Rye Lake graduation to feature student musical performance

Kayela Carroll stepped back from the microphone and began clapping as the song she and a partner were performing shifted to the chorus.

Her voice rose, and the quarter-note beat of each clap punctuated the familiar lyrics: “Lean on me, when you’re not strong…” 

There were only four other people in the gymnasium at Rye Lake Middle/High School, where they were rehearsing the Bill Withers classic for their upcoming graduation ceremony performance, but the final notes gave way to more clapping from those looking on. No doubt this room will be filled with applause for their actual performance.

Teacher Andrew Ruoti has helped revive the music program. He is looking to develop his classroom into a recording studio for his students. The year isn’t quite over yet, but he is proud of just how far they have come.

“I just feel blessed and grateful to have the support of Southern Westchester BOCES  and my administrators,” Mr. Ruoti said. “I applaud my students, because it really comes down to the hard work they’ve put in.”

He refers to them finding their voices, which the trio who were rehearsing on this particular morning certainly did. There are rehearsals all week leading up to the June 10 graduation, where these students and others in the music program will perform. 

Besides "Lean On Me," which was new to some of them when Mr. Ruoti introduced it, students will also perform “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman soundtrack and the Star Spangled Banner. 

Focus on a spot on the wall, should they get nervous about the crowd, Mr. Ruoti tells them between takes.

“Sometimes something will go wrong, maybe you’ll miss a lyric,” he said. “Just listen to your friends and find your place. Sometimes the audience doesn’t even notice.”

The opportunity to spotlight their musical skills is also a chance to connect Mr. Ruoti’s efforts here and at Irvington High School’s SWBOCES program, where he also splits his time. “It’s almost like each program supporting the other,” he said.

For “Lean on Me,” the vocalists on this particular day sang along to a recorded performance of the song by Irvington students Miguel Lopez on keyboards, Andrew Murphy on bass, Zach Finkel on acoustic guitar, Ethan Lopez on electric guitar, and Xavier Pacheco on vocals.

For “This is Me,” Mr. Ruoti strums an acoustic guitar and plays a karaoke version of the song as accompaniment.  

Xavier switched programs mid-year and was rehearsing on this day. He is a fan of hip hop and R&B music and boasts a collection of more than 100 CDs. He’s working on writing his own music. “I’m kind of nervous,” he admits, “but I’m going to be hyped up for the crowd.”

For her part, Kayela is appreciative of this music program. The prospect of a live audience may be slightly daunting, but it’s one she embraces.

“It’s good for me,” she said. “I like to sing. It’s a good experience. We didn’t have this (music program) in ninth and tenth grade, so it’s really good to have it now.”