POPs Concert returns to its stunning normal

December 8, 2022

The auditorium goes dark, voices turn into faded whispers, and velvet red curtains open. The stage is visible, and jewel-toned light illuminates the faces of the band, choir, and orchestra performers, as well as a wide range of musical instruments.
The Upper School Pops Concert is an annual tradition in the St. Paul Academy and Summit School music department. While it has looked very different the past two years, this year was a reclaiming of what makes POPs fun; there was a full auditorium of spectators and a big finale number with all groups performing. Based on the strong performances, the musical groups were ready to get back on stage..
The POPs Concert Dec. 2-3 featured the Jazz Ensemble, Honors Sinfonia, Academy Symphony, and all upper school choirs. The concert showed music students’ accomplishments during the first semester.
Everyone’s excitement to gather as a community and enjoy students’ hard work was very present during the performance. Facial expressions lit up and eyes wandered trying to take in all the instruments and the way everyone harmonizes perfectly together.
The two-hour show was a hit, with nearly full auditoriums and a crowd that laughed along with emcee Mimi Huelster and cheered after each number.
The songs performed are picked by students, and are songs most people know and can hum/sing along to.
The set list included “Wildest Dreams” by Taylor Swift, “Kyoto” by Phoebe Bridgers, and “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf.
All of the songs performed at the concert were led by directors Randy Reid (band), Almut Engelhardt (orchestra), and Tim Kraack (choir).
The stage was divided into sections based on the type of group, minimizing transition time while allowing all groups a spotlight for their numbers. Throughout the performance, sections took turns in performing songs with featured solos.
The host for the concert was senior Mimi Huelster, and she came ready to make everyone laugh. Huelster opened up the concert with a humorous comparison, saying “This is like the FIFA World Cup except instead of a soccer ball there’s uh instruments and instead of playing soccer it’s teenagers singing and both have a goalie so I guess that’s the same”. She used dry humor along with many puns and jokes to win the audience over and put smiles on everyone’s faces. She even gave some POPs trivia , “Can you guys believe that Pops has been going on since 1991? That’s crazy. What??? I didn’t know that people even lived back then. I thought music wasn’t invented until “Call Me Maybe” came out in 2012”. Laughter erupted, and the next song began.
More than half of Upper School students participate in the Pops concert each winter. Ruby Fields is a senior who has been a part of the POPs tradition for four years, but has had many different experiences each year. This Year Fields is a section leader in the orchestra. She says, “being a section leader means your at the front so it can be intimidating to both represent your section and be the person that most people are looking at within your section just because of where you sit, but it’s also very rewarding to
help others, since I was once in their shoes”.
Sophomore Liza Thomas said, “It was my first POPs concert [as a performer] so it was exciting to experience the concert from a singer’s perspective instead of an audience one.” Thomas also enjoyed seeing the audience’s reactions to songs explaining, “It is rare to get an experience where that many people seemed satisfied with what you just performed, as one might say it gives you a rush”.

Watch the 2022 POPs performance here.

[THEN AND NOW] POPs concert rocks and rolls since 1991

The POPs Concert took place Dec. 2-3, and the rocking-good-time-of-a-concert has been a tradition for decades, dating back more than 30 years in the school’s history. Most students have been in or attended the POPs Concert, but few know the story of how the winter concert got to be what it is today.
Director of Orchestras Almut Engelhardt, who has directed the concert all 30 years she’s taught at SPA has seen the POPs Concert go from small shows every six weeks to five-hour shows in the gym to the two-hour concert students know today.
Engelhardt said the dress code for POPs also changed.
“There used to be a t-shirt design contest, but we stepped away from that because we wanted a more unified look,” she said.
2022 POPs Concert there was a new twist on the tradition: students wore colorful, plain shirts to create a peppy, rainbow effect on stage.

I think there is a lot of great music in a variety of genres and I believe that the POPs Concert helps to highlight that.

— Emma Goodman

The choir, orchestra and jazz band take turns performing and each concert ends with one big finale. The music is not classically-focused and features popular songs students know and love.
Senior Emma Goodman said, “While I am a big fan of classical music, I think there is a lot of great music in a variety of genres and I believe that the POPs Concert helps to highlight that.”
When COVID-19 hit, the POPs Concert was temporarily shut down. There was no concert in 2020. In 2021, the show came back, but not in full force. The orchestra took a turn playing; the choir took a turn performing, then the jazz band played. There was no final number, and due to the restrictions implemented, the POPs Concert didn’t hold the same power as it had in previous years.
Senior Parisa Ghavami said, “It was a bit of a mess with the masks, but it was still great.”
This year the hope was to return the POPs Concert to its former glory. All the music groups were on stage together with a big “Born to Be Wild” finale by Steppenwolf.
“I think it’s time to get back to having a fun time after COVID,” Engelhardt said.
Ghavami agrees: “I think the POPs Concert really shows the big sense of community that we have at school, especially in the music community.”
The next music concert is the MS/US Choir Concert Dec. 15 at 6:30 p.m.

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