by Ava Ransbotham and Paige Taylor, Features Editor, Features Contributer
photo by Tony Fan
From a secret harmonica passion to bands formed in college, South teachers find a break from teaching and grading through music for one night every year.
Returning for the first time since 2020, the annual Faculty Variety Show is an opportunity for teachers and other members of South’s staff to showcase musical skills to students in an energetic night of entertainment.
English teacher Dana Arnaboldi said that although she doesn’t have many years of experience, music is a very influential part of life.
“Whenever there’s music around, I’m happier,” she said. “I actually took a leave from teaching last year and I started taking guitar lessons and I joined a band for that.”
Alongside English teacher Eliza Tyack, science teacher Derek Van Beever, history teacher Rachael McNally, junior Cate Mahoney and senior Niamh O’Rourke, Arnaboldi is a member of Emperor of Mice, one of the bands that performed at the show.
Arnaboldi’s husband thought of the intriguing name 20 years ago but it has been rejected by many family members since then.
“For this one-time faculty variety show, I thought I would take that name,” Arnaboldi said. “This band is more of a faculty variety show band and is not necessarily an existing [band]”.
Two months ago, Arnaboldi asked some of her closest friends at South if they’d like to form a band. One of those people is history teacher Rachael McNally, who also plays the drums in the band Sleepyhead.
McNally’s husband and fourth-grade teacher at Zervas Elementary Christopher O’Rourke is also a member of Sleepyhead and said the band has debuted many new songs at the variety show.
“We have actually played many songs for the first time ever at faculty variety shows,” he said. “We’re keeping tradition alive.”
McNally said her musical journey began by learning to play a set of drums she found in the basement while attending New York University (NYU).
“The summer between my junior and senior year I said, ‘I’m going to learn how to play drums or bass’,” she said. “We would move them from my room to the music room in the basement every time we had to practice. That was the fall of 1989, and we have been in this band ever since.”
The name Sleepyhead also has origins at NYU, as McNally was taking a nap while they were supposed to be at band practice.
“It was time to practice and so [O’Rourke] and Mike, who was the first bass player, came to get me and I was so asleep and they were shaking me and I was slowly waking up and then the first play bass player, Mike, said, ‘we should just call the band Sleepyhead.’”
McNally isn’t the only teacher to have a long musical history. English teacher David Weintraub was part of three acts throughout the show, one of them being the Gene Machine, comprised of history teacher Kyle Stark, history teacher Eugene Stein, English teacher Alan Reinstein and English teacher David Weintraub.
Weintraub said that Stein, the guitarist who got the band together, inspired the name.
“Gene Stein is a really humble, quiet person who’d never amplify himself,” he said. “But he’s such a monster guitar player. He’s on a whole other level of guitar talent that this school has never seen before. He’s so amazing that he needed to be in the title of the [band].”
The Gene Machine’s harmonica player and singer, Reinstein, said his favorite part of the band is the dynamic between its members.
“They’re really good musicians, so that’s fun, and it puts some pressure on me, but I feel good with what I can do,“ he said. “The practices are [a mix of] fun and serious.”
Weintraub said that many of the band members already knew each other before forming the band, but being a part of The Gene Machine allowed them to further strengthen their bonds.
“We were friends before and that’s why the rapport is so natural. It’s not forced,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of time to grow together, through thick and thin, and that bond, that trust, allows the music to be more fun, more authentic.”
For Weintraub, the best part of being in a band is that moment when everything comes together. Even though the band is hard work, the work is all worth it in the end.
“You realize, not only is this fun to hang out with friends, but [the music is] also good,” he said. “And that moment, which only comes after a lot of work, [is] definitely the thing that justifies it.”