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Smithtown HS West Hosts Masterclass with Alum Maestro


Smithtown High School West’s music department hosted a former student and renowned music educator for a masterclass on Tuesday, November 22.

Maestro Joseph Rutkowski, a graduate of Smithtown Central High School class of 1972, recently retired from a 44-year career in education. Rutkowski completed his tenure as Director of Instrumental Music at Great Neck North High School.

“When I heard that a guest conductor was coming to Smithtown High School West, I was thrilled with excitement,” said James Corcoran, senior. “Mr. Rutkowski’s experience and passion for music were very noticeable.”

Rutkowski worked with the Symphonic Orchestra and Symphonic Band (the upper-level music groups), where he was instrumental in lending his experience as a virtuoso musician to the students.

He also gave a masterclass to woodwind students and an entertaining presentation on the physics and tonality of music.

“Thank you very much, Maestro Rutkowski, for a very memorable day that I am sure the students of Smithtown West will not soon forget,” said Joseph Cotignola Jr., orchestra maestro and former colleague of Rutkowski (pictured left and conducting in above photo).

“Mr. Cotignola and I go way back,” said Rutkowski. “We were both inspired, encouraged and always supported by our mentor Lawrence Sobol,” who they both studied under at Smithtown High School.

“We represent the ‘book ends’ of the Larry Sobol legacy,” added Rutkowski. “I was a student at Smithtown in Mr. Sobol’s first two years as Symphonic Band Director; Mr. Cotignola graduated in 1997, four years before Mr. Sobol retired.”

Continuing in the Sobol tradition of musical excellence, “Tuesday, November 22, 2022, was the best day of my retirement so far,” exclaimed an excited Rutkowski.

The temporary resident of the department conducted a Beethoven symphony no. 7 in A Major in period 3 Symphonic Orchestra and Holst’s Second Suite in F during period 5 Symphonic Band, all the while lending his expertise to the groups.

Rutkowski made mention of the acumen of the students at Smithtown High School West.

“When I gave the downbeat, there was NO question,” said Rutkowski. “These kids can play great (and very challenging) music with such understanding and passion. Note that these were the same parts that Ludwig van Beethoven wrote for the Vienna Philharmonic, the same pages that the New York Philharmonic reads from today at David Geffen Hall in Lincoln Center.”

Rutkowski and Cotignola taught in the Great Neck Public Schools for six years prior to Cotignola’s current position in the Smithtown Central School District, where the former served as Cotignola’s advisor.

 Both men have honored Sobol in their respective careers. In 2010, Rutkowski invited Sobol to be a guest speaker at John L. Miller Great Neck North High Schools Winter Concert in 2010. Cotignola continues, with his colleagues, to be a part of the Smithtown High School West’s Gala, first started by Sobol.

With the masterclass concluded, Smithtown students will soon have the opportunity to apply what they learned as they head into the Winter concert season and beyond. Scores of individuals, whether they are aware or not, now stem from the musical lineage of one impassioned music educator at Smithtown High School West. And, as Rutkowski stated, “the Sobol legacy is still going strong.”

Brian R. Monahan
Brian R. Monahan
News Editor for The Messenger Papers.