Bruin, Kewpie string players participate in combined high school concert

Daphne Yu

Orchestra rehearses third hour B days; the cello section - only five people large - will lose two seniors at the end of this year. Photo by Kayla Eiffert

When senior violinist Cora Trout walked into the orchestra room at half-past six on Wednesday, May 2, she began warming up for a concert unlike any other she took part of during this school year. Stepping into the newly remodeled orchestra room of Hickman High School instead of the usual green-and-white-tiled, high-ceiling music room of RBHS, she was taking part in the first combined high school orchestra concert of Columbia Public Schools.
Just more than an hour long, the concert took off with a RBHS orchestra-only program. Afterward the HHS orchestra played its pieces, and both orchestras ended with finale piece played by both schools’ orchestras.
First to start of the concert was a Baroque piece, “Concerto Grosso,” starring seniors Katie Hobbs, Joanne Lee and Trout as string trio soloists. The concerto, which included multiple movements, was a piece the RBHS orchestra had been working on since districts the week before spring break. Time was not on the Bruins’ side, with state auditions, assemblies and other end of the year activities eating up rehearsal time.
“I was nervous because I felt like we didn’t really get to practice the ‘Concerto Grosso’ that much,” Trout said. “I mean we did, but I felt like we should have practiced it more.”
Even on the day of the concert, the RBHS orchestra made a decision on the fourth movement of the concerto that would have sounded crazy to any other ensemble — play it without the conductor. One of the hardest movements of the piece, the “Allegro,” had been giving each section a hard time coming together as one, and with no options left, orchestra conductor Margaret Lawless decided to try one last thing, and “took herself out of the equation,” she said.
As a result, the orchestra played it much better than they ever had, Lawless said, and she decided to go with it. The performance on Wednesday night was also a success, and Lawless stood next to her last-minute decision.
“I thought they did a beautiful job on the Handel. I think it was one of the best ever. It wasn’t perfect in some places, and I made some conducting errors, but everything came together, and it sounded really good,” Lawless said. Not conducting the “Allegro” “made everybody so much more alert of what other parts were doing and synchronizing all of their parts, and I think it was the right decision.”
After performing a string version of “Lady Madonna,” the RBHS orchestra yielded the stage to HHS, who played a program full of Bach and contemporary pieces. The historic moment finally came 58 minutes into the concert: Bruins and Kewpies both took the stage to play the last song on the program, “Danse Bacchanale.”
The whirlwind of a piece, composed to mirror the story of Samson and Delilah, was actually first introduced to the HHS Orchestra in February for sight-reading practice, Lawless said. After they had played it, Lawless fell in love with piece but was then overwhelmed by district auditions coming up in March. When she thought about the piece again, the idea of a combined concert hit her.
“I realized it needed a huge orchestra, and I wanted to get the two orchestras together anyways because they’re each such wonderful orchestras because they have different strengths,” Lawless said. “And I thought, ‘Man, if I could get both of the orchestras together it would just be like an alloy that’s stronger than either one of the metals,’ and it worked.”
While the piece was a perfect concoction of sassy, yet sophisticated spontaneity, it struck a chord with the crowd, who gave the “Danse Bacchanle” the loudest applause of the night. Lucinda Hobbs, mother of RBHS orchestra’s concert mistress and soloist Katie Hobbs, is a regular orchestra concert attendee. In previous years, the district would hold a giant orchestra concert in May featuring all the string ensembles within the district from middle school to high school, and Lucinda remembers those as being “too long.” She preferred this year’s high school-only combined concert, especially the last song.
“I liked it when they all played together,” Lucinda said. “Maybe they should have played the whole thing together.”
Although Lawless wanted the concert to be more integrated, time was again the enemy. She hopes to begin preparing earlier next year and to hold another combined concert at the end of the year. Part of the inspiration for uniting the two orchestras for Lawless was the constant competition between the two high schools. Being a music teacher, Lawless did not feel that what she taught should be a part of any rivalry within the district.
“School spirit is one thing, but it can get ugly, and it’s just not what [music] is about,” Lawless said. “Music unites people. You can put 50 people all in one room who speak different languages, but they’ll all speak the language of music, and it just transcends everything.”
Wednesday’s concert mistress for both high schools on “Danse Bacchanale” was HHS senior Yoon Choi, who is also the HHS orchestra’s concert mistress. Leading both ensembles for the finale was something Choi was ready to take on despite having Bruins in the crowd. She also felt that the rivalry between the two schools should be forgotten while they were on stage together.
“I didn’t really feel any different,” Choi said. “I have to admit that I was afraid that we were going to fall apart in some parts, but it was overall a fun experience. I loved seeing [and] playing with my awesome Rock Bridge orchestra buddies. Since both Hickman and Rock Bridge orchestras are tiny, it’s great that we made a decent sized orchestra out of the two orchestras.”
The concert, although a success this year, was a fun but not perfect way to end senior year for Trout. She still remembers RBHS’ senior concert her sophomore year and wished the seniors this year could have done a smaller, more intimate thank you with Lawless this year in a RBHS-only concert. However, seeing old friends and playing in both orchestras was an experience Trout enjoyed as she watched both orchestras come together for the final piece.
“I think the music brought us together at the end,” Trout said, “because we all had one common goal.”
By Daphne Yu