We’re Still Standing: A Flooded Year with the Music Department


In the last week of August 2021, Mr. Verderese was directing the regular band camp rehearsals, like Cresskill had always run, ready to start a new season after being locked away by COVID the past year. That last Wednesday in particular was different from the rest. Mr. Verderese and the staff were keeping a close eye on the weather — the marching band usually needs outdoor space to rehearse. It was said to start raining at some point during the day, but the sudden downpour didn’t start until later that night. This event would change the music department, and the rest of the whole school, for another full year in Cresskill High School history. 

The initial flood destruction was so shocking to the point that Mr. Verderese didn’t even fully understand what was going on. He recalls his reaction to when he first saw a picture of the flooded auditorium: “Someone sent me a picture of the auditorium and I thought it was photoshopped. It just didn’t make any sense–what I was seeing…at first, I was just kinda in some disbelief.” Mr. Verderese soon started to feel upset because all the equipment he needed for his job, including instruments, uniforms, the actual band room and auditorium, might all be gone after building Cresskill’s music department for 18 years. No one knew if any single thing in the building could ever be touched again. This was greatly affecting other musical teachers as well, Ms. Ofshinsky and Mr. Von Glahn, as Mr. Verderese describes that the auditorium was almost like a home to them. Ms. Ofshinsky recalls,  “[Mr. Verderese] drove to my house to show me the picture of the auditorium so that I didn’t have to see it alone.” For students, this may not be a big deal, but the physical aspects of Cresskill’s music industry heavily relied on the auditorium and the teachers took it greatly.

Big, long-term concerns came with the school shutting down for another year. It was one obstacle to go through the COVID year with virtual learning (when the concept of playing music is entirely in-person based) but at least it was nice to know that the whole world was going through the same hardship. However, the year of the flood was what set Cresskill apart from any other town. While everyone went back to school in September, Cresskill had to keep pushing through the same virtual learning with no hopeful end in sight. Mr. Verderese says, “I felt like I was running out of tricks and that it was gonna be really hard to keep asking people to go back to the same well, because everybody had joined band to be in a band.” Without the ability to properly teach, it was even concerning for members of the band who were less skilled, because they weren’t getting the quality experience of education they needed in-person. 

Panic started to set in when real issues about moving forward came up, such as when the marching band had to prepare for the next football game. It was up to Mr. Verderese to compensate for the lost instruments and materials lost in the flood before the performance. “And because I am the way I am–which is a little bit nuts–I decided, ‘that gives me four days to get an instrument in everybody’s hand.’” Slowly but surely, thanks to his care and concern for the band, small steps were found to fix the problem. Many instruments were donated to Cresskill, other high schools lended their rooms for the jazz band rehearsals and fields for marching band rehearsals, a temporary truck was available for the students to put their equipment, and more. 

Marching band student leader and piccolo player, Hayan Lee, describes the moments that made marching band feel positive, despite the group going through something dangerously unfamiliar. “I think he made a lot of positive comments to boost our motivation up, because I remember him saying ‘Guys, since our school got flooded, it somehow matches our show theme: I’m Still Standing!’…I remember him trying to make the best out of it, so it was pretty fun.” She was thoroughly impressed by his care for the students and his swiftness in keeping the technical aspects of being a marching band running smoothly: “He kinda proved to us how he can figure stuff out without showing [the struggle] to us.” 

The effects of the flood have created permanent, positive changes in the music department. For instance, the band now warms up at the band field before going onto home games, which was something that had never been done before the flood. With the new renovations and supplies throughout the whole school, the music department is also getting new equipment, which has been long awaited by students and teachers alike. Students in band also have also become more capable of flexibility. Although the number of members is smaller than before, the skill-level has been higher than ever. Mr. Verderese adds “This change of band not being ninth period marching band anymore has been a long time coming, and I felt confident to do it after two years of not having in-person ninth period marching band rehearsals…it gave me a really high sense of confidence.” Most of the people in the current marching band have never experienced a regular year at all, so making this change now would have made the most sense than doing it ever.

Vederese reflects: “I also think that the band learned how to adapt so well that coming back and doing it the normal way is easy. Being able to come back to mostly normal made band easier for people in many ways–not living out of a trailer and not having to take our temperature on the way in…there’s just so much more certainty that it made regular stuff easy.”