35 Years of Popcert at RHS
Updated: Apr 8, 2019
By Jennifer Ersalesi
For the last 35 years, Rutherford High School students have taken part in an annual concert event called “Popcert”.
Brian Ersalesi, Supervisor of English, Language Arts and Fine, Practical & Performing Arts told TIR, “This is a true Rutherfordian event. Students get the chance to showcase their talents for the pure reason of performance - it’s not a talent show- it’s just a show.”
Since its inception in 1984, there have been many RHS teachers who have assisted the students with the planning and implementation of this exciting event. Former Supervisor of the Arts, Denis Mullins explained, ”There was tremendous support and participation throughout the years from administration, stage crew, and of course the RHS music department. Also a number of faculty played and/or sang to help enable student chosen songs.”
This year’s Popcert will take place on Thursday, April 11th at 7:30 p.m. on the RHS stage. TIR spoke with the two of the former directors, Mr. Denis Mullins (retired Rutherford music educator and Supervisor), Mr. Joseph Faraldi (former music educator and current Assistant Minister at Bayside Chapel in Barnegat, NJ), and the two current directors, Nicole Bowden and Patricia Blanchard, about this amazing RHS annual event.
TIR: Popcert is such an exciting event for the students and many of the RHS staff members. Do you remember which year you got involved?
Joseph Faraldi: I remember it well. I was hired in March 1983 at RHS and was basically told that the music department was struggling and I needed to do whatever I could to help bring more students into the music programs. I was 22 years old and very motivated and by September I was proud that the program doubled in size. In January of 1984, I organized the first Popcert. I had gotten the idea from Park Ridge High School, where I did my student teaching. My cooperating teacher gave me permission to bring his idea to RHS. I thought it would be a terrific way to get more students involved in the music program. I was there for all of the Popcerts between 1984-1991.
Denis Mullins: Spring 1992 (I began as Choir Director at RHS in September 1991). The prior Choir Director, Joe Faraldi began Popcert in 1984. Since it was not a formal choir concert, it featured rock, pop songs, show tunes, even a few dances and skits. Popcert provided a showcase for talented students beyond the parameters of band and choir.
Nicole Bowden: I do! 2007 was my first year at Rutherford High School and Charlie Ryan, now the VP of Union School, was the director. He and I had talked about music and he asked if I could help with auditions and rehearsals for Popcert as a volunteer. I continued to work with him until he moved to Union School and then I took over as one of the directors the following year.
Patricia Blanchard: I got involved with Popcert in 2006 which was my first year at RHS. It was Denis Mullin's final Popcert and he wanted us involved so that we could take over the following year.
TIR: What do you like the best about Popcert?
JF: I really liked the fact that Popcert gave students a real say in what they wanted to do. There were no coaches or directors telling them what they had to perform. Instead they came up with an idea and ran with it. Often their ideas were better than some of the ideas I could have offered. The students were always so creative. As the director, I was there to make sure what they were doing was appropriate, but other than that they had a lot of freedom of expression. I am sure they still do.
DM: Kids chose their favorite tunes, ones they would love to be able to perform. We all worked together to make that possible!
NB: I love that this program is all inclusive, that it's for anyone with a passion for music or dance or spoken word poetry. It's also one of the most highly attended events of the school year and I think that speaks volumes to the supportive nature of the students we have here.
PB: The variety, the talent, and the collaboration among the students. Popcert is open to all students, and it's a nice way to showcase the talent that we have here at RHS.
TIR: What has surprised you about the talent on stage?
JF: I was often surprised by the ideas that the students came up with and how they pulled it all together.
DM: The students' enthusiasm was so high that most acts really came together in an impressive and entertaining way.
NB: I love to see the kids who "come out of the woodwork", so to speak. I'll have kids all year in my English class or study hall who are quiet and reserved and I'll see their name on the audition list. I'm always blown away by their talent and passion.
PB: I love seeing kids come out of their shells. The usually quiet, reserved students get up on stage and perform their hearts out. I love how it helps to build confidence.
TIR: The students and the faculty have often performed musical numbers together. Mr. Jack Hurley, Superintendent of Schools, reminisced about his time on stage, “I ‘performed’ four times in Popcert. The first time I dressed up as an aerobics instructor leading a bunch of housewives (students dressed in sweats with curlers in their hair) to the old elementary school gym song "Chicken Fat". Next, I dressed up as the 70's and 80's singer Tony Orlando and sang "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree" with students backing me up as Orlando's back up singers ‘'Dawn’. I think in 2010 I dressed as Elvis ( Las Vegas Elvis with the white suit) and did "Suspicious Minds" once again with student back up singers. During my last year as principal I reprised the Elvis act with the same costume and same song. I was always accompanied by a faculty band.”
TIR: What were some of your favorite performances?
JF: There are many that stick out in my mind. I remember there were a bunch of students who played “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” on kazoos. There were cheerleaders who made these huge hats that they could fit into and they danced inside of them to the song “Short People”, which was a popular song at that time. An athlete did a comedy shtick based on Howie Mandel’s “Baby Bobby” comedy routine. He even wore a diaper on stage. We might have pushed the limits on that one a bit, but it was hysterical (laughing).
DM: Actually, I hesitate to start naming names! I don't want any of your Popcert Alumni readers to feel left out. Everyone over the years made Popcert what it was, which was great!
NB: Ramy Youssef and Steven Way performed "Devil Went Down to Georgia" my second year here. It was fantastic. They had an electric fiddle and Ramy sang the song with his comedic flair. The art teachers made a wooden cut-out of the devil playing the fiddle and fixed it to Steven Way's wheelchair. Steve drove around the auditorium chasing Ramy during the fiddle solo. It was hilarious and well done and the audience loved it. It's literally still the first performance that pops into my head when I think of Popcert because it was such a great representation of what this program is: A creative outlet for kids from all different backgrounds who get to showcase their skills to a captive audience. Other performances that stick out in my mind are when Lauren Ackermann and Nick Ackermann performed two duets together, they sang “25 or 6 to 4” and “The Weight". I also remember Rachel Goldstein performing, "In My Life" by the Beatles so beautifully that I can recall students putting their phones down and looking at the stage, awestruck. Of course, we can't forget Mr. Hurley as Elvis, as he always put on a great show.
PB: Mr. Hurley performing Elvis, the teacher dance number a few years ago, and Kirsten Sommers dressed as Tina Turner.
TIR: Superintendent Jack Hurley explained, “Popcert is popular because it is fun, it showcases the talent of students and teachers, (and the lack of my talent - laughs,) and it gives some students a chance to shine who may not be a part of other activities. It is a fun night for the school community.”
Why do you think Popcert is such a popular event in Rutherford?
JF: Popcert always broke down boundaries. It was a way for both chorus and band kids to perform together. They found ways to work together to put on a great show.
DM: Rutherford students always help and support each other. They took recreating the songs they loved quite seriously. Obviously, family and friends were happy to support Popcert. Most years literally sold out.
NB: There's something about the informal nature of it that I think draws students in. This isn't a concert of prepared classical songs, it's a live rock concert that you get to attend with your friends to see people you know on stage.
PB: It's a fun, relaxed event where people can watch their friends perform songs that they know and enjoy an entertaining show.
TIR: Anything else you would like to share about Popcert?
NB: It's a great program that I am proud to be a part of and I am thankful for everyone who has contributed to it throughout the years.
PB: It's a fantastic event and I'm so lucky to work with so many talented students!