Sometime around 8:15 Sunday evening, Ottawa Hills High School instrumentalists and vocalists made district history. About 130 students from three performance groups shared a single stage as one – an event that took months of planning and ended with a standing ovation.
The groups – Symphonic Band, Choraliers and Concert Choir – have traditionally performed each fall at the Fall Collage Concert. But never before had they performed simultaneously, executing a single work of instrumental and vocal music. That changed December 9 in the high school auditorium.
The genesis of that 3-minute performance began before the school year, as the JH/SH music educators began planning the year’s performances: the music to be played, soloists to be featured, and new heights to be reached. Part of that exercise incudes asking the proverbial question: What is a new goal to be reached and standard to be set?
“As music educators, we are always thinking about the scope of our programs and the music we want to perform,” said Donna Wipfli, the vocal music director at the JH/SH. Along those lines, Mrs. Wipfli suggested something new: an all-high school, single-work performance.
“Usually, it’s orchestra and choirs that are compatible, but we do have this wonderful band,” she said. “We decided it would be a goal for the program in December. It took a little bit of courage because it is unchartered territory.”
Achieving such a goal by October and the Collage Concert was too ambitious. And the spring instrumental and vocal concerts are performed separately, with no shared-stage performances. That left the Winter Concert as the perfect venue.
Colleague Michael Leeds, the district’s instrumental music director, quickly signed on to the idea. Together, they set out to select the piece. As if the stars were aligning with them, they both were drawn to the same one: “Christmas Lullaby” by English composer John Rutter.
Once music was in hand, students began to practice and memorize their parts.
“I was a little nervous. The balance between voices and instruments is tricky,” Mrs. Wipfli said. “A couple of brass instruments playing at forte can easily obscure a group of singers. But Michael was amenable to bringing down the volume as necessary!”
When the evening came, the performance was scheduled at the end of the nearly 90-minute concert. The Symphonic Band (56 students) stayed on stage, and the Concert Choir (41) and Choraliers (40) rose from their seats in the auditorium and divided themselves by gender (women gathering stage right, men stage left).
“As I stood listening I thought to myself: ‘This is really nice. This is really beautiful,’” Mrs. Wipfli recalled. “It’s a terrific next step for our program."
The audience honored the performance (and the concert itself) with one of their own: a standing ovation.
As much as the piece was performed for audience pleasure, its performance also added diversity to students’ own repertoires. “The students can graduate being able to say they sang with a band or performed with a choir,” she said.
So, will this become a standard feature of the Winter Concert?
It’s too early to say, as the themes and priorities of a performance season change yearly. But Mrs. Wipfli left open the door. “There are a variety of ways to approach the same goal in future years,” she said. “Holiday concerts lend themselves to brass music. Perhaps we could combine those forces with a choir. Could be beautiful!”
As for the earlier sections of the Sunday show, The Concert Choir, with support at times from featured soloists, performed “Haida,” “Believe” (from the movie “The Polar Express”), “Sing We All the First Noel,” and “Al Shlosha D’Varim.”
The Choraliers, with support at times from featured soloists, performed “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Cool Yule,” “Shaom Rav,” “O Holy Night,” “Home Again,” and closed with a playful rendition of “Sleigh Ride.” Choraliers’ alumnus Andrew Krupp (‘16) joined the group on stage for the singing of “Home Again” and “Sleigh Ride.”
Mr. Leeds led the Symphonic Band, whose selections were “A Joyful Journey,” “Christmas at the Movies,” “Away in a Manger,” “3 Minute Nutcracker,” and “The Bells Will Forever Ring.”
Special thanks to:
- the evening’s accompanists: Jeff Manchur (husband of elementary music teacher Kimberly Manchur) and Steve Wipfli (husband of Mrs. Wipfli).
- everyone who supported the 2018 Green Bear Ball and its fundraising goal of buying a new Steinway Piano, which had its performance debut at the concert.
- the Ottawa Hills Music & Theater Association and its ongoing support of our faculty and students. Please consider joining this group today.