Torrington High School students’ URock! event to celebrate community, arts – Torrington Register Citizen

Peter DiGennaro and students from Torrington High School are holding a URock! event with live music and activities in the Howard Building, home of John Noelke’s bookstore and gallery, Oct. 8.
Peter DiGennaro and students from Torrington High School are holding a URock! event with live music and activities in the Howard Building, home of John Noelke’s bookstore and gallery, Oct. 8.
Howard’s, located in the Meara building on Main Street in Torrington, has been bought by artist and gallery owner John Noelke, and is undergoing a renaissaissance as a new gallery.
TORRINGTON — The idea is to highlight the power of collaboration between the students of Torrington High School and the city.
To that end, a launch party for students involved in URock! an art, music and writing program, is set for Oct. 8 at the Noelke Gallery and Howard Bookstore, in the Howard Building at 25 Main St. .
“Creative Community/Creative Economies” is the theme of the party, and it will have music and raffles from Revolution Records, an interactive art project with artist Peter Cusack, live bands, student writing, student art, food from Tequanna’s Soul Food and Sweets and Toothpick restaurants, and an open mic, according to organizers.
URock! Director Peter DiGennaro said he brought the after-school program to Torrington High School in 2019 as a way to connect students to other parts of the community, using art and music as well as helping local businesses. When the pandemic shut down the state in 2019, the program continued, with students meeting online. They recorded a song about the pandemic, “One Day,” sharing their thoughts about COVID-19, and exploring other facets of Gennaro’s platform for URock!
“URock! celebrates diversity, and community, but there’s a whole other side to what we’re doing here,” DiGennaro said. “Kids have have to adjust to the trauma of being isolated from their friends and the outside world in general, that they experienced during the past year.
“It’s important for these kids not to feel ashamed of who they are or what they’re going through,” he said.
DiGennaro is a human rights and music educator, and has spent his career helping young people connect with themselves and their community. His programs aim to combine education with creative projects the students develop , with a goal of building their own self-pride while helping others.
Revolution Records, a music store that opened in 2019, is a good example of this type of project, he said.
“Revolution’s owner, John DiBella, is a great guy,” DiGennaro said. “We’re developing an earn-while-you-learn internship, where the students will work with John to promote his business. He’ll be here at the launch party, cranking the tunes. It’s a way to tell more people about his store, which has a great collection, and he’s bringing records to play and T-shirts to give away.”
Some of the students involved in URock! are in the high school’s English as a Second Language program. “They’ll be playing music from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico … ,” DiGennaro said.
Julia Ellis, a THS student who recently won a poetry award from ASAP!, the Washington-based education program, is scheduled to give a reading, and others have been invited.
“I’m excited to open the doors of Howard’s Bookstore for this event,” John Noelke said. “I look forward to many more events.”
The activities planned for the party are things the students themselves want to do, DiGennaro said. “Teens always say there’s nothing to do in Torrington,” DiGennaro said. “I say, then do it. Do what you want. Teens need to be at the center of these plans. It’s amazing how much wisdom and intelligence they have.”
DiGennaro’s work as a human rights and music educator is fueled by his own experiences as a teen, growing up in Waterbury. “I’m aware of the history of the Brass Valley, where there’s inter-generational trauma,” he said, caused by racism and other abuses. “That trauma persists through the generations of a family, but it doesn’t have to.”
Economic and social disparity, he said, can result in violent crime. “So that response gets passed on to the next generation of kids, and their kids … It takes time to eradicate that. It’s not just poverty, but shame, hopelessness, and those things take time to change. A creative communication outlet helps them rise above it.
“We also need to understand what healthy and fun is, and celebrate our right to have fun,” he said.
To learn more about URock! and the launch party on Oct. 8, visit https://anewheroism.wixsite.com/urockths Email [email protected] with any questions.
Emily M. Olson is the community editor for the Torrington Register Citizen, the New Haven Register and the Middletown Press.
She is a 1997 graduate of Western Connecticut State University with a degree in English and a minor in journalism.
She started her career at the Patent Trader newspaper in Westchester County, NY in 1998. After a brief period as a reporter with the Register Citizen in Torrington in 1999, she joined the former Housatonic Publications group as a reporter. She was managing editor of the former Litchfield Enquirer and helped run the weekly newspapers at Housatonic and the Litchfield County Times. She returned to the Register Citizen in 2009.

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