For 22 of his 33 years teaching music at George Fischer Middle School in Carmel, Allan Dabkowski has spent his springs with Riffs, Mr. Bumbles and Yentes. This spring – his last before retiring – is no exception, as he takes the baton to conduct the Carmel High School production of “Fiddler on the Roof” at Fischer this weekend.
His orchestra is nearly all students, he says. Busy students.
“The kids who are part of this are pulled in so many directions because they are multi-talented,” he says. “They have a great sense of commitment and I just have great hopes for these kids for the future. And I’ve had so many of them over the years in class.”
As if to prove how many talents, Dabkowski – “Mr. D.” to cast, crew and pit – has two of his band members taking to the stage this year: First violinist Caterina Longhi is the title character; bass player Buddy Griffith plays Anatevka’s rabbi.
Longhi, 16, a tall junior, says she’s even taller when she’s atop the roof. When she’s finishes her scenes on stage, she’ll take her place in the pit, as Dabkowski’s concertmaster.
“He’s never too harsh, he’s always helpful,” she says.
He also knows what he wants – and he knew he wanted Longhi on that roof, a part for which she didn’t audition.
“They just cast me without letting me know,” she says with a laugh. “There’s not many violinists – but I’m OK with it.”
“I’m not an actress,” she says meekly, adding “they’ll probably yell at me, but the music is the big part.”
Buddy Griffith, a senior, has been practicing putting down his big bass and getting up on stage as the rabbi, the first acting job he’s ever had. He’s fairly sure his fake beard won’t get in the way of his work in the orchestra.
Playing in just his second show, he says musical theater orchestras are much different from concert work.
“You’ve got to keep watching, because everyone has to react to everyone else. Mr. D is directing us while he’s directing what’s going on on stage, but he also has to react if they do something not exactly as planned, so we have to be watching Mr. D. It’s heads-up,” he says.
Sara Gonzalez, a senior, is a clarinetist who was in Dabkowski’s class when she was at Fischer – as was her aunt before her.
“He’s very dedicated to his work,” she says. “A couple of years ago, for ‘Oliver!’ they were giving pep talks before the show and he gave a speech and was making people cry, talking about how he loved his job because he knew he was working with human beings.”
Trumpeter Chris Weisel, 17, is playing in his third pit under Dabkowski. He’s learned to mark his script carefully and to not look at the stage too often.
“If you do, a lot of times you’ll get caught,” he says.
Caught up in the action or caught by Mr. D.?
“Both,” he replies with a laugh.
“He’s one of the few guys who’s strict, but I don’t get uneasy with him when he’s strict because he’s a really nice guy.”
Perhaps that’s because he’s a church organist on the side.
Because he teaches in the middle school and most of his players are on the high school campus, Dabkowski doesn’t have the day-to-day contact of other high school musical directors.
“I can’t see them in the hall and remind them what to work on,” he says. “But every spring, the kids come through in the end.”
He says he’s proud to have been able to bring his orchestra through the challenge of “West Side Story” a couple of years ago.
“We worked every day and sometimes we’d work two hours to get through three measures,” he recalls. “We had four rehearsals a week from Christmas through to the show, but these kids pulled through. It was a fantastic experience.”
He chose to go out with “Fiddler” “because the music is beautiful and it really sends the message about the strength of people.”
For 22 years, Dabkowski, a tuba player, has been giving Carmel’s students an experience he never had.
“I was never fortunate enough to play a high school show,” he says.
“I’m going to miss the show aspect and conducting, but I will do more of it in the future,” he says.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
‘Fiddler on the Roof’
Where: A Carmel High School production at George Fischer Middle School, 281 Fair St., Carmel.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets: $12; $10 students and seniors.
Call: 845-225-8441, Ext. 478.
With: Lauren Lanzotti, Lisa Trejo, Alyssa Paletta, Stephanie Fernandez, Teresa Peters, Samantha Gilbert, Christie DiJusto, Ashley Gilliland, Deb Bjornsti, Deanna Demotta, Lucy O’Shaughnessy, Stephanie Freitas, Miranda Sanchez, Nathaniel Phillips, Michael Matessino, Brian McIntire, Dennis McDaid, Chris Zahakos, Jon Gonzalez, Jon Somer, Michelle Nicotera, Kevin Douchkoff, Alethea Schepperly, Lindy Toczko, Rebekah Nappi, Claire Budzinski, Donna Matrician, Kaitlyn McArthy, Jessica Schneider, Chris Ramirez, Dylan Lovett, Andrew Rojas, Mike Castro, Buddy Griffith, Sebastian Savino, Nick Zahakos, Pat Lovett, Danielle Scofield, Nicole Maiorano, John Servider, Jack Dougherty, Carly Flagg, Emma Burke-Covitz, Caterina Longhi, Catalina Morini, Grace Trippodo, Allison Bauman, Aja Broderson, Alex Klien, Dana Castro, Tara Annunziato, Nicole Babu, Linh Le, Aislinn Breslin, Dana Irwin, Rachael Cea, Michelle Ciofreddi, Anna Niskanen, Caitlyn Savio, Nic Baldenko, Chris Weisel, Estlin Link, Alex D’Apice, Carrie Enkler, Sean Donnelly, Kim Griffin, Katie Clement, Mariana Dresner, Chris Diskin, James Donnelly, Kathleen Cordero, Brian Goepfrich, Ilena DeRose, Peter Ballantoni, Mark Ravetto, Alejandra Romero, Kelley McCabe, Rayon Al-Shahirani, Maria Longhi, Marielle Campbell, Samantha Monzillo, Kimberly Palacios, Kevin Johnson, Kayla VanName, Keith Lauria, Katelyn Steike, Allyson Weisel, Laurel Lovelett, Emily Mikucui Elizabeth Roscoe, Amanda Napolione, Courtney Skillman, Sara Gonzalez, Rachel Panny, Carly Lovelett, Emma Link, Leara Broderson, Mariel Perschilli, Brittney Carrasco, Shayna Pellino.
Photo by Dave Kennedy/The Journal News: Conductor Allan Dabkowski directs his orchestra during a rehearsal of the Carmel High School production of “Fiddler on the Roof.”