Hundreds of Burbank High School and John Burroughs High School band, choir and Stagecraft Technology students were joined by local professional musicians from the Musicians At Play Foundation to present the annual Music Is Instrumental Benefit Concert on Saturday, January 28.
Held at Burbank High’s Wolfson Auditorium, the concert featured selections performed by the Burbank High Chamber Orchestra, Burroughs High Powerhouse choir, soloist René Harris, Burroughs High Wind Ensemble, Burbank High In Sync choir, the Burbank All-District Jazz Band, soloist Kaylor Toronto and the Burbank All-District Symphony Orchestra and Choir, which was led by special guest conductor Angel Velez.
“The concert is really a special experience not only for our students and audience members but also for everyone behind the scenes,” commented Burbank Unified Arts & Career Technical Education Coordinator Peggy Flynn. “The performances, the audience response, seeing the kids’ faces when they knew they nailed it – it’s a collective, emotional sensation. I love it.”
“For me, that’s one of the biggest takeaways,” she added. “That sense of community.”
The 2023 Music Is Instrumental Benefit Concert marks a return to in person performance for the annual event. For more than five years, the professional musicians from the Musicians At Play Foundation have mentored the high schools’ instrumental students, both in person and online during the pandemic years.
“Musicians at Play Foundation and the professional mentors are phenomenal,” Flynn continued. “Mentors leave the stage as elated as their students. They are genuinely invested in our students and their response to the students’ success shows in so many ways.”
Musicians At Play Foundation, co-founded by Don and April Williams, features mentors who are members of the Hollywood Studio Symphony Orchestra, a rotating group of classically-trained musicians responsible for playing the soundtrack music for motion pictures since the 1920s. These musicians have played for thousands of films and on stages around the world during their careers.
“Our BUSD directors (Brendan Jennings, David Espana, Brett Carroll, Annie Cavanaugh) and Burbank High Stage Tech instructor Jose Vasquez work have been working in unison to not only to produce the concert but most importantly, make sure their students have the mentorship opportunity,” she explained about the preparation for the annual concert.
“We all experienced the challenges of suddenly having to move to distance learning during the quarantine. I’m not sure how many people are aware of the special challenges that teaching music virtually poses,” Flynn said. “Because of transmission delay, it’s impossible to play as an ensemble. The MAP mentors worked with our directors to find ways to continue the mentorship program virtually so our students could still benefit.”
Proceeds from the Music Is Instrumental Benefit Concert will support Burroughs and Burbank High Schools’ music programs. Many gains were made to aid the BUSD high school music programs since the inception of the collaboration with Musicians At Play in 2017, and efforts continue to regain what was lost during the pandemic years.
Flynn had high praise for the students, event volunteers and sponsors.
“Our Stage Tech students worked tirelessly to get every light, every stage change, every sound just right. All while volunteers (current and alumni parents and passionate community members who don’t even have kids in the schools) are coordinating every backstage element from feeding the students and mentors to finding local business to donate coffee, headsets, raffle items, and more.”
“Our sponsors like Nickelodeon and the L.A. Arts Ed Collective help to ensure our proceeds go directly to equipment needs,” she added. “When the evening finally comes, the audience is moved to give standing ovations… there’s this sense that Burbank is united in its support for the arts in our schools. It’s really magical.”
The concert featured a nod to popular Hollywood film composers including John Williams, Lalo Schifrin and Michael Giacchino. The performance concluded with a rousing rendition of “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana, a definite crowd-pleaser.
“We were so surprised and excited to see the turnout!” Flynn said. “Senator Portantino, Councilmember Takahashi, Mayor Anthony, our school board President Steve Ferguson, as well as members of the Burbank Cultural Arts Commission came to support our kids and our cause. We are so grateful for the support our Burbank community showed and their standing ovation was really moving.”