Pops concert comes together just in time


Victoria Guest (submitted)

Students stand for applause at the end of the Pops Concert on Dec. 7, 2013. “In general, I am very happy with all of my students this year. Everyone is working hard and is doing their very best,” Upper School Orchestra Director Englehardt said.

The week leading into this year’s Pops Concert was marked by a distinct sense of crisis. Time limitations caused by the new class schedule, along with an ambitious array of pieces, left the musicians and their directors “scrambling for solutions,” in the words of Upper School Orchestra Director Almut Englehardt. Despite the challenges that surrounded it, Pops 2013 came off without a visible hitch.

Among the concert’s highlights was Adele’s Skyfall, a collaborative effort by the Summit Singers, Advanced Jazz Ensemble, and senior vocal soloist Emma Chang who sang the theme from the 2012 James Bond film in its entirety. Their performance ended the concert’s first half with a thunderous and protracted ovation. “I think Adele just got out-Adeled,” senior emcee Yusra Murad remarked.

Chang secured her part weeks before the concert, after Choir Director Anne Klus announced an opportunity for a singer to sing solo in conjunction with the Gold Band.

“I came in one day during a free period and sang for her. After a while she then asked me to come in again and one day she announced during choir that I was going to sing with the band,” Chang said. After that, she rehearsed in one-on-one sessions with Klus, with the choral accompaniment, and with the band. Despite her years of experience, Chang acknowledged that she was nervous beforehand. “I had to take a few deep breaths before I sang,” she said.

The concert ended with another joint effort: a performance of Europe’s “The Final Countdown” by Gold Band and orchestra. The customary finale, including all the different ensembles, did not occur this year due to the schedule change. However, “The Final Countdown” was an exciting conclusion that featured two lengthy improvisational solos, by junior Shaan Bijwadia on alto saxophone, and by sophomore Danish Mahmoud on electric guitar.

“Dr. Mayson just asked me if I could play a solo for a few bars and I pulled off something different every time we rehearsed the song. At the concert I combined all the ideas and went off in a different direction,” Mahmoud said. “I was just not sure what message to convey to the audience. I sort of made stuff up as the seconds passed by and before I knew it, my part was over! But at the end of the day, I was just enjoying the amazing music that the band and orchestra were creating.”

Bijwadia’s solo on Final Countdown was more scripted, but still relied heavily on his improvisational skill.

“I had a pre-written skeleton that I embellished upon. Each time I played it was different, but as you practice you get a feel for which notes and phrases go well with the accompaniment,” he said.

Englehardt was particularly impressed by the Honors Sinfonia, noting that their pieces required “high quality sound and intensity throughout, which requires non-stop focus and a high level of technical skill.”

She also was proud of the orchestra’s ability to recover from the loss of a strong senior class.

“I am so impressed by how everyone has stepped up and filled that void, making the transition this fall seamless and successful… One group I am particularly happy with this fall [is] our freshmen who have exceeded my expectations on every level and who stand out as a group of young and excellent players,” Englehardt said.

While Pops 2013 was a striking success, by all outward accounts, the outcome felt uncertain in the week preceding the concert. In the week between Thanksgiving break and the performance, the full orchestra had only two 35-minute tutorial practices, significantly less time than five 45-minute rehearsals they used to have in that time period, according to Englehardt. Orchestra students worked overtime to make up for the loss. The orchestra came in before school on Wednesday, Dec. 4, and added an additional tutorial practice on Thursday Englehardt called the Thursday practice a “last resort; the students need time with the teachers.” Despite the difficulties imposed by the schedule change, Englehardt acknowledged its overall value, as well as the school administration’s efforts to facilitate the rehearsal process. “It would be ungrateful not to mention how supportive the administration has been as we have tried to manage the schedule in preparation for the concert,” she said.

“The rehearsal process needed to be structured so we were still able to get in sectionals as well as full rehearsals. This impacted Academy Chorale.” Choir Director Anne Klus said.

The intensified last-minute rehearsal process evidently contributed to the concert’s eventual success, but it also managed to draw the singers and players closer to their teachers.

“I think it all went pretty well, and Ms. Klus did her best to get us ready even with the changed schedule,” senior Frank Nahurksi said.

Even in the middle of the hectic final week before the concert, Englehardt expressed gratitude for the orchestra’s strong efforts. “In general, I am very happy with all of my students this year. Everyone is working hard and is doing their very best,” Englehardt said.

And as always, the musicians’ best was perfectly fine for everyone.

Watch clips from Pops Concert rehearsals:
Summit Singers
Blue Band
Upper School Orchestra