HAMMONTON — After a driving rendition of Tower of Power’s “Squib Cakes,” which got a huge ovation from the audience at the Eagle Theatre on Vine Street, the members of the Oakcrest Jazz Band listened to some constructive criticism.

“The drums were really loud. We can’t hear the horns,” said Mainland Regional High School Band Director Keith Hodgson, one of three judges there to give the kids feedback. “The rhythm section covered it up. We’d love to hear the horn line a little more. “

Jazz musician, teacher and composer Ed Vezinho, of Egg Harbor Township and the Ed Vezinho/Jim Ward Big Band, agreed.

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“The energy was fantastic, and the groove was great,” Vezinho said. “But you guys in back need to lower it,” he said to the guitarist, drummer and bassist. Horn players can’t be told to play louder, he said, or there are distortions in sound.

It was part of Atlantic County’s annual Teen Arts Festival, sponsored by the county Office of Cultural & Heritage Affairs and held all day Friday throughout downtown Hammonton’s Arts District.

Hundreds of teens interested in music, dance, visual arts and the performing arts showed their work to experts who gave them feedback, and picked workshops from dozens of topics.

After the Cedar Creek Dance group Piramotion performed a modern piece at Paul Morris Dancexplosion on Bellevue Avenue, Cedar Creek dance teacher and choreographer Ashley Tabano said the dance program at the high school was only in its second year. Most of the girls in the group never got dance training in childhood.

“Out of about 100 kids, maybe 10 had prior training,” Tabano said.

Senior Mercina Stefanski, 19, one of a set of quadruplet girls who are basketball stars at Cedar Creek, is one of those newcomers to dance. She said she is in her second year and appreciates how it allows her to express her feelings.

“At pep rallies I come out in my basketball uniform, then run and change for dance,” she said. “I really didn’t know how athletic you have to be to do dance. Ms. Tabano pushes me to my limit.”

Stefanski, who will attend Caldwell University in Essex County (previously Caldwell College), said dancers work as hard as any other athletes at their sport.

Sharia Durham, 15 and a sophomore, said she is thinking about dance as a career. Both said their group, the first advanced class in the high school, practices every day during a double period that lasts two hours.

Over in Richard Stockton College’s Kramer Hall near the train station, Atlantic City High School freshman Allyssa Borrelli, 14, was trying something new. Experienced in theater, she was taking a watercolor class with Gloucester County College art appreciation teacher Carol Cuyhet, of Voorhees, who is also a member of the Hammonton Art Center.

“I’m always performing. I wanted to get the visual side,” said the Ventnor resident who plans to study education in college, with a minor in the arts.

Cedar Creek junior Julia Schenker, 16, said she takes private lessons in all kinds of visual arts, and while she plans a career as a personal trainer, she said art will always be a hobby.

Back at the Eagle Theatre after their performance, the Oakcrest musicians, all from Hamilton Township, took the suggestions for improvement in stride.

Sax player Kim Paxton, a senior who plans to study culinary or visual arts but keep playing music for enjoyment, said the band members critique each other all the time.

“Still it hits a little bit when someone is sitting right in front of you saying he can’t hear you,” she said.

Drummer Tyler Sarfert, a junior who intends to go to college to study music, said he will make adjustments.

“I can play a little softer he said,” adding that the horns usually play into microphones during concerts, while there were no mikes for this performance.

Trumpet player Christl Stringer, a senior, said she is attending Montclair State University to study fine arts, but won’t give up her music.

“They have a jazz band there,” she said. “I’ll play in that.”

Contact Michelle Brunetti Post:


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Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.

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