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This article by Barbara Fox was prepared for the January 7, 2004 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Dr. B: Motivating Musicians & Developing Leaders
"Results, not excuses" was the motto for Anthony J. Biancosino, founder of Princeton High School’s Studio Band, a prize-winning jazz ensemble known for – among many other honors – being the only school band to perform at two presidential inaugural balls. At age 55, Biancosino was recognized by Downbeat Magazine as the 2002 Jazz Educator of the Year, but at 57 he lost a battle with cancer. He died on December 27, after literally passing the baton to his brother, Joseph Biancosino-Downey.
Downey will lead the Studio Band in its fundraising series of "big band" dances at the school’s cafeteria on Friday, January 9 at 7 p.m., and so the band’s more than 25 years of goals and traditions will continue. Meanwhile I, along with other parents and students, have begun to reflect on just how "Dr. B" achieved such success and elicited such loyalty.
In a town that discusses achievements with feigned casualness and in
hushed and modulated tones, Tony Biancosino was a larger-than-life figure who had no qualms about blowing his own band’s horn – and putting the onus on the band to live up to its billing. He would say, "I don’t want your excuses. I just want your results."
In a society where effort does not always equal success, he taught that hard work does bring rewards. The band members were required to play their parts, alone, in front of the entire band, and Biancosino did not hesitate – even right before a competition – to take away someone’s lead part and give it to someone who had been practicing more. "He was very good at showing a direct correlation between practice, working hard, and getting immediate positive results," says Lisa Dresner, a 1985 PHS graduate who is now an attorney and educator in Rhode Island. "Students who are very bright do not necessarily learn the value of perseverance, and he taught everyone that value."
At a time when "good enough" is acceptable, Biancosino required perfection. To meet that requirement the section leaders were expected to host extra rehearsals at their homes. "What Tony really did for our kids – he held them to standards. We parents don’t always have the confidence to do that ourselves," says Michael Mahoney, a Princeton University history professor and father of two former band members.
In a school where classical music and the "three Bs" of Bach, Beethoven and Brahms are highly valued, Dr. B was the fourth B, an evangelist for jazz as an American art. To expose his students to good jazz, he would inveigle big-name big bands like Buddy Rich, Lionel Hampton, and Glenn Miller to accept modest fees to play weeknight concerts in the PHS auditorium. He coaxed maverick teenagers into learning an instrument, and he loved to spotlight talent – he gave John Popper (of Blues Traveler fame) his start.
In an era where energy and passion are scarce commodities, Dr. B had a prodigal supply. As his daughter, Michole, said at the funeral service at St. Paul’s, "He was a man of action, and a man of humor, and his heart pounded with an amazing energy and love. He was so totally crazy – and different. He was a force who could suddenly fill a room with his presence. He asked everyone – students, waitresses, those he met – about their lives, their dreams, and their goals. He cared about students as if they were his own children."
When former students find themselves in a leadership dilemma, they may ask themselves, "How would Dr. B have handled this?" In an easygoing way, while making it clear just who was in charge.
"He got a bunch of people not any more talented than any other group to play at a phenomenally high level," says Dresner. "He brought out the best in people."
New Hope Arts seeks volunteers to promote the arts and artists of the New Hope area. The first get together is Monday, January 12. For information call Marilyn Bullock at 215-862-6489 or www.newhopeartsinc.org.
Plainsboro resident Nikki Stern and Governor McGreevey have announced a competition to find a design for a memorial to the 700 New Jerseyans lost in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Stern was married to James Edward Potorti, who died in the World Trade Center. She is a family advocate for September 11 families.
This is the second competition – one held last summer only yielded 19 submissions and all were found inappropriate by the family members committee. The memorial will be located on 1.6 acres at the northeast end of Liberty State Park in Jersey City – across the Hudson River from the World Trade Center site. Contestants must visit the memorial site.
The registration closes on March 1. The deadline for submitting designs is April 30.
For more information, registration form, and other contact information visit www.nj.gov/nj911memorial.
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