By Lucy Peng
As part of the end-of-the-year concerts and assemblies Alameda High holds to celebrate the coming of the winter and prepare for winter break, the music department’s annual Winter Concert is among the most anticipated and successful. This year’s concert, which took place on Thursday, Jan. 8 at 7 p.m., was no different.
Performers from choir, jazz, guitar, concert and symphonic ensembles showcased a full range of sounds and music pieces, including excerpts from the holiday favorite “The Nutcracker Suite” by Peter Tchaikovsky, Gordon Goodwin’s jazzy “Don’t Steal My Stuff,” John Lennon and Sir Paul McCartney’s “Yesterday” and “Bring Him Home” from the highly-acclaimed movie adaptation of ‘Les Miserables.’
Depending on the ensemble, music director Jesse Randell said he tries to pick songs for the Winter Concert “that are a little bit more serious; songs [they] can use in festivals so that they’re already well practiced,” and songs that are challenging for the level of the group. “I try to pick music a little harder than what they’re used to; usually a level above,” Randell said.
Students began to prepare for the Winter Concert many months prior, with the majority of students’ practice time occurring during class. “We usually practice all period; about 20 minutes per song,” sophomore jazz band bassist Larry Lancaster said.
The Monday of the week of the concert, all classes move into and rehearse at Kofman. “We have a technical rehearsal on Wednesday,” said Randell, “and we have the concert Thursday.” After the Winter Assembly, which is usually the following day, the musicians’ instruments, along with their music stands and the rest of the equipment, are moved back to the band room.
“The process of practicing and preparing was pretty fun since we had an opportunity to change our environment and work with our equipment in Kofman, which is much larger than the band room,” freshman concert band oboist Sharon He said.
The concert was initially scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 11 but warnings of unusually heavy winds and torrential rainfall raised concerns over unsafe conditions and prompted the Alameda Unified School District to cancel school. The concert, too, was cancelled and rescheduled for one month later, on Jan. 8.
The cancellation of the school day and concert precipitated numerous logistical problems and drew huge disappointment from not only the audience, but also the performers, who had been practicing since many months prior.
Randell said the effects of the cancellation were “horrible.” The reason for having the winter concert before break, he said, was so that “students could relax over break.” Having to reschedule from December to January meant that “students had to build up [their skills] and maintain practice over break.”
“I think we all got a bit rusty over break so it took a while to re-adjust,” he said.
Randell said that the “week back was going to be extremely stressful” because he “scrambled with the theater technical director” and had to reschedule maintenance. Some students were also unavailable for the performance due to vacations that extended into the first school week. He was also forced to reschedule the concert and reserve Kofman within a month, which is usually supposed to be reserved a year in advance of the event.
“That was crazy,” he said.
While many of the musicians agreed with the district’s decision to cancel the academic school day in response to flood warnings, some vocalized complaints against the school board. “I didn’t like it because I took the bus to Kofman [for practice] the day before [the concert] and no one was there,” Lancaster said. “The weather wasn’t even that bad.”
“Honestly, it didn’t really impact me that much when they cancelled it because we were going to perform anyway and we had more time to prep,” he said.
Despite the cancellation and rescheduling of the concert, spectators’ and musicians’ reactions were overwhelmingly positive. “We even ran out of programs,” said Randell, who expected “way less” people to attend.
Junior Katy Leung, a first-time Winter Concert attendee, said she enjoyed the concert, “because everyone worked so hard.” Leung added she would definitely “go again.”
Randell was satisfied with the concert’s outcome, saying, “I think the concert was really good; it ended up fine.”
Sharon He echoed Randell’s sentiments, saying, “My impression of the evening: [was] I found it to be pretty well and sounded amazing. It felt like the band was really working as a team to pull off the performance.”
She has “always thought of the Winter Concert as a way to show how much progress we have made at the end of the year” and “a way for the department and audience along with band students to finally be able to be together looking forward to the holiday cheer.” She added that she has “always seen a concert as a time for the band to really work together to show their best” and thinks they “did just that.”
“It’s great to see the culmination of a semester’s worth of hard work,” Randell said.
Lancaster considers the best part of the Winter Concert to be showcasing “all the work you put in practicing. I always make sure to have fun during the concerts, ‘cause that’s how it’s supposed to be.”