Moonglowers Take Home Three Awards and Gold Rating at New Jersey Association for Jazz Educators (NJAJE) State Prelims

John Leonardo, Staff Writer

Last week on Tuesday March 8, the Moonglowers jazz band competed in the New Jersey Association for Jazz Education preliminary competition  located at Bridgewater Raritan High School. They performed three pieces including St. Louis Blues, Prayer Meetin’, and Samba del Gringo. They took home one of only two  gold ratings of the evening  as well as  awards for best rhythm section, best saxophone section, and pianist Nirayka Monga took home an outstanding soloist award. 


Previously under the direction of Vincent Turturiello, the Moonglowers has been a prestigious jazz band here at Scotch Plains Fanwood-High School for close to 40 years. The band has now been under the direction of Mr. Durand Thomas for six  years since Turturiello’s retirement in 2016. 


The Moonglowers have been preparing this specific setlist of songs since December. The NJAJE prelims is a very important competition because it qualifies them for more competitions in the future. Because of their success, the Moonglowers will go on to compete in state finals. 


Nine other bands participated that evening, but over 40 other bands took part in the prelims during different evenings. The event the Moonglowers performed at was one of five that week. There are different divisions depending on the student population.  


“We do have a bit of a rivalry with J.P. Stevens band,” senior bari-sax player Riya Kishen said. “Mr. Thomas uses them as a learning experience. We kind of use the J.P. Stevens band as a role model. The great thing about the music world is that everyone is so kind. Even rivalries kind of mean nothing. I feel like we learn so much from each other and having those connections to other bands is so fun you get to meet so many cool people, but in general other bands do tend to seem kind of intimidating.”  

The usual practice schedule for the Moonglowers looks like five days a week in the mornings from 7 to 7:45 a.m. and twice a week in the evenings. The strenuous rehearsal schedule helped them accomplish much in these past few months in preparation for the NJAJE prelims. 


Coming into the new year off of COVID, the Moonglowers had a lot of new members, and the members that were present before the pandemic came off of two years straight of little to no practicing or performing in the traditional Moonglowers setting. 


“I feel really lucky to be a part of the Moonglowers this year,” UCVTS senior Nirayka Monga. “And I’m really happy with the way we’re progressing as a band because I feel like at the beginning of the year, I was nervous. Not just because there were so many new members, but even with old members, we’ve been hindered so much by COVID. So the fact that we’ve been able to achieve so much in particular at the state level, it means a lot to me.” 


As mentioned earlier, Monga won an outstanding soloist award for her craftsmanship on the piano. 


“Honestly, it was pretty validating because I think I don’t get a lot of input from people on how I play, other than Mr. Thomas and my piano teacher,” Monga said. “So of course I trust their opinions very much but it’s also great to hear it from a third party like `oh, you’re on the right track.’” 


In addition, the Moonglowers also received two awards for the best rhythm section and the best saxophone section. 


“It was definitely a surprise,” Kishen said. “One thing it taught me was that our band’s philosophy is very group oriented. Together we are so strong and I believe that’s why we won. The fact we work so well as a team is so fulfilling. My sax section is like my family and of course it feels so satisfying to win that award it’s definitely a really good feeling.” 


 “In terms of the section, I think it’s really motivated us a ton because there are so many new members in the rhythm section this year,” Monga said. “For us to have earned best rhythm section at state prelims, it’s a really big deal because I don’t know if people really understood earlier that this is something that we were capable of doing. But we are.”


On top of this, the Moonglowers were one out of only two bands that received a gold rating that night which according to director Durand Thomas, is “pretty impressive.” 

“The adjudication panel was very skilled. And they were looking for a lot of things that we were delivering on with regard to style, with regard to blend and balance and these kinds of things,” Thomas said. “Another important aspect is having fun. You want to make sure that you’re having fun on stage. And I think we did a good job of that. And I also think a lot of times people don’t understand the journey of a band all they know is the day of and to understand what these kids have gone through, I think is a much bigger deal than the night of a one performance and I think they’ve come a very, very long way. I’m extremely happy with the growth potential and I’m extremely happy with where we’ve come since September to today.”


All in all, it is clear that the Moonglowers have given their all on Tuesday night and should be applauded with congratulatory praise for all their persistence and hard work.