A Heartfelt Ovation for a Maestro from his Grateful Students

August 4, 2017

 

by Laurie Jasper

“Choose To-Want To-Love To” is the motto Hudson Director of Music Gerry Bastien instilled in his students throughout his 21 years at Alvirne High School, and it was the logical theme of the surprise retirement party honoring Bastien on Sunday, July 30.  It was a double celebration as it was also Bastien’s 65th birthday.  The Tupolo Music Hall in Derry was the perfect venue for the nearly 200 people who gathered for an unforgettable afternoon of tributes, in words and music, to a man who dedicated his career to instilling his love of music and his work ethic of doing your very best in thousands of students.

“He treated all of his students with dignity, respect and kindness in a structured but nurturing environment,” said Bob Guessford, one of the guest speakers whose six children and stepchildren were a part of the Alvirne music program from 1998 to 2014.

Organizers started working in January to plan a tribute worthy of the living legend, and the extravaganza did not disappoint.

Jess Destramp, Alvirne Class of 2006, did a fantastic job spearheading the event and keeping the planning group up to date and on task.  Alvirne Class of 2010’s Jake Galloway organized the musicians and ensured just about every Bastien year was represented.  Destramp also wrote an original composition entitled “Choose To-Want To-Love To” to honor Bastien.  The Alvirne Alumni Concert Band debuted the song at the party.  They also performed “‘Tis A Gift” and concluded with a rousing rendition of “Sleigh Ride” conducted by the maestro himself, Gerry Bastien.  During a video featuring well-wishes, Boston Pops Conductor Keith Lockhart bestowed accolades on Bastien, who won the opportunity to conduct Lockhart orchestra’s rendition of “Sleigh Ride” during the Pops’ December 2016 show in Manchester.  Lockhart said he hoped to post “Choose To-Want To-Love To” around the Boston Symphony Orchestra rehearsals.

Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives Shawn Jasper, whose daughter Sarah, Class of 2012, participated in band all four years of high school, presented Bastien with special declarations from Governor Chris Sununu and the New Hampshire House to begin the festivities.

It truly wouldn’t have been an event without Master of Ceremonies Joe Kasper, who has been the voice of Alvirne Music since 1998, when his daughter started in the band.  He was joined by Mary McKnight, Class of 1998.

Hudson’s Director of District Counseling and fellow Alvirne administrator Bill Hughen shared that he couldn’t recall the first time he met Bastien, because Bastien makes everyone feel as if he has known you forever.

Bryan Lane, Alvirne High’s principal 1998-2012 and Hudson superintendent 2012-2016, spoke of Bastien as his brother and friend and praised the music program that each year became like a family.  “Thank you for your joy and effort and all you have done for everyone here,” said Lane.  Lane also acknowledged Bastien’s wife, Dee, stating, “Gerry without Dee doesn’t exist.”

Possibly the most poignant speech of the afternoon came from Brandy Bercier, Class of 2004.  Bercier, who lost her mother to cancer during her junior year at Alvirne, said Gerry and Dee Bastien checked on her and truly cared, making such a difference in her life.  “We all came together as musicians, the football player next to the valedictorian, the volleyball player next to the FFA member,” said Bercier, who also shared that Bastien officiated at her wedding.

Bastien holds a special place in his heart for his jazz bands, and the Alvirne Alumni Jazz Band rocked the house with toe-tapping, hand clapping music featuring various solos.  Most of its members have pursued further education and careers in music.  One of the highlights of the day was their rousing rendition of Love Shack.  Rather than merely conduct, Bastien jumped in on the grand piano, tickling the ivories and wowing the crowd.

Friends of Music president Wendy Hennessy announced two new scholarships in honor of the Bastiens.  The first, called the “Choose To-Want To-Love To” Scholarship, will be presented to a graduating Alvirne senior in the music program who will continue music at the collegiate level.  The second, named the “Dee Bastien Behind the Scenes Scholarship,” will be given to a graduating Alvirne senior in the music program who epitomizes the heart and dedication of the music program, but in a supportive, behind the scenes way.

The Bastiens were presented with a gift basket and monetary gift card and then Gerry opened his birthday present from Dee in front of all the well-wishers.  Dee, who knew about the party, decided it was the perfect place to bestow a beautiful quilt she had created for her husband from 21 years of band T-shirts and memories.

There were plenty of laughter, tears, applause and ovations throughout the afternoon.

Shared an emotional Bastien, “There are no words to express what I’m feeling.  Thank you.  I have been very blessed.”  Turning to the alumni jazz band, he continued,

“This was my dream, the last concert at Alvirne to have alumni come back and kick butt,” he shouted, to thunderous applause.

From 32 students when he first started in Hudson to almost 200, Alvirne band has flourished under a leader who helped guide students to choose the Alvirne music program, want to continue in the Alvirne music program, and love the Alvirne music program.  “Band was my life for four years, it was one of the best times I’ve ever had,” said Becca Kovalcin, Class of 2015, who is studying culinary arts in college and who made one of three cakes for the celebration.  “I miss it still sometimes, and was even a little jealous of my sister sometimes, who will be an Alvirne band senior this year.  Mr. Bastien is the best.  We all made great memories,” Kovalcin said.