Thousands of students from Southland high schools gathered inside Walt Disney Concert Hall Friday to carry on a tradition that’s been around longer th Read More
Thousands of students from Southland high schools gathered inside Walt Disney Concert Hall Friday to carry on a tradition that’s been around longer than they have.
Tuxedos, dresses and bow ties were the order of the day for the 28 schools participating this year in the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s 25th Annual High School Choir Festival, the nation’s largest high school choral outreach program.
Much of the Los Angeles area was represented, with six San Fernando Valley-area schools — Agoura High School Mixed Choir, Birmingham Community Charter High School, Glendale High School A Cappella Choir, Granada Hills Charter High School Honor Choir, Louisville High School Ensemble Royale and Taft High School Vocal Ensemble — participating, as well as those from San Gabriel, Covina, Long Beach, Torrance and Eagle Rock.
Possibly because of the allure of the quarter-century milestone, Friday’s festival was the first to “sell out” its free tickets since the Walt Disney Concert Hall began holding the event 10 years ago, noted LAMC President Terry Knowles. A wait list of about 200 people had formed outside the venue.
“If the very visionary people who founded this so long ago were here today, they would see it’s grown into this phenomenon,” Knowles said. “The magic and excitement in here today, it’ll blow your mind.”
Though the students had been tuning up all year for the concert, they spent another two hours on site rehearsing one last time. At 11 a.m., 16 members of LAMC Chamber Singers took the stage and, guided by conductor Leslie Leighton, performed eight songs.
Instead of the student performers taking the stage afterward, they remained seated around the concert hall, grouped according to their voice type — alto, tenor, soprano or bass.
“The vibe you get from this place is really fantastic,” said Jackie Rodinsky, a freshman tenor from Agoura High School. It was his first time visiting the gleaming Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Leading the kids through eight songs was Grant Gershon, who has been conducting the festival since 2002, back when the annual event was still at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
“I can‘t begin to overstate the difference,” Gershon said. “At the Dorothy Chandler, when you’re on stage you feel like you’re in room, and the audience is in the next room over. Here at Disney Hall, it’s a different feel of community. It’s using Disney Hall to the best imaginable way.”
Francisco Nuñez, New York-based musician and winner of a MacArthur Fellowship — aka “genius grant” — debuted his newest piece “Es Tu Tiempo,” a rousing salsa-jazz-hip-hop hybrid that was written with the students in mind who would be singing it.
“Being a senior in high school is the greatest accomplishment of my life,” Nuñez told the students during rehearsal. “As hard as it is today, you have to keep going. It’s the idea of legacy. That’s what this piece is about.”
Musician John West played the organ for the concert’s grand finale, “Hallelujah Chorus.”
In 25 years, the biggest change has been the addition of the festival’s honor choir, a group of advanced student performers chosen by their school’s music directors, according to Gershon.
Even as budget cuts have impacted school arts and music programs across the country, they haven’t hit here.
“This festival has had a rising trajectory over the last 12 years, and I can only contribute that to the directors,” Gershon said. “(They) are phenomenally gifted in working with their kids but also have the resilience to fight the system.”
Even the kids who can’t imagine what the festival was like 25 years ago have still noticed its progress. “I feel like this year, the blend is a little bit better,” said Aria Stewart, a senior soprano at Taft Charter High School in Woodland Hills.
Manfred Anaya, also a senior at Taft, has been with the program for three years, will take the experience with him when he leaves to study music at Cal State Northridge.
“I’ve been a musician most my life, and it’s just amazing to see this,” Anaya said proudly.