The music swelled as students walked into the assembly on Dec. 3. Between the glittering Christmas trees and festive wreaths, the band brought in the holiday cheer with their music. The concert played not only familiar music but also unique songs not often heard on holiday playlists.
Right after the band played their last song at the fall concert, they began preparing for the Christmas show. In just several weeks, they prepared eight songs. The band had to prepare for the concert both for the assembly in which the entire Upper School band performed and the concert later that night, starring the Middle School band as well.
“For the Upper School concert, we have a few more songs,” said band director Scott Stewart. “For the evening concert, because it is a stacked concert with the Middle School band, we compact some numbers.”
“Christmas Fanfare,” “Gaudete,” “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers,” “Adventum,” “Auld Lang Syne,” and “Sleigh Ride” were played by the band, with the brass ensemble playing “First Noel.” The 16th-century carol, “Gaudete,” featured both the band and chorus during the assembly. All the songs were chosen to fit with the holiday theme, but they were also chosen with an instructional goal.
“The goal is to provide contrast and interest. We are looking for pieces in different keys, in different tempos, with different instruments being represented,” said Stewart.
The audience was kept interested by the varying speed and tone of songs played.
When selecting songs, the leaders must maintain a balance between engaging the audience and maximizing learning for students.
“Speaking as a teacher, one of the challenges is we are always teaching, [while] at the same time we are in show business,” said Stewart. “We try to maintain a balance between following our curriculum and presenting a show.”
This balance is especially important because there are so many expectations for the annual concert.
“This is one of the more festive concerts, it gets you ready for the season. It’s fun,” said junior Lauren Mobley. “There are always people who decorate the tree, and it’s a nice way to end the semester.”
Mobley, who plays the flute for band and the alto saxophone for the jazz band, likes the traditions of the performance.
“My favorite piece is ‘Sleigh Ride,’ because we play it every year,” said Mobley. “I also enjoy ‘Away in a Manger,’ [which is] a jazz band piece.”
For Mobley and the rest of the students, having such a short time to prepare requires practice outside of school as well as regular band classes. Like many of her classmates, Mobley spends several hours a week practicing at home.
“For me, the hardest part to practice was a section in ‘Gaudete,’” said Mobley. “It was in cut time and had weird jumps from note to note.”
Another challenge faced by the band was the limited time to practice all together. Because the Symphonic Band (ninth and tenth grades) meets during a different period than the Wind Ensemble (primarily eleventh and twelfth grades), there was not much time to practice for the concert with both groups. This year, however, the band was able to practice with the chorus for “Gaudete,” unlike previous years. That additional rehearsal allowed the performance to flow smoothly, with the chorus singing before the band’s piece.
Catherine Christopher, a senior and a trombone player, agrees that coordinating practices was an obstacle for the band members. In addition, many students take private lessons outside of school to improve their skills. The dedication of the band members led to a performance that brought in the holiday season beautifully.
“This is the only time during the year that all the band students play at the same time, as the band is separated into two age groups,” said Stewart. “It is also exciting to play for your peers, so during the assembly we are able to share music with the entire Upper School faculty and students.”
Not surprisingly, the band also enjoys the festive performance.
“Christmas is my favorite time of year,” said Christopher. “So everything about the Christmas concert makes me happy. Everyone is in a really good mood for the concert.”