What’s interesting about Mill River Union High School’s music program is that it’s different from other school programs. The singing groups traditionally classified as men’s and women’s ensembles are called the Clef Hangers (traditionally male voices, tenors and basses), the Tempo Tantrums (soprano, alto voices, traditionally female) and the Chamber Singers (all voices). They were named so as not to identify by gender, thereby excluding transitioning students.
It’s also “a proficiency honors level class,” Choral Director Kristin Cimonetti said. “Even though it meets outside the academic day, it is not extra-curricular. They are graded as equally as any other class. The Chamber Singers grade means just as much as their chem grade.”
Cimonetti’s students call her “K-Cims,” and Cimonetti is the force behind the school’s popular annual Bistro, which is coming up March 29 and 30.
“My mom says I was singing before I was talking,” she said last week in Room 422, the lecture-style suite where her classes take place. She had just finished a rehearsal for Bistro, which features talented student singers performing at the antique Brandon Inn during an elegant three-course meal.
Each year, Bistro has a different theme chosen by Cimonetti. This year, it’s Broadway, and includes music from newer shows like “Rent,” “Wicked,” “Dear Evan Hanson” and “Hamilton,” and classics like “West Side Story” and “Guys and Dolls.”
“It’s this past and present merging together in one program,” Cimonetti said. “If they have been trusted with a dinner music piece that means they have demonstrated responsibility and extraordinary musical talent and dedication to the program. The majority of that work is independent, and I come in at the end and polish it up and do a little staging.”
Cimonetti shows me a video of a boys group singing a song from “Les Miserables” and says, “This is them in their sweats. They come in at 7 a.m. to sing with me for an hour. They’re dedicated.”
“All these kids are auditioned,” she adds. “That’s how I build my program. They gain skills, then they audition.”
Rather than deter them, the standard expected of the students motivates them and creates what Cimonetti calls “a culture of musical excellence.”
“They understand that they can’t just stand there deadpan and perform ‘Bring Him Home’ from ‘Les Miserables,’” she explained. “You have to be an actor as well. It creates this culture of excellence and this culture of art is important.
“When I came here nine years ago, it had already been a beautiful tradition that Mary Ellen Harlow had done for years,” she recalled. “The first question the kids (asked) me was are you keeping the Bistro? I said I have no idea what the Bistro is but it’s very important to you so I’m going to figure it out.”
It’s a huge effort that she says she couldn’t do alone, and relies heavily on community members and parent volunteers.
“The Mill River community has always been unbelievably supportive of the arts as being equally important to their core academics and athletics,” Cimonetti said. “Without that support these types of events could never happen. And it makes me excited to come to work every day to be in an environment where music is valued.
“There’s nothing like it,” Cimonetti said of Bistro. “These kids are live, there’s no safety net, they put themselves out on the line and sing with their hearts. I think that’s why people keep coming back and why the kids want to keep doing it every year.”
“Bistro on Broadway” is at the Brandon Inn, 20 Park St. in Brandon, Friday, March 29, and Saturday, March 30. Friday and Saturday evening dinner is at 6:15 p.m. (doors open 5:30); tickets are $34. Sunday luncheon is at noon (doors open 11:30); tickets are $25, $19 for seniors, $16 students. Every year the show sells out, so contact Jennifer Severance for tickets soon; call 802-775-3451, ext. 280 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.