Huntington High School’s orchestra was formed more than a century ago. It’s just as popular now as it was in those Great Depression years and it has many more skilled members today than it did during its earliest days.
The current orchestra is directed by high school music teacher Nicole Castaldo. She began teaching in Huntington in September 2014 when she took over for the retiring Lisa Leonardi.
Mrs. Castaldo obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in international relations and economics in 2005 and a Master of Science degree in economics in 2006 at Lehigh University. She earned a Master of Science degree in music education at Long Island University’s C.W. Post College in January 2011.
Huntington HIgh School orchestra director Nicole Castaldo.
Upon Ms. Leonardi’s decision to retire, Huntington officials reviewed 125 applications for the position, pre-screened 36 candidates and conducted 12 personal interviews prior to recommending Mrs. Castaldo for appointment.
“Mrs. Castaldo is currently in her fourth year as the director of the string and symphony orchestras at Huntington High School,” said Eric Reynolds, district director of fine and performing arts. “Nicole’s students uphold the high personal and performance expectations set and are receptive to her musical and instructional delivery. The contributions she makes to the music department reach beyond Huntington. Annual events where the high school students perform include the HFEE gala, the Huntington Hospital tree lighting and most recently, the Long Island Board of Realtors holiday gala.”
Mrs. Castaldo came to Huntington from the Wall Township Public Schools in New Jersey, where sheworked since September 2012 as a general music and orchestra teacher. She earlier served for a year at PS 30 in Queens and for three months in the Camden Central School District in New Jersey.
“Mrs. Castaldo collaborates closely with the Senior Pops orchestra of Long Island,” Mr. Reynolds said. “In this partnership, the high school students of Huntington participate in sectionals led by members of the Pops throughout the year culminating in the annual Senior Pops inter-generational concert.”
The district’s strings program is one of New York’s finest and when the musicians enter ninth grade, they come together to form an exceptional orchestra. “The orchestra program has seen a steady increase in enrollment during Nicole’s time,” Mr. Reynolds said. “Not only has the orchestra grown in size, but in caliber of performance. This is due in part to the collaborative and dedicated K-12 string staff who design curriculum and activities that are engaging and enriching. Year after year, Huntington string students perform in honor ensembles such as the NYSSMA All-State and Long Island String Festival orchestras. And, in our concert halls, students are performing fresh, innovative works alongside classical masterpieces, which have captivated students and audiences.”
The teacher has built strong relationships with the students she has worked with. “It was Mrs. Castaldo’s first year, when I was a freshman and I remember the greatest reassurance my first day was knowing my first period teacher was going through the same things we were,” senior Maggie Giles said. “Since then she has become one of my favorite teachers, working with both the string and symphony orchestras and staying late Tuesday nights to do chamber orchestra. She also organizes String Fest, bringing orchestra members of all ages together to encourage young musicians to continue with the program. As a member of the honors orchestra, she sets up gigs for the quartets, leaving us with some of the most memorable experiences.”
Mrs. Castaldo will be taking some time off in coming weeks for a child care related leave of absence. She will missed during her absence.
“After spending four years with Mrs. Castaldo, I’m so sad she has to end the year early, but so excited for what’s ahead,” Ms. Giles said. “She is an amazing orchestra teacher; always working hard to make sure we put our all into our performances. Each concert has been a success thanks to her guidance and genuine compassion for each musician. When working with her at the SCALE summer camp at the high school, she picked perfect music for each age group, allowing them to advance their skills before the school year while getting excited about the future as an orchestra member.”
Many teachers wonder if they’ve made a difference with students, but Huntington’s orchestra director need not even consider the question. “Mrs. Castaldo is one of the nicest people I have ever worked with,” senior Gaia D’Anna said. “I feel so lucky to have had her as a teacher for so long. I will miss her so much and the orchestra will definitely never be the same without her here.”
Students look forward to their interactions with the gifted educator. “I've loved having the ability to work with Ms. Castaldo throughout my four years in both chamber and symphony orchestra,” senior Nicole Arenth said. “She’s an amazing teacher and person; always willing to help you out. Being in her first group of freshman and growing with her has been a great and rewarding experience. We are all going to miss her so much!”
The teacher finds her career to be very rewarding, guiding students in the string and symphony orchestras and working with the advanced chamber orchestra at night. “This year is a special one, because it is the first graduating class of seniors I have had for their entire four years at the high school,” Mrs. Castaldo said. “It is amazing to watch the students enter as freshmen and develop into fantastic musicians who are capable of playing serious orchestral repertoire by the time they graduate.”
The high school orchestras have grown in size by large numbers, “which is really exciting and is a tribute to the strength of the string program throughout our district,” Mrs. Castaldo said. “I am grateful to teach with an incredible group of string faculty at the other grade levels, including Christina Bhasin, Matthew Gelfer, Nicole Lynch and Claude Masaer.”
The annual collaboration with the Senior Pops Orchestra of Long Island on an intergenerational concert is one of Mrs. Castaldo’s favorite parts of her job. This year’s concert will be held on Sunday, March 4 at 2 p.m. in the high school auditorium.
“The concert gives students the opportunity to sit alongside community members of various ages and work together to put on a joint performance,” she said. “I think it is a unique experience that allows students to see that it is possible to continue playing in a symphony orchestra long after high school and college, regardless of their career paths.”
Mrs. Castaldo is also delighted when the string and symphony orchestras combine into a huge orchestra for a few pieces during public concerts. “We add some of our school’s top band students, giving us the opportunity to perform some incredible symphonic repertoire,” she said. “I am appreciate our band directors, Jason Giachetti and Brian Stellato allowing their students to attend weekly orchestra rehearsals leading up to our concerts. The result is always a performance full of energy and excitement; not to mention a full stage packed with around 175 student musicians.”
As each new day comes, Mrs. Castaldo gives her students every bit of energy she can muster. They respond with enthusiasm and the result is sweet music to everyone’s ears.