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Harry O In The House!


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Yesterday morning, the Verona High School music program went back to its roots. For almost three hours, the music room was filled with the unmistakable voice and body language of Harry S. Owens, “Harry O” to the legions of students he taught at VHS from 1968 to 1988. Harry O was back, if only temporarily, as guest conductor of the VHS Concert Band.

Erik Lynch, the current band director at VHS, had extended an invitation to Owens to conduct a master class ahead of the band’s appearance at the State Concert Band Festival on March 22. Owens put his whole being into it, just as he always did, working the students measure by measure through a piece titled, appropriately enough, “With Heart & Voice”.

“In case, I haven’t said it before,” Owens remarked to the students as the morning drew to a close, “this made my year.”

In a note to students over the weekend, Lynch was full of praise for Owens’ accomplishments.”Tomorrow morning we will have a unique opportunity to connect with our past, as we work with a wonderful teacher who made incredible sacrifices for our program during his tenure at VHS,” Lynch wrote. “I am thoroughly convinced that we will leave our master class tomorrow with a deep appreciation of the past, and strong desire to continue to move forward in our musical and humanistic ventures.”

The morning was an opportunity for Owens to reflect on that past as well. He recalled that he had initially had doubts about coming to Verona and had called the then music director in West Caldwell for advice. “I said, ‘Do you think we can build a music program in Verona as good as the one you have?’ “. That that happened, he added, was a testament not only to the students, but to everyone in Verona who rallied behind the program. “There is something in the fabric of this community that supports music,” he said. And Owens was pleased to hear from Lynch that Verona’s support of music continues strong to this day.

The Harry O of 2011 was a tad mellower than his former self. His baton stayed firmly in hand as he conducted (it often was sent out in the direction of the drumline during his tenure) and no one was told they looked like “the dog’s breakfast”. And he never once admonished the musicians to “start over at letter E. That’s E, as in euphonium.” (Yes, he did say things like that.) But when Owens was informed that some of the students in Monday’s class were the children of students he had taught, his eyes momentarily returned to their earlier wildness. “I was worried that there might be somebody’s grandkids in the group,” he joked.

You can see a bit of Harry O in action in the video below. The VHS Concert Band will perform “With Heart & Voice” in full when it hosts the State Concert Band Festival on Tuesday, March 22 at 7:30 p.m.

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Virginia Citrano
Virginia Citranohttps://myveronanj.com
Virginia Citrano grew up in Verona. She moved away to write and edit for The Wall Street Journal’s European edition, Institutional Investor, Crain’s New York Business and Forbes.com. Since returning to Verona, she has volunteered for school, civic and religious groups, served nine years on the Verona Environmental Commission and is now part of Sustainable Verona. She co-founded MyVeronaNJ in 2009. You can reach Virginia at [email protected].


  1. I would love to be able to thank Mr. Harry S. Owens for bringing his talents to my high school back in the early 60s. elk Lake High School in Dimopck, Pa owes him a great debt. He helped to open our eyes to the fact that just because we were a county school that didn’t mean we were less talented than bigger schools. Anything after Mr. Owens left merely built on his work. If anyone has a way I can thank him, please let me know. I think there are other former students that would also like to thank him. We talk about those things on our high school blog. Today we have been discussing teachers who made a difference, and Mr. Owens name kept coming up.

  2. Mr. Owens, Your Elk Lake Band students are probably spread far and wide. However, when we get on the Elk Lake Friends and talk about favorite teachers, your name is always at the top of the list. If you want to get in contact with some students just go on Facebook and Elk Lake Friends, and you will probably find many from “my years!”.

    As for me, I graduated from Mansfield in the field of Social Studies. I belonged to the Choral Union when I was in college. I taught for 43 years in the areas of history, English, and junior high math. Just recently I retired so I could travel to Japan and Italy. Teaching was the greatest.

    My husband is a Pastor and we stay busy. I am still involved in music and choir. I do programs for patriotic events. NONE of this would have happened without your influence way back in the 6os. Often times, as teachers, we wonder if we might have made a difference. Well, you made a difference in my life by opening up the avenues of music that drew me out of myself. Your steadfast consistency helped me–and all of your Elk Lake musicians–to stay focused. There is NO way “Thank you” can adequately express my appreciation.

    I trust all is well with you and that you are still waving that baton!!

    Many thanks,
    Beverly Noldy God (unusual last name, huh?)

  3. The Elk Lake Class of 1965 will be having their 50th reunion in 2015. Do you think it is a possibility that you could come. I was thinking of suggesting to Annette Allen (our 65 class secretary) that we invite both you and Mr. Licata who now lives in Dallas, Pa. I know some of the attendees would be formeer members of your band. If I am correct, you left Elk Lake at the end of our junior year (believe me, the next year was NOT as great musically with the new person–all band members seem to be in agreement on that. I would like to contact you through email about this, but I don’t hand out my email except directly to the person I am “speaking with.”

    Let me know if this could be a possibility for our reunion!!

    Beverly Noldy God


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