Announcing the Joseph Pucciatti Prize for Community Engagement in the Arts

June 14, 2023

In honor of longtime Trenton Central High School (TCHS) Orchestra director Joseph Pucciatti, who recently announced his retirement, the Department of Music has established a new prize: the Joseph Pucciatti Prize for Community Engagement in the Arts. The prize will be awarded annually to a graduating Princeton University senior whose love of community, artistic imagination, and passion for mentorship—all qualities embodied by Pucciatti—have expanded access to the arts.

Yesterday, TAP program manager Lou Chen surprised Pucciatti with the news in front of an audience that included Pucciatti’s orchestra students, fellow teachers, and wife. “I know you don’t like a hullabaloo, but I had to create at least a little hullabaloo,” joked Chen. 

Joseph Pucciatti

Joseph Pucciatti and friends at TCHS. Photo by: Nancy Agosto.

For the past 45 years, Pucciatti has taught music in the Trenton Public Schools. After serving for the first 13 years as a rotating elementary school music teacher, he moved to TCHS, where he founded the orchestra. The original group had only a dozen students; today, it numbers over 40. This month, the orchestra received Distinguished/Advanced ratings across the board at the New Jersey State Teen Arts Festival.

In recent years, Pucciatti has made a name for himself at Princeton University by ushering in a series of artistic collaborations between the university and the Trenton Public Schools. Seven years ago, he and Chen founded the Trenton Youth Orchestra (TYO) when Chen was a Princeton sophomore. Through TYO, Pucciatti’s orchestra students receive free weekly private lessons from Princeton student teachers. This collaboration has since paved the way for the larger Saturday Morning Arts program, which now includes not only the Trenton Youth Orchestra but also Dancers, Singers, and Theater. 

Pucciatti also helped launch the Side-by-Side Concert Series, a collaboration with the Department of Music that invites Princeton University students, faculty, and staff musicians to perform alongside the TCHS Orchestra at semesterly Rockefeller College performances, and the Neighborhood Music Project, a collaboration with Princeton University Concerts that brings world-renowned musicians like conductor Gustavo Dudamel, cellist Sheku Kanneh-Mason, and saxophonist Jess Gillam to TCHS. In 2021, the Pace Center for Civic Engagement recognized Pucciatti with the Community Engagement Award.

TCHS Orchestra and Dudamel

Gustavo Dudamel performs with the TCHS Orchestra. Photo by: Nick Donnoli.

Reflecting on his partnership and friendship with Pucciatti, Chen says, “Without Mr. Pucciatti, TAP would not exist. Even when a new collaboration creates more work for him, he’ll always say yes. That’s because he is incredibly dedicated to his students, because he’ll always go above and beyond for them, and because, born and raised in Trenton, this is his community. He’ll call me whenever one of our students is struggling so we can think through how to best support them. He’ll schedule so many performances for his orchestra that it feels like they are just as busy as the New York Philharmonic. And he’ll arrange almost all the music for his orchestra himself so they can play the tunes they love: Bruno Mars, Lizzo, Camila Cabello, and more. He is a center of gravity in his community, and I have been so lucky to be a part of his orbit.”

Department of Music Chair Dan Trueman adds, "On behalf of the department, I want to thank Joseph Pucciatti for his transformative impact on TAP, our department, and the wider artistic community at Princeton. For the past seven years, he's created opportunities for our students to apply their artistic knowledge beyond Princeton, as educators, mentors, and community leaders. We can think of no better way to honor his contributions than by recognizing students who share his commitment to artistic access."