RBHS music department’s combined concert concludes year, celebrates achievements

Allison Kim, Op/Ed Editor

With the end of the school year fast approaching, the RBHS Music Department held one final celebration of the RBHS chamber orchestra, chamber choir and wind symphony bands’ hard work with a combined spring concert. Although separate spring performances for each ensemble already took place in March, in recognition of retiring staff members and graduating seniors, RBHS musicians held an additional concert, May 12. 

To accommodate for the number of players and audience members, the performance took place in the Main Gym rather than the usual Performing Arts Center. The concert included individual pieces from each group conducted by Orchestra Director Alison Lankheit, Choral Director Mike Pierson, Director of Bands Patrick Sullivan, and Associate Director of Bands Eric Spaeth. Alongside each of the respective pieces were four combined pieces where members of all three ensembles, groups of musicians, played together for the first time in department history.  

Of the many pieces performed throughout the commemorative night, the very first was a senior string feature with BNB piano trio members Brandon Kim, Nicole Parker and Ben Xu opening the program with the “Shostakovich Piano Trio No. 2.” Kim said the piece had “dark material” which filled out each of the grand sections of music and was fun to play despite being the most physically demanding piece he has ever performed. 

Following the string trio, the chamber orchestra was the first ensemble to perform. With the lengthened program and multiple performances left, the orchestra only played two pieces compared to the usual four to six pieces that the group would play during a regular concert. 

“As an orchestra, we first played a piece called ‘Mendelssohn String Symphony No. 2,’ and it’s a light and fast piece that sounded nice and was a nice tone shift from the more dense and heavy Shostakovich,” Kim said. “The next piece, [‘Of Glorious Plumage’],[…] had a soaring and emotional melody that fits quite nicely with this concert being Mr. Pierson’s last.”

After a swift stage change, the chamber choir took the floor. Although the concert was a celebration of all three sections of the music department, it was an especially special night for the choir, whose director, Pierson, was retiring after 18 years at RBHS. The choir performed four total songs, two more than both other ensembles. 

The next piece, [‘Of Glorious Plumage’],[…] had a soaring and emotional melody that fits quite nicely with this concert being Mr. Pierson’s last.””

— Brandon Kim, senior

Alongside their director, the performance acknowledged members like senior Drew Graff, who previously received recognitions such as being selected for both the 2022 Missouri District Choir and All-State Choir. The experience he brought from participating in such events allowed him to lead others in preparing for the concert. 

“Our first piece of music, [‘Swiloyini Makhanana’], was one me and my fellow All-State member Sunday Crane learned at All-State. It’s a traditional South African Folk song about a sinking boat. We decided that we wanted to bring it back and sing it in our choir. Sunday and I taught it without any sheet music, and it was very fun to learn,” Graff said. “Our second song was also a fun number. It was ‘Wannabe’ by the Spice Girls as an English madrigal. Last year we did ‘All Star’ as an English madrigal, and Pierson wanted to continue that trend.”

Reflective of the concert’s theme, the closing numbers of the choir’s performance were more nostalgic in nature, and Graff said Pierson chose them to represent the emotional end of an era for many within the department. 

“Our third song, [‘Sing Me to Heaven’], is more sentimental for us as a choir. Pierson sang the song in his high school choir, and it was one of the songs that really inspired him to go into teaching choral music,” Graff said. “Our final song, ‘Freedom Train’s a Comin,’ was a piece [Pierson] thought was fitting as we were coming up on the next chapter of our lives with graduation. He said that if the world really listened to music like this, then it would be a better place.”

As the youngest of the three established ensembles, the wind symphony took inspiration from the collaborative nature of the concert. Junior Allison Schooley said the two band directors intentionally sought out both choral and orchestral music elements in their song selections. 

“For our two pieces, [which] we performed just as a wind symphony, we played a choir arrangement called ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ and an orchestra arrangement called ‘Conga Del Fuego Nuevo,’” Schooley said. “[The pieces] were both transcribed to be applicable for a band to play them.”  

With wind symphony rounding out the individual performances, the concert dedicated the next portion of the program to all ensembles. The combined choirs and symphonic orchestra joined together to play.

Our final song, ‘Freedom Train’s a Comin,’ was a piece [Pierson] thought was fitting as we were coming up on the next chapter of our lives with graduation. He said that if the world really listened to music like this, then it would be a better place.””

— Drew Graff, senior

 

“We combined personnel to perform pieces that mixed winds, strings and vocals,” Schooley said. “For these combined pieces, we played three songs from ‘West Side Story’ and a piece called ‘The Awakening.’” 

Each unit of the joint ensemble worked through new experiences putting together the performance. Sophomore Kristen Yu said the rehearsal process for orchestra was similar to that of a typical concert cycle with only a few changes caused by the inclusion of shared songs. 

“We have regular rehearsals every other day during class [for individual practice],” Yu said. “But to ensure that we sound our best with the choir and band, we had some after-school rehearsals and some outside of [orchestra’s] class time, like in the morning [during first block] to align with the other groups’ schedules.”

Schooley also said preparation for the individual performance was without much modification. However, in contrast to orchestra, the wind symphony had to account for the limited number of players who could participate in each combined song, and getting ready for the performance took extra planning and practice.

“During wind symphony rehearsals, we would usually spend the first part of the class as a whole group working on our two band-specific pieces. […] For the second half of class, we would work on the combined pieces,” Schooley said. “Since personnel changed for each song, [the directors] would have a schedule out that showed people which songs we were rehearsing and when so that [players] would be there to rehearse at the right time.”

Graff said the choir also faced extra challenges with preparing to sing with the orchestra and band in a new venue and with different acoustics than the group knew and was used to.

I think concerts and recognitions are important because they provide a chance for us to showcase all the work that we’ve been putting into creating these kinds of performances and carrying them out to the best of our ability. Rehearsals and practice make up a significant amount of our lives, so finally getting to perform to those who came to see us is really bittersweet, especially with this being the final concert of the year.””

— Allison schooley, junior

“For the combined pieces, we had to really drill them hard so that we could remember cutoffs and entrances as well as competing volume-wise with larger and louder ensembles,” Graff said. “We had a rehearsal the night before, and to be honest, we, some of the choir folk, were a little scared and didn’t know if it would turn out [well], but I don’t know why we thought this because we got on stage and all of us slayed. Choir, orchestra and band kids alike.”

Kim, Graff, Schooley and Yu all agreed their favorite part of the concert was hearing how the ensembles sounded playing alongside each other. Yu described the experience as a melting pot of music due to the various instruments and singing that contributed to the sound. 

“When each of us practiced it individually, it didn’t sound as good as when everything was combined, which I thought was super cool,” Yu said. “It was like single puzzle pieces coming together to form one big masterpiece.”

 The concert came to an emotional end, with Pierson inviting past choir alumni and friends to the stage while he conducted his last song, and Kim and Graff saying they each experienced special moments in their final high school performance. While concerts have always let RBHS musicians share the music they’ve been working on with friends and family, the combination of this particular performance allowed the often disconnected parts of the music department to hear and recognize each other. 

“I think concerts and recognitions are important because they provide a chance for us to showcase all the work that we’ve been putting into creating these kinds of performances and carrying them out to the best of our ability. Rehearsals and practice make up a significant amount of our lives, so finally getting to perform to those who came to see us is really bittersweet, especially with this being the final concert of the year,” Schooley said. “It was also great seeing all the accomplishments of other music students in different ensembles, which was a reminder of how talented the music program at [RBHS] is and that it’s doing better than ever.”

Did you attend the music department’s final concert this year? Let us know in the comments below.