What do you get when you mix poetry, dance, music and art? You get the Williamsville Poetry, Music, Dance and Art Celebration, which truly is a celebration of all of the arts.

"All artistic elements are incorporated into cohesive performance pieces in my honest opinion, that aspect of the festival is the most beautiful," says Angel Mammoliti, a student dancer and choreographer.

Students of all ages submit poems, and then other students create artwork, music and dances based on the chosen poems. The product? Poetry comes to life with the help of art, music and dance.

This year, the festival will take place from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday in the Williamsville East High School Auditorium, 151 Paradise Road, East Amherst, and will feature guest poet Naomi Shihab Nye. It is open to the public.

Since its start in 2000, the program has grown into a collaboration among the Williamsville School District, Buffalo schools and the Just Buffalo Literary Center. Last year more than 2,000 students were involved.

"It's the only concert of its kind as far as I know," says Nick Iannareli, a student musician and composer.

Nick is one of the students who have worked hard to bring this festival to fruition.

"The first time I became truly involved was last year, my junior year of high school," Nick said. "I composed a jazz piece based on a poem called 'I'm Just a Whale.' It was a huge hit and encouraged me to participate again this year."

This year he is back again with the help of his friend John Terragnoli.

"John and I read the poem several times until we came up with a musical interpretation of the poem," Nick said. "Then we composed our piece, which is another jazz tune, this time with a Latin feel. The poem is called 'My Closet'. It's so unique because everything you see and hear is the work of students. It helps students find their creative side and features not only music, but poetry and dance as well."

Erica Riches also has used her "creative side" to contribute.

"For my advanced drawing and painting class our teacher handed us a packet of all the poems. We got a few days to read them all and find one that really interested us," Erica said. "My piece was chosen out of many others and the honor was to be in the celebration."

She is excited to participate in this year's celebration. "I've always loved expressing my emotions through drawings and paintings," Erica said. "Ever since I was a little kid I've had a great interest in art and creating something no one else has ever seen."

Pauline Dziama also expresses herself through art.

"I first read the poets' work until I came across a poem that almost instantly came to life in my head," Pauline said. "Once I gained my own perspective, I began envisioning ideas for possible illustrations that would portray the poem, its imagery and its meaning in an effective way."

The last art form is dance. Freshman Angel Mammoliti is a dancer participating this year.She not only will be dancing in the festival, but she also helped choreograph dance numbers as well as a solo she will be performing.

"It is absolutely amazing to have the opportunity to involve something I am so outside of school invested in and show my peers what I do," says Angel. "A unique aspect of this festival is how essential and important each and every person involved in the process is. The event is a constant feed off each other from beginning to end. Being a part of this experiment emits such a rewarding feeling."

It is "perhaps the most ambitious and professional-looking and sounding arts-in-education program Western New York has ever produced," said R.D. Pohl, The Buffalo News poetry page editor.

The celebration is quite distinguished and has won its share of recognition. It's been recognized as a Program of Excellence by the New York State English Council (2003) and the Erie County Association of School Boards (2008), won Business First's Innovation Award (2010) and has been selected as the national winner of the College Board Award for Excellence and Innovation in the Arts.

Here's what last year's guest poet, Pulitzer Prize winner Ted Kooser, had to say: "I have never been around a public school anything like that one. There were moments like having a fourth-grader on stage reading a little poem he'd written, followed by a full orchestral composition and arrangement by a high school student based on the little boy's poem, with the little boy on stage watching his poem take on this grand life. All very touching and impressive ... What an amazing and marvelous experience ... I've been all over the country and I have never seen a program like this of this quality."

So don't miss out on the party as the Williamsville District Poetry, Music, Dance and Art Celebration brings student art to life.


Naomi Soman is a senior at Williamsville North High School.