Letter – Wowed by SHS band

Published 5:46 pm Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Editor, The Smithfield Times:

I recently attended several Smithfield High School jazz concerts, experiencing some of the most emotionally meaningful programs I’ve enjoyed over the past seven years. At a recent Jazz Assessment, Virginia judges agreed by claiming, “This is the best I’ve ever heard from the SHS Jazz Band.”

Last week, I experienced my son’s final SHS band concert. In a time when programs are laden with “fluff” and populism, the programming was of timeless music by substantive composers including Miklós Rósza, Francis McBeth, Frank Erickson, Vaclav Nelhybel, Dimitri Shostakovich, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Howard Hanson and a closing piece entitled “Never Forgotten” by the writer of this letter, Stephen Melillo, a composer and music educator for the past 48 years.

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For perspective, if last week’s concert was a mathematics event, the guest artist might have been Kurt Gödel, a literature exposé, William Shakespeare. An appreciative audience was moved by the substance of the selections and by the obvious, quantifiable growth in student skills since the winter concert.

Smithfield is fortunate. From a group of accomplished, gifted teachers emerges those who become the inspirers and long-term influencers of our children.  

Stephen Syrell is such a teacher. Halfway into first-semester music classes, which had already begun and sorely needed new beginnings after the program-numbing effects of the COVID lockdowns, Mr. Syrell took our music students on a journey that led to last week’s fine rendering of superbly crafted music.

Through this skilled conducting, teaching and making of beautiful music by beautiful individuals working together as an ensemble, the connection that Mr. Syrell made with his students was visceral, hearable, tangible. It was obvious that the student musicians loved Mr. Syrell and always will.

Mr. Syrell called the seniors to the front of the stage. My son was one of them. Mr. Syrell told the audience that he had started these student musicians during his first year as a teacher at Westside. We had all come full circle.

Thank you, Mr. Stephen Syrell, for being a fine teacher and for treating your students as you would your own children. I speak for many when I say, “We wish you the best as you follow your career path, wherever that takes you.”

Your dedicated, caring, successful work in this not-even-full school year will remain, always, “Never Forgotten.”


Stephen Melillo