the Broadway production of “A Chorus Line” for thousands of performances and leading the Orchestra he founded to performance at Carnegie Hall. Retiring from the military this Fall, Father Alphonse serves as an Air Force Chaplain of the Air National Guard and Brigadier General. Posted at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Father Alphonse is the Director of the National Guard Joint Chaplaincy.