Blair’s vocal and instrumental musicians showcased a varied repertoire at this year’s Spring Concert, held in Armstrong-Hipkins Center for the Arts’ DuBois Theatre on May 3. Three instrumental ensembles (the Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra and Jazz Ensemble) and four vocal ensembles (the Singers, Chamber Choir, Men’s Choir and Women’s Ensemble) took the stage, and their performances marked the culmination of seniors’ performing arts careers at Blair.
Accomplished Instrumental Ensembles
Performing arts department chair and director of instrumental music Jennifer Pagotto was pleased with the way Blair’s instrumentalists pulled together throughout the fall and spring semesters to become accomplished ensembles. “This was a rebuilding year for our Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Ensemble, since a large and talented senior class graduated in 2018,” she said. “Our students, particularly those in the Jazz Ensemble, now play really well together. I was excited to see this year’s seniors take the stage for the last time.”
Mrs. Pagotto pointed to Ravel’s “Bolero” and Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 5, “Reformation” mvt. IV as highlights of the Symphony Orchestra’s repertoire. Students worked on the Mendelssohn piece with world-renowned conductor Dr. James Jordan in late March, when the Grammy-nominated Westminster Williamson Voices visited Blair for the School’s 2019 Bartow Series presentation. “The learning that took place during that masterclass really enhanced the work our students did on this piece all throughout the semester,” Mrs. Pagotto observed.
When the Jazz Ensemble took center stage, audience members especially enjoyed its performance of Kenny Dorham’s “Blue Bossa,” a catchy melody that featured a number of senior soloists. “’Blue Bossa’ pushed our ensemble to play as a more cohesive group and to listen very carefully to one other,” Mrs. Pagotto said. “It really demonstrated students’ growth over the course of the semester.”
Guitarist Brennan Cooney ’19 was excited to showcase “Blue Bossa” in the Spring Concert, and, as a senior member of the Jazz Ensemble, he was thankful for his experience with the group. “Since I was 8 years old, my musical background has always been rock, blues and fingerstyle. However, playing in the Jazz Ensemble has opened up my world to a completely new style of playing and musical feel. On top of that,” he added, “I truly appreciate the beautiful Armstrong-Hipkins Center for the Arts, which is where I normally spend hours and hours a day.”
Premier of Student Work
Mrs. Pagotto especially looked forward to the Chamber Orchestra’s premier of “Opus,” an orchestral work composed by Wils Acker ’19. The piece began as a piano composition Wils undertook for a digital music course assignment last fall, but as the year progressed, it grew into a genuinely personal project driven by his curiosity to learn more about musical concepts he had never previously taken the time to understand.
Wils worked with the Chamber Orchestra for a month as students learned the piece, shaping its musicality and overall interpretation during rehearsals. “It was hectic to get specific instruments in the right range, to hear parts that didn’t work and make changes to enhance the piece, and to adjust for a specific high school orchestra preparing for an upcoming concert,” Wils said. “All in all, this has been an extremely worthwhile experience, and I’m grateful to Mr. Manni, Mrs. Pagotto and the Chamber Orchestra for dealing with all of the nonsense. My true goal for all of this was to make music people will enjoy.”
A ‘Community of Singers’
Blair’s vocal musicians also experienced a rebuilding year in 2018-2019, and director of vocal music Ryan Manni is proud of how quickly and how much they have grown. “The ensembles this year have spent a great deal of time not only building their own community of singers unique to last year’s, but also pushing themselves harder to build technical skills, including sight reading, vowel formation and breath control,” he said. “They have learned that they are capable of producing a large sound, given their relatively small size.”
During the concert, the Singers presented a program that focused on self-worth and finding help when needed. Among their numbers is Eric Whitacre’s “i carry your heart,” which was conducted by choir executive board president and four-year Singer Nina Sigety ’19. “Blair’s music program has really helped me grow as a musician,” she said as she reflected on her upcoming final concert at Blair. “My first year, I didn’t have the slightest clue how to read music, and now I can sight read an entire piece. Of course, it’s not always perfect, but I’ve learned in an environment where I can grow from my mistakes.” Adding that she never thought she would go from being a freshman at the back of the choir to someone who is now teaching and conducting, Nina is grateful for all the opportunities she has enjoyed as a Blair Singer.
Mr. Manni noted some additional vocal music highlights the audience enjoyed during the Spring Concert. The Women’s Ensemble performed “She Sings…,” accompanied by Blair’s former math teacher and ACTA advisor Andrea Magat-Molteni at the piano, while Head of School Chris Fortunato joined the Men’s Choir for its performance of “Vive l’Amour,” a quick, energetic piece that showcased a style reminiscent of a barbershop sound. Among the Chamber Choir’s numbers was an arrangement of a favorite from the Great American Songbook, “I’ll Be Seeing You” that featured close harmonic structures, chromatic melodies and a free rhythm. “All of this allowed the performers to truly demonstrate their togetherness,” Mr. Manni said.
Finishing on a Beautiful Note
Double bassist Joy Cheng ’19, a member of the Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Orchestra, described her involvement with the music program as one of the greatest blessings she has received during her four years at Blair. “With the support of this family, I have grown as a musician and as a person while making awesome memories,” she said, citing last year’s concerts during the spring break tour of England as among her fondest memories. “As my time with Blair's music programs comes to an end, we finished on a beautiful note and, through our Spring Concert, inspired other people to pursue their passions."
To watch the 2019 Spring Concert click play below.