Upper School Chamber Orchestra and Band tune into fall 

On Oct. 26, the Upper School Chamber Orchestra partnered with the Middle School Orchestra in McCain Chapel to showcase their talents in a fall concert. Between the Upper School orchestra’s 19 violins, 6 violas, 12 cellos, 3 bases, and the Middle School’s musicians, the fall concert added up to over 120 performers. The chamber orchestra has been working on this concert since the beginning of the year, and this was an excellent opportunity to showcase their talent. This concert featured professional performer and piano soloist William Fred Scott, former Director of Choral Music at Westminster, a former conductor of the Atlanta Orchestra, and retired director of the renowned Chanticleer all-male ensemble. 

The fall concert features several pieces, including Concerto No. 2 for Piano and Orchestra, Op. 102 (1957) by Dmitri Shostakovich. This piece is slow, posing some difficulty for the musicians at times. However, the orchestra did a good job tackling each section and paying attention to the more challenging parts. Senior Toby Liu, the concertmaster, who had many solos throughout this piece, thinks the results are worth the challenge. 

“It was one of the first classical pieces that made me realize how much classical music can impact us and how I can use music to impact other people. It really touches you. This is a gorgeous piece,” said Liu. 

Another performed piece was the Romanian Folk Dances by Béla Bartok. With both pieces, it is crucial to get the timing of the melody right, making sure to bring out the intensity at the right moments to incite the right emotions in the audience. Vice president of the chamber orchestra and violinist senior Sophie Anderson mentioned that having Scott as a resource for rehearsals was very helpful.

  “I think it’s really cool that the orchestra has the connections to bring in people from outside, and those people are willing to coach us […] His opinion and perspective are different from our teachers, so I think that it helps to get an equally respectable opinion,” said Anderson.

The fall concert was the second one of the year for the chamber orchestra, after the “This Song Is Your Song” outdoor concert. The outdoor concert was a creative opportunity for students because they could choose a song to perform with a partner. The concert was held outside in order to bring the music into nature and create an immersive experience for the audience. One other concert performed by the orchestra this semster was “Beethoven’s Jam,” which celebrated the anniversary of Beethoven’s birth. 

Another significant holiday showcase for the orchestra is the annual performance of Handel’s Messiah. Messiah is the biggest orchestra event of the year with the largest attendance and will be performed on Dec. 17, at the end of the fall semester. It requires the most preparation, with anticipation starting long before the concert.

 “This is my ninth year at Westminster, and I am continually amazed that the students start asking me in early October: ‘When do we get to practice Messiah?’” said band director Scott Stewart. 

Messiah has been part of Westminster traditions since the school was founded in 1951 and is a collection of sacred pieces that mark the beginning of the holidays for a lot of people. The Messiah oratorio includes very advanced elements, but as usual, the band rises to the challenge.

“This is a college-level piece of music,” said Stewart. “I am always moved that they are excited about it and prepared to invest the time to play technically and musically really well.”

This repertoire requires rigorous preparation, with the orchestra bringing in professionals for guidance, and outside practice is expected of every member. Some hindrances include coordinating with the choir, as they practice at different times, and adjusting to a new conductor. Additionally, McCain Chapel is not acoustically made for the performers. As a result, it isn’t easy to hear each other play, so each member must have an excellent command of their piece before the final performance. Moreover, the concert happens around finals, so students must balance rehearsal time with school responsibilities. However, this does not take away from the students’ anticipation for this concert.

“At the end, the experience is bigger than the sum of all of those parts of those rehearsals. It’s a very technically and intellectually rewarding experience and emotionally satisfying,” said Stewart. 

Messiah adds to the holiday spirit and wraps up the semester. There’s even an age-old tradition where the audience stands at the final song, “Hallelujah,” said to have been started when George III of England stood at the end of a performance of Messiah

As for the upcoming band concerts, the Upper School band generally performs once a month, with their upcoming shows being Oktoberfest, Halloween Parade, the Thanksgiving service, and the Christmas concert. While this gives them many opportunities to perform, the Christmas concert is the most significant event for the band, as they perform for the school during the day and again for spectators at night. Classics such as “Sleigh Ride” and Celtic Bell Carol are performed, and while learning the music is difficult, the Westminster band enjoys the practice and is ready for the challenge. Moreover, preparing for winter concerts has become a cherished tradition.

“You hear the music a lot, and it really gets you excited and in the spirit,” said senior clarinetist Neil Poddar. 

Westminster chamber orchestra and band students continue to amaze with their ability to master high-level music, and their performances are staples of the holiday season.