By Greg Simay
In most other cities, from Twin Falls to Toledo to Tupelo, last night’s “Alumni Pop Show 4” music extravaganza at John Burroughs High School (JBHS) would be the highlight of the summer season. But for the Vocal Music Association (VMA) alumni, it was more like a jam session of joy, proclaiming to a delighted audience that VMA talent, teamwork and enthusiasm gloriously endures.
There were stunning solos, gorgeous guitar work, touching father/daughter duets, engaging trios, and hugely effective song-and-dance ensembles. The show’s momentum rocketed through the roof and to the summer stars with a “Stairway to Heaven” that The Who would gladly tread upon.
“The first Alumni Pop Show was a tribute to [former VMA Director] Mary Rago on her retirement,” said Brendan Jennings, current JBHS VMA Director. “But the idea of a reunion event had been floating around for a decade.” Jen Oundjian, JBHS VMA Artistic Director, tracked down the VMA alumni and made it happen. Now the Alumni Pop Show has settled in to a once-every-two-years tradition.
“You have to be very judicious with their time,” remarks Jennings. There’s only three days of rehearsal, with maybe an extra day for the choreography. “But luckily,” continues Jennings, “our faith in their past training has always been vindicated.” As it indeed was last night, with performances that suggested far more extensive preparation.
So what makes the JBHS vocal program special enough to command such fierce loyalty from its alumni? “Two big things,” explains Jennings. “One, our program provides an incredible sense of family. Students form bonds and make friendships that are life long. And two, working yourself as hard as you can in a supportive and safe place, and then achieving something absolutely brilliant that you’ll never forget.”
In their high school years, many teens have their first serious romances, in spite of their parents wanting them to wait until 30 before dating. But how many high school students know what it’s like to reach a level of excellence that commands respect from the real world, a world that consistently demands excellence in sports and entertainment?
VMA students know. And it’s not just from garnering a whole forest of first-place competition trophies, which lined both sides of the auditorium entrance last night. “In the last several years, we’ve done a lot of work for corporate events including conventions,” explains Jennings. “We appeared on Oprah back in 2010, and we even did recordings for The Voice during its first three seasons.”
The VMA program is attracting international attention. Visitors from countries as diverse as Australia and China have dropped by to see how they can duplicate VMA’s success. “I went to Singapore for a week,” said Jennings. “And I’m working with Christine DeMore [director of the Jordan Middle School choir] on an educational program for teachers that we’ll roll out June of next year.”
Small wonder that VMA alumni feel grateful for having been in the VMA program.
The Burbank community should feel grateful as well. Come to the concluding performance Sunday, August 25, at 2 p.m. in the JBHS auditorium. Proceeds from the tickets (on sale at JBHSVMA.org) will support VMA’s scholarship program.
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If you want to see how amazing are the current crop of JBHS VMA students, mark your calendar for Burroughs on Broadway, October 11 and 12 at 7 p.m., and October 13 at 2 p.m. Order online at www.jbhsvma.com.
And, you may want to give the Jordan Middle School choir a listen. “They’re one of the best middle school choirs in the county,” remarks Jennings.