Middle School Orchestra showcases a season of work

The Harvard-Westlake (HW) orchestra concert, Sounds of Spring, displayed the efforts of the Beginning, Concert and Symphonic bands and string ensembles this season. More than one hundred students make up these six orchestras, with instruments ranging from the double-bass to the gong. In total, thirteen songs of various genres were performed.

The concert was split into four sections: Combined Band Ensemble, Symphonic Band, Combined String Ensemble and the Middle School Symphony. The Combined Band is made up of both the beginning and intermediate groups, which both individually played three songs in their set, while playing a fourth with other groups. Ms. Wayne, the band conductor and Ms. Reola, the strings conductor, opened the showcase by welcoming the audience and introducing the orchestra, who only spoke through their pieces.

The first song of the night was “Sunchaser” by Carol Brittin Chambers, a piece composed for intermediate-level musicians. Every instrument in the original composition was featured in this showcase, including trombonists Eloise Stoddard ’23 and Annabelle Nickoll ’23 working as percussionists as well. The Combined Band went on to play “Havana” by Camila Cabello, transitioning from traditional classical music to a modern pop piece. Their final piece was “The Temple of Ka Uka,” composed by Ralph Ford. Two minutes into the piece, the band surprised audiences with their syncopated stomping, clapping and chanting. This was one of two times a piece required the musicians to put down their instruments, and they did so with grace, returning to their separate parts seconds later to close out their set.

The Symphonic Band performed four songs in their individual. However, many of their musicians also worked alongside the string-players in the Symphonic Orchestra, causing their workload to total to seven songs. They began with James Swearingen’s “New Frontier” before moving on to the first movement from “Lincolnshire Posy.” The piece was composed by Percy Aldridge Grainger for the American Bandmasters Association in 1937. “Lisbon” is only 90 seconds long, making it short in comparison to “Cumberland Falls Overture” by Brant Karrick. This was the second to last piece played by the Symphonic Band and was five minutes long.

Following this performance, Ms. Wayne announced that the final band piece was in honor of Cinco de Mayo. It was “Mexican Fiesta” by John Moss. She also addressed the vacant chairs on stage, which were filled by members of the Beginning and Concert bands. All groups played together harmoniously, concluding the first half of the show on a vibrant note.

This energy was matched by the extensive cheers, led by Ms. Reola and Ms. Wayne, to congratulate the 9th grade musicians on their work this year. This was as close as it the performance ever had to an intermission, separating the four portions and simultaneously celebrating ninth grade members of all sections.

The Combined String Ensemble, made up of three violin sectors, began their three-song-set with “Fantasia on a Theme from Thailand.” Composed by Richard Meyer, the piece showcased the staccato technique, plucking the strings as opposed to bowing them, in a seamless transition. Instrumentalists across all skill levels worked through the six minute piece to create a masterful outcome. Their next piece was one of the most positively received of the night, a medley of songs from the 2016 film “La La Land.” Nicole Choen ’24, concertmaster of the Combined Strings Ensemble, opened and closed the arrangement with remarkable grace and technique. The ensemble closed their set with “Themes from the New World Symphony” by Antonin Dvorak, another extensive piece executed perfectly.

The final group to perform was the Harvard-Westlake Middle School Symphony. The group is composed of sixty-four musicians and is the only middle school band to combine string, brass, woodwind and percussion instruments. The symphony began with selections from the “Phantom of the Opera”, arranged by Calvin Custer. The medley, despite being eleven minutes long, wholeheartedly captivated the audience with its incredible composition (by Andrew Lloyd Webber) and its immaculate execution. After the orchestra’s breathtaking work, the audience was able to rejoice at a consistently upbeat piece, “Alborada” from “Capriccio Espagnol.” Both the Symphonic Band and Symphony used a shorter piece as a precursor to their finales.

The show concluded with Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “Marche Slav, Op. 3,” A nine minute masterpiece highlighted by concertmasters Rachel Mugemancuro ’22 and Matthew Chang ’23, the work of our school’s musicians left the audience stunned with what our orchestra can do.

However, like one ninth grade musician said when thanking the orchestra conductors, none of this could have been accomplished without Wayne and Reola. Their yearlong effort to train such a massive group of students to perform in uniformity down to the direction of their bow strokes is an impressive feat. Such a fascinating showcase reminds the entire HW community of its musical ability and highlights the aptitude of musicians and teachers as they master compositions far beyond their years.

Leave a Reply