Festive Lights

Daniel Ju

The collective of strings and wind instruments assembled to produce the winter concert, called “Festive Lights” with music teachers Emily Reola and Starr Wayne as conductors on Dec. 7. The concert was split into two different parts, with the bands playing first and the strings finishing the concert, with a slideshow of class moments played during the brief pause in the middle.

While the concert followed the traditional layout of beginning, concert, and symphonic playing in that order, this year was different in the usage of images playing in the background of the performance. Images were projected pertaining to the music onto the wooden wall directly behind the performers, adding a flair to the already flamboyant decorations and music present. The musicians channeled the theme of “festive lights” through the joyful and energetic themes of plays and musics, for example, “The Incredibles” theme played by Symphonic Band, and Blazing Bows of the West!” played by Concert Strings.

Beginning Band fearlessly began the concert with “Ode to Joy,” which, as the title implies, was a song where joy was eminent. Despite their new foray into the instruments, each song played by Beginning Band really showcased the dedication and newly obtained skills that the beginners had. They ended with “School Spirit” by W.T Purdy, an upbeat, almost jazzy finale to the performance by Beginning Band. A surprise awaited the audience, however, when the curtains opened up to reveal Concert Band, assisting the beginners with the more complicated notes and parts of the music. It was a seamless transition into the performance of Concert Band, who played three pieces.

One of these pieces was the “Themes from ‘Jurassic Park,’” where the performers revealed the brand new feature of the concert. A looped video of blazing fires surrounding the entrance to Jurassic Park was projected onto the curved wooden backdrop behind the performers. This added a visual flair to the concert, while enhancing the rhythmic and loud portions of the music. Yet the creativity didn’t stop there. Towards the climax of the theme, a costumed dinosaur walked onto the stage, carrying cymbals. Immediately, laughter struck the audience as it struck the gongs to the beat of this piece, which set the tone for the rest of the concert; a light and jovial mood accompanied with great music.

Symphonic Band preceded Concert Band, clad in black, and played three pieces. They, too, utilized the projection technology in their second piece, ‘Themes from ‘The Incredibles.’” As the familiar score of Michael Giacchino filled the auditorium, a reel of scenes from the first Incredibles movie started to roll. The flashes of red from the suits and the metropolitan background really embodied Harvard-Westlake. The familiarity of the setting and music eased the audience further and further into the music, which had a quick tempo and a catchy beat. Symphonic Band masterfully executed the song, and finished the first half of the concert with “Congolese” by William Owens, a lively song flowing with allegro and andante, a great end to the festive music of the bands.

An operatic hymn played as the slideshow progressed. The wall behind the now barren chairs showed images of the joyful moments each member of the orchestra experienced. Close ups of students dominated the majority of these images, but there were also some that showcased the entire class. Clearly these images were meant to appeal to the audience; parents and friends often giggled and took pictures whenever their child was up on the screen.

As the slideshow came to an end, the lights dimmed to welcome Beginning Strings. While they were certainly new to their instruments, Beginning Strings tackled more challenging songs like “Can-Can from Orpheus in the Underworld” by James Offenbach, a song that had been played before in previous concerts. Yet they absolutely met and perhaps surpassed the precedent set by previous beginning strings groups, evidenced by the clean stops and shifts to melody present in the music. The bassy portions of the song, too, were well executed, with the cellos and bass, despite the small amount of players, being able to fill the room with the lower notes.

As concert strings moved in, it was immediately visible just how many players there were compared to previous concert string groups. Concert Strings utilized the projection technology to play a winding video showcasing the beauties of the desert in the song “Blazing Bows of the West” arranged by Michael Story. It was a truly wonderful arrangement that emphasized an older and gallant story in the Wild West, fitting for the desert that we live in. While the Wild West and the festivities of the winter do not correlate, the catchy and the distant violin’s clash with the bold bass and cello created an air of excitement and intrigue, perfectly catching the transition into the end of the concert.

Whereas the concert had begun with a slightly more somber note (songs like “Sakura Sakura” and “Too Dark for Aunt Zelda, the end of the concert felt celebratory. The final group to perform was Middle School Symphony. While all songs were notable, one truly shone from the rest because of its accompaniment in the form of the Harvard-Westlake Madrigals, the highest group of choir. “Dry your tears, Africa” by John Williams was a striking piece. The chorus sang in Mende, a language spoken in Sierra Leone.The lyrics were rhythmic but felt “light” in the sense that the lyrics and music were high and short. The bows used to play the strings were synced in a fluid motion, and the timbres and bass, too, felt in sync with the chorus. The added percussion was a nice touch to the high pitched chorus.

Overall, “Festive Lights” was a magnificent concert that emphasized the joy and finality of the winter. The usage of the projection added a flamboyant flair to the typically blacks, whites, and browns of the stage, and the refinement of the musician’s skill since the start of school carried the spirit of the concert. The band’s usage of brass and wind, especially in renowned themes, created a casual and festive atmosphere, while the orchestra’s strings imbued the auditorium with grace and buoyancy.