On May 11, choirs, jazz bands and orchestras from both Burbank High and Burroughs united together to provide An Evening of Music from Film and Television. They sang and played pieces that many of us have heard at the Hollywood Bowl or other major venues (e.g., soundtrack highlights from Les Miserables and Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro.) They did so at Burbank High’s Wolfson Auditorium which, like the auditorium at Burroughs, has a studio-quality sound system, one that makes any vocal pitchiness or uncertain bowing very obvious.
In other words, the concert invited measuring the students against the major leagues.
“They’re pros,” said Colony Theatre’s Artistic Director Barbara Beckley without hesitation.
“Absolutely stunning” was the general consensus.
Under the batons of Taylor Arakelian (Burroughs Wind Ensemble and Burroughs Jazz Band), Brett Carroll (Burbank High School Choir), Brendan Jennings (Burroughs High School Choir) and Justin Klotzle (Burbank High School Chamber Orchestra), the young performers had exceeded even the high bars of their spring pop show performances.
Burbank music teachers have been inspiring students for some time. Actress and BHS Vocal Music Association alum Chloe Bridges (Sydney in Pretty Little Liars) fondly recalled the “group effort” of endless hours of practice leading to the “rush of performing together.”
But learning an instrument also turned out to be important to her career. She credits her piano playing ability for The Disney Channel’s decision to give her the nod over other auditioning actresses.
The evening was a benefit concert for the Music Is Instrumental ongoing fundraising effort to repair or replace musical instruments in BUSD’s middle and high schools “that would otherwise turn into dust” quipped Toft Willingham, Master of Ceremonies and noted songwriter and guitarist. “Seriously, you should see the tuba.”
Many middle and high schools throughout the country don’t have a music program.
“My high school hasn’t had a music class in ten years,” said Willingham.
Indeed, music programs are often first on the school budget chopping block. And yet, “music and arts are literally instrumental to STEM [i.e., science, technology, engineering and math],” he points out. “You are setting the bar for the rest of the country,” he continues, noting that Burbank schools have continued to embrace arts education.
Burbank Unified’s music program has become so strong it’s generating its own cultural weather. Professional musicians are mentoring students and, at the May 11 concert, they played alongside them.
Mentors and teachers “have been doing this for years in Europe,” remarks Don Williams, Musician and Co-Founder of Musicians at Play Foundation. His brother, iconic film composer John Williams, had donated the music rights for the orchestras’ performances that evening.
“The Musicians at Play Foundation partnered with BUSD, conducted the auditions, brought in the mentors, arranged and paid for the music orchestration, donated the music rights and worked in advance with the students,” explained Cindy Pease, Managing Director of the Musicians at Play Foundation.
The jaw dropping came with goose bumps when world-class Maestro Anthony Parnther directed the John Burroughs and Burbank High School Combined Jazz Band in Lalo Schifrin’s title theme from the movie Mission Impossible.
A short while later, Parnther directed the BUSD All District Symphonic Orchestra and Choir:
“Dry Your Tears, Afrika” by John Williams, from the movie Amistad
“Hymn to the Fallen,” by John Williams from the movie Saving Private Ryan
“O Fortuna” from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana
At the beginning of the concert Willingham had announced, “We have assembled a supergroup and it’s beautiful.”
In those magnificent final minutes, in the company of master musicians, the supers soared to the stratosphere. And it was very beautiful.
Including a $25,000 donation that was made during the concert, the May 11 event pushed the needle just past the District’s first-year goal of $120,000, with approximately $127,000 raised for the Music Is Instrumental campaign to repair and replace instruments throughout the district.
In view of the magnificent May 11 concert, isn’t it time to see Wolfson Auditorium as a performing arts center?
“Two auditoriums,” said Don Williams, correctly noting that the Burroughs auditorium could have done equal justice to the concert.
“Music deals with the passion and the heart,” he went on to say. “People don’t care where they’re from, just so they play well together.” During the concert, Williams had said that Burbank and Burroughs “are the two best choirs in the country.”
So, can the two high schools do this again? Perhaps in the summer, so as not to interfere with the programs during the regular academic year? Perhaps two concerts, one at Burbank and one at Burroughs?
The last time the high schools performed together was during the Burbank’s centennial in 2011, at The Starlight Bowl, with a less advanced sound and lighting system than at either of the high school auditoriums.
Yes, it’s a lot of time and trouble to put on a combined concert. But after hearing the May 11 concert, can anyone say that the effort wouldn’t be worth it? Or, with enough lead time, that pros and the occasional name celebrity wouldn’t be happy to participate? Or that the “summer all-star” concerts wouldn’t be major fundraisers?
The May 11 bell can’t be unrung. Clark Kent took off his glasses. We—teachers, mentors, parents, community–know what the kids can do. Summer would be a good time to let them unfurl their capes in the company of those who’ve been soaring a bit longer.
The BUSD All District Symphonic Orchestra and Choir’s performance of Carmina Burana with professional mentors from Musicians at Play can be seen here on YouTube.