A Love Affair with Music: Vincent Macrina and the Brockton Band Program

Mike Lawson • ChoralFeatures • October 19, 2006

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From the late 1830s to the early twentieth century, Brockton, Massachusetts was known as Shoe City, with 135 footwear factories flourishing within its borders. Since the end of the manufacturing era, Brockton has acquired a new identity. As the birthplace of Rocky Marciano and Marvin Hagler, it is now known as The City of Champions. This year the citizens of Brockton officially recognized another homegrown champion: Vincent Macrina, music teacher in the Brockton Public Schools for the past 33 years. Now director of music for the entire district, Macrina has garnered so many honors and awards in his career that he has become a Brockton institution.

He, along with the ensembles he directs, which include the Brockton High School (BHS) Advanced Concert Band, Select Wind Ensemble, Jazz Band, and Marching Band, are renowned throughout the region. Like the academic and athletic accomplishments of its students, the band program is, in Macrinas words, Brocktons pride and joy.

Born in the small town of Gasperina, in the Calabria region of southern Italy, Macrina came to this country in 1958 at age 10. His father, a tailor, had emigrated five years earlier, and brought his family over to Brockton in time for his son to enter fourth grade.

Macrina finished elementary and secondary school in his adopted city, graduating from BHS 1966. In the eighth grade he began to play the trumpet, and by the time he was in high school, he was, as he puts it, performing everywhere. He went on to study at the Boston Conservatory, where he earned an M.A. in music education, and in 1970 he began student teaching in the Brockton schools. Although his job title has changed over the years, Macrina has remained a permanent fixture in the City of Champions.

In the last 15 to 20 years, the band program has just exploded, according to Macrina, who says, When I came in as music director, we took it up a notch. Since then, the excellence of his ensembles has been widely recognized. The BHS Jazz Band, which he founded as a student teacher, has performed with such luminaries as Maynard Ferguson and Brockton native Dick Johnson, leader of the Artie Shaw Band. It has also appeared at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland and the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE) Festival in Boston.

In 2002 both his Jazz Band and Select Wind Ensemble took first place honors in AAA competition at the Toronto Music Festival. In June 2005 the Select Wind Ensemble, three-time gold medal winner in the Massachusetts Instrumental and Choral Conductors Association (MICCA) Competition, performed at a concert honoring Brockton native Kenneth Feinberg, special master of the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund. Hillary Rodham Clinton was guest speaker.

Macrina describes the support he receives from administrators of the Brockton School District as phenomenal, noting that the BHS principal, district superintendent, and members of the school committee regularly attend his concerts. BHS principal, Susan Szachowicz, says, I never miss a performance. They are so superb everyone wants to come. The band program has become what it is today because of Vincent Macrina. He has a huge heart, and he is the ultimate team player.

The community is equally enthusiastic, turning out by the thousands for football games, which include Macrinas legendary half-time shows, and the annual BHS Holiday Concerts he presents. I get donations to this program all the time, says Macrina. Gifts from Brockton citizens have included numerous musical instruments, including two marimbas and two baby grand pianos.

When the marching band needed new uniforms, a citywide fund-raising drive netted $35,000 in two and a half months. Community involvement is such that the mayor of Brockton is often seen at BHS concerts a fact which doesnt surprise Macrina in the least. After all, says the maestro, this city has always had a love affair with music.

SBO: As director of music for the Brockton School District, how many schools and faculty do you supervise?

Vincent Macrina: I oversee the music program in 15 elementary schools, four junior high schools, and a high school that serves 4,358 students. The faculty includes 18 general music teachers and 9 instrumental music teachers.

SBO: Describe the facilities at BHS.

VM: In 1970, when it was built, BHS was the largest high school east of the Mississippi. With nine buildings and 13.5 acres of floor space, it is still one of the biggest in the country. The fine arts facility is, in itself, the size of many high schools. We have an auditorium that seats 1,500.

SBO: Describe the BHS band program when you took it over.

VM: In 1978 BHS had 5,800 students with fewer than 100 of them in the band program. I took over as band director in 1982, and weve been expanding ever since.

SBO: How did you found the jazz band?

VM: When I was a student teacher, I was a member of the Bridgewater Jazz Band. One day I was practicing my trumpet part at school, when a kid stuck his head in the room and said, What are you playing? That sounds cool. So I invited a bunch of students to come and hear the Bridgewater Jazz Band perform, and they said, Why cant we have something like this? I posted a sign-up sheet, and thats how we got started. That year we were invited to play at a dedication ceremony for the new BHS gym. We only knew about four songs, but we stretched them out as much as we could. Two years later, I took the BHS Jazz Band to All-State.

SBO: In addition to all your other ensembles, you also direct the pit orchestra for the BHS annual musical?

VM: Musicals are my first love. Ive been conducting them at BHS, as well as at college and community theatres, since 1974. For BHS musicals we have up to 15 musicians in the pit, and 90 percent or more are students. I rarely hire professionals.

SBO: What kind of relationship do you have the Athletic Department ? 

Sometimes music and athletic directors are like oil and water, but I have a wonderful relationship with the BHS Athletic Department. Since the concert bands rehearse during the day, theres no conflict with athletic practices. Last year we had 43 athletes in the marching band (no football players, of course). Im very into the football games themselves, not just the half-time show, so I build involvement with the players and the coaches. The team loves to have the band at away games because they can look up into the stands and see 200 fans cheering them on. Last year over 100 band alumni attended the Thanksgiving game.

SBO: Who are some of your illustrious alumni?

VM: John Dante, principal trumpet of the New Mexico Symphony and Santa Fe Orchestra; bass player Tim Landers, who performs with John Tesh, Tom Scott, and Gil Evans; trumpet player Brian Scanlon, who has played extensively at Disney World and with the Woody Herman Band; guitarist Tim Morey, who played in Mamma Mia, Smokey Joes Caf, and other Broadway musicals; and guitarist Robert Sneider, who has performed with Chuck Mangione and teaches at the Eastman School of Music.

SBO: Describe the concert honoring Kenneth Feinberg.

VM: It was a fabulous event that took place in the newly renovated War Memorial Building, which is now the home of the Brockton Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Feinberg is a music connoisseur, and it was exciting for me and the students to plan a program for him. Senator Clinton was so impressed with the performance that she came onto the stage and shook every students hand. Later she congratulated the mayor and superintendent, saying, You must be very proud of this band. The mayor replied, Yes, we are. Then, without missing a beat, our superintendent added, and we travel!

SBO: What do you hope for the future?

VM: This program has been successful for over 30 years; I want to keep the foundation we have built. In hiring new teachers, I look for musicians who share our vision. Personally, I have no plans for retirement. I always say, I cant retire now, I just figured out what Im doing.

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