On Thursday Dec. 10, at 7:00 pm, over two-hundred students and even more instruments could be heard warming up and socializing before Pioneer’s Winter Orchestra Concert. These students include nine Community High Schoolers and represent most of the top classical musicians in this five-time grammy winning music program. Most recently awarded the Grammy Signature School in 2011, Pioneer’s music department was named the best high school music department in the nation.
At approximately 7:30, Pioneer’s orchestra director, Jonathan Glawe, came back to the room from assisting the school’s other orchestras to usher students to join the audience and watch Philharmonia and Concert Orchestra perform.
Philharmonia, the first of Pioneer’s three orchestras to perform, opened the concert with Mozart’s familiar “Rondo Alla Turca,” or “Turkish March,” followed by “Dos Fuegos” by R. Sieving, “Jeunesse” by A. Atwell, and an arrangement of Wagner’s “Entrance and March of the Guests from Tannhauser.” After each piece, students and concert goers alike clapped enthusiastically, and after Philharmonia’s last piece, Symphony Orchestra students, some of whom were once members of Philharmonia themselves, stood to show support, applauding the hard work they knew both Glawe and the orchestra members have put in this year.
“I thought Philharmonia did well. I’m always really impressed that with Philharmonia, [ Mr. Glawe] is able to, in only three months, get them to a concert with relatively difficult pieces for high school orchestras across the nation,” said Matty Hack. Both a Symphony Orchestra member and Community High School student, Hack explained, “Some of these people have played for under a year so his song choices are always good for that and they always do really well.” Unlike Concert and Symphony, Philharmonia does not require students to audition, and despite the size of the school shrinking greatly in the past couple of years, Philharmonia seems to improve every year.
As soon as Philharmonia had left the stage, Concert Orchestra quickly left the audience to their places in the spotlight. For the third year, the ensemble included members of Concert Band who joined to form a full orchestra. Their first piece, with a beautiful solo from Tasha Thomas, was “Holiday for Strings,” by David Rose, which was followed by Weber’s “Overture to the Ruler of the Spirits.” “The Carl Weber is very Beethoven-like,” said Scott Morton. “It’s always fun to play with the full orchestra because they sound really cool and it’s just so fast and strong.” Morton is a CHS junior and has been a member of the Concert Orchestra cello section for two years after one year in Philharmonia.
Symphony was the last orchestra to perform. They played “Overture to Light Cavalry” by Franz von Suppe, and Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite.” “Overture to Light Cavalry,” which CHS junior Griffin Roy and Symphony Band and Orchestra clarinetist described as “a sweet release from the craziness that is that [Firebird] suite,” was recognized by many audience members from some of over sixty movies and cartoons it has been featured in. In contrast to this familiar celebratory movie soundtrack only rehearsed in the last few weeks of practice, Stravinsky’s “Firebird” was viewed by most as the Zenith of the performance. “The Firebird, especially the later parts that they played is my favorite classical music ever, so hearing them play that was really cool, especially because they did it well,” Morton later said.
After the finale, audience members stood and clapped enthusiastically in genuine appreciation, but also in anticipation of the orchestra’s in-program encore of “Sleigh Ride.” During the weeks leading up to the concert POPS (Pioneer Orchestra Parents’ Society) sold raffle tickets to conduct the orchestra’s “Sleigh Ride” to raise money for the orchestra program. The winner of the raffle, orchestra parent and University of Michigan Law and Economics Professor Jim Hines, conducted the piece at the concert after having brief conducting lessons with Glawe, and conducting a few run-throughs during the dress rehearsal.
After the concert, students and parents were invited to a reception to eat, relax, and visit with returning orchestra alumni. But for members of Symphony orchestra, the concert marked not the end but the beginning of a lot of hard work. This week, they not only get new music but begin to dissect the “Firebird” even further in preparation for the AAPS annual Orchestra Night, where they will play it in Hill Auditorium in front of the top orchestra from each middle and high school in the district. “I’m looking forward to playing it better,” Roy said. “I’m not excited to clean up all my mistakes because there are quite a few, but I’m definitely excited to get back and do it some more justice in February.”
Roy’s perspective is perhaps too modest and Hack had a slightly different perspective: “The Firebird is a very hard piece. I know that we could’ve played it a little better but I think it went really well overall. When we went back to the room all anyone could talk about is how everyone messed up. I guess it’s a perfectionist thing.”
For both Roy and Hack, choosing to go to another school every day for orchestra was a decision they made because of how important music is in their lives. “I love music and I’ve loved music my whole life and when I really enjoyed violin at my elementary school, I knew that was something that I would make a priority during high school,” said Hack. “That’s why I’m doing it even though I’m at Community.”
Unlike Hack, who made the decision to play violin after being pressured into it because there were not enough violins in his fifth grade class but now loves the violin, Roy really wanted to play the clarinet before he started. “I always liked the sound of the clarinet,” Roy said. “I listened to artist like Benny Goodman when I was a kid so I wanted to try out playing something like him.” Roy doesn’t anticipate majoring in music despite being first chair in Pioneer Symphony Band and Orchestra, and in Michigan’s All State Orchestra. Roy said, “I’d rather continue playing recreationally and see where I go.”
Orchestra Night, the next concert Symphony Orchestra will play in, will take place in Hill Auditorium on Feb.13, at 7:00 pm. Orchestras from all AAPS middle schools will play, as well as Pioneer, Huron and Skyline Symphony Orchestras. Last year, the orchestra played the last two movements of Symphony No. 2 by Jean Sibelius with guest conductor Michael Adelson and received an enthusiastic reception. Current CHS students Max Meza, Aina Kelsaw-Fletcher, Griffin Roy and Allegra Corwin-Renner were among the performers and this year, Nesreen Mattar and Matty Hack will join them on the stage.