On November 22, the Blair community gathered in Armstrong-Hipkins Center for the Arts’ DuBois Theatre to enjoy a musical prelude to Thanksgiving break at the annual Fall Concert. The Symphony Orchestra, Jazz Ensemble, Singers and Chamber Choir presented a varied repertoire of popular and classical music, highlighting the skills they have been working on this fall in their performances.
Musicians Doing ‘Impressive Work’
Among the pieces presented by the 50-member Symphony Orchestra are two works the audience quickly recognized, “In the Hall of the Mountain King” by Edvard Grieg from the Peer Gynt Suite and “Game of Thrones” by Ramin Djawadi. However, music department chair and Director of Instrumental Music Jennifer Pagotto was most excited to share Jean Sibelius’ “Finlandia” with the audience.
“’Finlandia’ is a tone poem, a Romantic-era work designed to tell a story, expressing Finland’s discontent with Russia’s oppressive rule,” she said. “It is a stunning piece with scoring that really captures each section of the orchestra, particularly with the foreboding opening played by the brass section, then the intense and rhythmic motives shared among the various sections, followed by a beautiful, lush chorale section played by the strings and woodwinds. Our musicians really did impressive work with the piece, and I was eager for our community to hear their finished product.”
The 18-member Jazz Ensemble took center stage with Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island” and Charlie Parker’s “Yardbird Suite,” two numbers with a “cool feel,” according to Mrs. Pagotto. “Cantaloupe Island” is a meaningful choice for this year’s repertoire, given the role Herbie Hancock has played in shaping jazz music and culture for the past 40-plus years and the fact that the Blue Note record label, under which he has primarily recorded, is celebrating its 80th anniversary. “I was happy to share a piece by this living jazz giant during this anniversary year,” Mrs. Pagotto continued. “I think the audience particularly enjoyed the groove and the soloists. Our jazz musicians’ impressive attention to detail and commitment to their art has them playing better than ever!”
Meanwhile, Audrey Sacks ’20 was especially looking forward to playing “Yardbird Suite” for the community. “It’s an exciting song that I’ve always loved, and we have some fabulous soloists featured in the piece!” she said. As a member of all four ensembles who performed at the Fall Concert, she appreciated the many opportunities she has to explore different styles of music with her peers. “We learn to be artistic and trust one another, and we are always proud to perform the music we’ve been working so hard on together.”
When Blair’s vocalists stepped into the spotlight, under the direction of Blair’s Director of Vocal Music Ryan Manni, they presented a variety of works. The Singers’ numbers featured “Homeward Bound,” arranged by Mack Wilberg, “4 Chord Medley,” arranged by Mark Brymer, and “Mironczarnia” by Jukub Neske, while the Chamber Choir will sing “Sicut Cervus” by Giovanni Liugi da Palestrina, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” arranged by David Brunner, and “Sure on the Shining Night,” arranged by Jamey Ray.
“I was thrilled to have the chance to perform ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot’ once again with Chamber Choir, and I couldn't wait wait to see the crowd reactions to the Blair Singers' ‘Mironczarnia,’ said Kendra Payne ’20. As a soprano section leader for the Singers and Chamber Choir, as well as clarinet co-section leader for the Orchestra, she reflected that she seems to have made it her personal mission to be in as many musical groups on campus as possible during her Blair career. “Each ensemble has an exciting repertoire, each piece exhibiting different strengths of the Blair music department,” she added. “I was looking forward to getting the chance to share our music at the Fall Concert!”
Listening in Rehearsals
Instrumental musicians have focused on listening during their fall rehearsals, particularly on harmonies created during any given point in a work. Although it takes considerable extra time to break down phrases, slow down fast sections and stop at important “moments” in a phrase, the practice of deeply listening has given students a greater understanding of the foundation and structure of music and, ultimately, a better grasp of the big and small picture inherent in any musical phrase.
“Listening has also allowed us to revel in really beautiful chords and to find surprises in our music that we may have missed if we didn’t slow down and really look for them,” Mrs. Pagotto said. “For a piece like ‘Finlandia,’ that deep listening has been a huge factor in students’ ability to perform it with integrity and knowledge of where it begins and where it is going.”
Senior flute-player Emma Abbott ’20 counted “Finlandia” as the Orchestra’s hardest piece this year, but it is the one she has most enjoyed rehearsing with her fellow musicians. “We are a smaller group than in past years, so each individual has to really know the pieces and focus on every musical aspect, which makes us sound even better,” she said. “It is a lot of fun to play with this talented group of musicians because everyone puts energy and passion into each performance.”
“Being a member of the Orchestra allows students to hone their musical skills in a collaborative and engaging way,” added Abby Morris ’20, a violinist. “Performances like the Fall Concert make the experience even more rewarding, as they allow the ensemble to share its music with the supportive Blair community.”
To watch the full Fall Concert, please click below: