Supporting Oceans through the Arts: Stellwagen Week Celebration Features Concert Premiere, Whale Exhibit

Scituate’s Gates Middle School 7/8 Band performing in concert. Drum major Michaela Whittaker, 8th grade, conductor.  Image by photographer Bryan Anthony
Scituate’s Gates Middle School 7/8 Band performing in concert. Drum major Michaela Whittaker, 8th grade, conductor. Image by photographer Bryan Anthony
Humpback whale fluking near Stellwagen Bank, image by photographer Greg Lessard

Scituate students perform new band work, present multi-faceted exhibit – Scituate’s Gates Middle School hosts a premiere performance honoring its annual Stellwagen Week celebration, when its 7/8 Grade Band performs the new work “Five Musical Snapshots of Salt,” by composer Jacqueline Hazle, on Tuesday, June 6, 7 pm, at Scituate High School Performing Arts Center, 606 Chief Justice Cushing Hwy, Scituate.  The concert is an educational celebration of Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.  Pre-concert exhibits open at 6 pm, sponsored by Gates Environmental Club and Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

“Salt” the inflatable whale at Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary Headquarters, image by photographer Anne Smrcina, NOAA

A Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary commission, “Five Musical Snapshots of Salt” musically describes a year in the life of Salt, a humpback whale. Salt is the matriarch of a large family of whales that summer on Stellwagen Bank off the coast of Massachusetts, including 14+ calves, 15 grand calves and several great grand calves. 

As the unofficial face of Stellwagen Bank, Salt is perhaps the world’s most famous wild whale.  She is the subject of three children’s books and now the center of a five-movement musical suite.  The new work’s music follows Salt and one of her calves’ adventures from their wintering grounds off the coast of the Dominican Republic to Stellwagen Bank exploring the dangers they face along their journey.  The piece concludes with a hopeful outlook for humpback whales’ future, Stellwagen Bank, and our oceans.

Composer Jacquelyn Hazle masterfully crafted this suite to be playable by Gates Middle School’s seventh and eighth grade students.  Originally from California, Hazle earned several composition degrees in Boston, and is currently working towards a doctorate at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Scotland.  She first collaborated with the Gates Middle School Band and its director Greg Lessard in 2019 when the band premiered her composition “Serendipity.”

Members of the Gates Middle School Environmental Club with the life-size inflatable of “Salt” the whale, image by photographer Jean Chambers

The preconcert exhibit, organized by Gates Environmental Club, led by science teacher Jean Chambers, together with Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, offers a diverse variety of educational displays.  Centered among the exhibits is a 48-foot life size replica of Salt, inspiring attendees to learn through the enormous inflatable’s facets, and step inside to explore the model humpback whale.  Gates School alum and former band member Caitlin Fitzmaurice spearheads the Sanctuary collaboration, a former student of both Jean Chambers and Greg Lessard.

A tremendous cross-curricular collaboration, initial concert plans launched in 2019 when Stellwagen staff member Anne-Marie Runfola approached Lessard about a potential Stellwagen Bank celebratory commission.  Having just completed a successful premier of “Serendipity,” Lessard suggested approaching Jacquelyn Hazle as the composer. Runfola applied to the Ruthetta Halbower Stellwagen Bank Foundation for financial support, which they granted enthusiastically, funding the composition. 

In the summer of 2019, Hazle and Lessard took a whale watch excursion with members of Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary as inspiration for the new work’s creation.  Attendees enjoyed an up-close encounter with “Etcha Sketch,” one of Salt’s grand calves.  “I was in the bow of the boat taking photographs when Etcha Sketch surfaced.  As she exhaled, I became soaked with spray.  I will never forget being that close to such a magnificent creature,” exclaims Lessard.

“Salt” the inflatable whale set up for the Stellwagen Day celebration 2022 in the Gates Middle School cafeteria, Scituate, image photographer Jean Chambers

In early 2020, Gates School Band students began to practice the completed new work. Shortly after, the entire world’s plans changed due to the pandemic, postponing the premiere for several years.

During Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary’s 30th anniversary celebration in 2022, Runfola rekindled the collaborative effort to bring “Five Musical Snapshots of Salt” to life.  The collaboration is part of Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary’s mission to disseminate the important message of caring for the oceans and its inhabitants through the arts.  Sanctuary scientists recognize that while their data is important, even they can find it boring.  To make a stronger connection with the public, the organization has reached out to artists, poets, musicians, authors, and many students to communicate the Sanctuary’s story, resulting in an outpouring of creative, impactful projects.

Gates Band and Environmental Club’s students will attend a whale watch on Saturday, May 20, to help them better relate to Salt’s story, and inspire them in their mission. With some luck, they may encounter a member of Salt’s family.  The whale watch is funded in part by a generous grant from Scituate Friends of Music.

What:              Premiere of “Five Musical Snapshots of Salt” by Jacqueline Hazle and Exhibit

When:             Tuesday, June 6, 7 pm, pre-concert exhibits open at 6 pm

Where:            Scituate Center for the Performing Arts, 606 Chief Justice Cushing Hwy, Scituate

Who:               The Gates School’s 7/8 Grade Band and Environmental Club, Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, Ruthetta Halbower Stellwagen Bank Foundation and Composer Jacquelyn Hazle.

Why:                To encourage the protection of Stellwagen Bank and its inhabitants.

Contact:          Greg Lessard, Gates School Band Director, [email protected], 508-292-3851

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