Written by Chiara Jurczak
March holds much in store for the music department, with both chamber orchestra and choir performing for national audiences. Chamber orchestra has been invited to participate in the National Convention hosted by the American String Teacher Association (ASTA) in Atlanta, Georgia on March 7 through 10, while choir will travel to UC Berkeley on March 2 to record in Zellerbach Hall for the radio show “From the Top,” which will air on NPR during the week of April 30.
ASTA’s conference is held each year in a different city in the nation with the aim of bringing together the best educators and string performers in the country for three days of performances, clinics, master classes and celebration of their shared passion for music. Orchestra director Sandra Lewis is a member of ASTA; having attended one of these conferences in the past, she decided it would be good for orchestra students to stray outside of their comfort zone and compete with students from all over the country. “Every year, we participate in our local area festivals, but because this is national, the grading and adjudicating is going to be steeper and tougher,” Lewis said.
According to Lewis, this conference is known for being highly selective, and the application process began almost a year ago for chamber orchestra. It started with the submission of an audio recording of a selection of pieces that showcased the orchestra’s skills, as well as letters of recommendations from music professionals who were familiar with or had worked with the ensemble in the past.
The orchestra’s schedule for the conference is packed with a myriad of educational and entertaining events, but the highlight of the trip will be their performance in front of a panel of judges on March 10. Lewis and her co-director, Tiffany Ou, have prepared four diverse pieces that span all ends of the musical spectrum, including pieces from the romantic era, early baroque period and contemporary jazz. “I want to show our flexibility and our ability to adapt to different [styles],” Lewis said. This eagerness to perform modern music as well as more classical pieces stems from Lewis’ goal for her students to become comfortable performing in all fields. “Nowadays, a professional musician may well land a symphony orchestra gig, but if they want to earn a living they will also need to know how [to] interpret pieces of Motown and, say, Jay-Z, with the same level of skills and interpretation techniques required for classical music,” she said.
Her students, including sophomore Jocelyn Wang, feel the same way. “We’re playing a very exciting Mexican piece that is really fiery, and it’s just so thrilling,” Wang said. “I think it’s really fun that we’re also doing something outside of what we have in usual classical music, like Beethoven or Mozart.”
This trip is not only a great opportunity for students to perform in front of a panel of judges and learn from professional string players, but also a chance for them to become closer as a group. “No matter what, when you take a trip like this it really brings your group to the next level,” Ou said.
In a classroom four doors down, the choir is preparing for their trip to Berkeley, where they will be hosted by musical radio station KDFC.
Earlier this year, the choir submitted two recordings to “Local Vocals,” an annual contest held by KDFC for local high school choirs. The contest gives the winner a chance to be broadcasted on national radio as part of a show called “From the Top,” which features talented young musicians from all across the country.
The choir was chosen as one of the top three finalists by the station itself, but it was thanks to popular vote and the support of friends and family that it placed first. Choir director Bill Liberatore says that he is very proud of his students, and he praised their hard work and dedication to the group. “It’s nice recognition that what they do here in class is really good work,” Liberatore said. “ They don’t put you on the radio for half a million people if your musical product isn’t exceptional.”
The choir will be performing two pieces, one a high-energy South African song and the other a slower, more melodic Irish piece. The students are looking forward to the recording and are preparing to perform for what will be their biggest audience yet.
Not only that, the choir will get the chance to see what takes place behind the scenes and will take part in the production of a radio show, something that high school students rarely get to experience. “I just want to have fun,” junior Paulo Idanan said. “It’s a constant goal whenever I sing.” According to Liberatore, that is exactly what choir is putting the focus on: enjoying themselves. “I don’t really care if there’s 100 comments online that say you’re great or 100 that say you’re not very good,” he said. “I just want them to have fun and feel the excitement of the performance.”