Laura Traver: Sing, Sing a Song

Since she herself is both short and young, John Winthrop Middle School music teacher Laura Traver says that there are times when she's mistaken for a middle schooler, or at least not readily identified as a teacher. Despite youth and stature, however, classroom discipline has never been a problem for her. Laura says that she did her practice teaching in inner-city Providence and the classroom management skills she learned then have stood her in good stead in her teaching career.

Lucky that Laura Traver is 27, because it takes youth to keep up with her schedule. She wakes at 6 in the morning-unless it's Wednesday when the student jazz band rehearses at 6:45 a.m., before John Winthrop Middle School's class day begins. On Wednesdays, she wakes at 5 in the morning.

Laura, the middle school's music teacher, goes on to a daily schedule of 7th- and 8th-grade band, chorus, and exploratory classes. After school, she coaches the cast of Thoroughly Modern Millie, John Winthrop's spring production, until 5 p.m. She is the play's musical director. Then, without a break for dinner, she rushes to Valley Regional High School, where she does the same thing all over as vocal director for Brigadoon, the high school spring play.

At least Laura doesn't have to make dinner when she finally gets home after 8 in the evening. That's the job of her husband, Keith, whom she describes as a great cook. He also teaches music at Mary T. Murphy Elementary School in Branford. With what little free time Laura has, she also sings in the New Haven chorale.

Brigadoon at Valley Regional has performances on March 22, 23, and 24, with an open dress rehearsal at a lower admission price, on Thursday, March 21. Thoroughly Modern Millie at John Winthrop takes place a month later, on Friday and Saturday, April 26 and 27.

This is Laura's first year working with the high school play.

"I know it's a very full schedule, but when Ingrid [Walsh] asked me, I thought it was a great opportunity," she says.

Walsh is the longtime director of the high school musical productions. Walsh won a Connecticut High School Musical Theater Award for outstanding direction for last year's spring musical, Titanic, which earned recognition in several categories.

With music and lyrics by Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe, this year's spring musical, Brigadoon, is a Broadway classic, with a song that has become a repertory standard, "Almost Like Being in Love."

For Laura, who has taught at John Winthrop for five years, working with the high school actors gives her a chance to reconnect with students she knew as middle schoolers.

"You can dive deeper into the production in high school; the students understand that. A lot of them were in middle school plays and I am excited to get to work with them again. I can see how much they have grown musically and in maturity and I'm really impressed," she says.

In middle school, she adds, part of the work is getting enthusiastic young actors familiar with what it takes to be in a major production.

Brigadoon is special for Laura because she herself was in the play as an undergraduate at Providence College. She says it presents challenges for the Valley Regional cast, both in terms of the intricate harmonies the songs demand and the overall tone of the play. First produced in 1947, Brigadoon is a musical from the golden age of Broadway, with expressive ballads and melodic numbers that in their time also made the top of the pops lists-but they're not the kind of songs that are on the personal iPod playlists of today's high school students.

"We see the actors growing into the roles," she says.

Laura grew up in Plainville and Bristol and says by the time she was in high school she knew she wanted to be a music teacher. When she began to look for a job, however, she thought she would like either elementary school or high school, but had no interest in middle school.

Though she had job offers that fit her initial demands, when she visited John Winthrop, she loved the school and took the position.

"I jumped in and I have never looked back," she says. "It was the right fit."

The excitement of teaching in middle school, Laura says, is being a part of the students' growing-up process.

"What's nice is that this is the time kids are deciding what they are passionate about, who the person they are going to be is, and I like being part of that," she says.

Of course, there can be challenges as the process unfolds.

"Some days they are 10 years old and some days they are 20," she adds.

In the exploratory music class she teaches for 7th graders, Laura says she tries to introduce the students to 20th-century music that might be new to them, and that includes-now get ready for this, if you are a certain age-Elvis and the Beatles.

"The kids today know Lady Gaga, but they might not know someone like David Bowie," she says.

At performances of the middle school play, Laura has little time to relax. The music is taped, not live, and she runs the sound operation, starting the melodies on cue as the script requires it. In high school, however, with a live orchestra, she can relax a bit more during the performance. At Brigadoon, she says she will warm up the singers before the play begins, but once the curtain is up, she is going to enjoy the show.

"I'm just going to stand back and smile like a proud mama," she says.

Upcoming Musical Productions

Thoroughly Modern Millie at John Winthrop Middle School

1 Winthrop Hills Road, Deep River

Friday and Saturday, April 26 and 27 at 7 p.m.

For more information, call 860-526-9546

Brigadoon at Valley Regional High School

256 Kelsey Road, Deep River

Friday, March 22 at 7 p.m.; Saturday, March 23 at 1 and 7 p.m.; and Sunday, March 24 at 1 p.m.; all seats $12.

Preview dress rehearsal, Thursday, March 21; all seats $10

Tickets are available at Gather in Ivoryton, Celebrations in Deep River, The Wheatmarket in Chester, Toys Ahoy! in Essex, and the Valley Regional High School Office. For more information, call 860-526-5328.


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