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“Reach For The Stars” Fundraising Concert Excites Audience, Nears Goal

Young musicians from Burbank and John Burroughs High Schools joined industry professionals to present the second annual Music Is Instrumental fundraising concert, Reach For The Stars, on Friday evening, March 8, at Burbank High School’s Wolfson Auditorium.

Conducted by internationally known maestro Anthony Parnther, the young instrumentalists and vocalists were mentored throughout the performance by seasoned musicians from the Musicians At Play Foundation.

(Photo By Ross Benson)

Film composer Michael Giacchino (Star Trek, Incredibles, Up) made a surprise appearance to kick off the second half of the concert and the performance of “Star Trek Suite,” featuring themes from Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond.

“The Musicians at Play’s music mentorship program gives students the opportunity to sit next to L.A.’s finest professional film and concert musicians,” commented Musicians at Play founder and professional timpanist Don Williams. “Students learn musical and professional skills they can apply to a professional music career or any career path they choose. Professional mentoring transforms careers and changes lives.”

Film composer Michael Giacchino made a surprise appearance at the “Reach For The Stars” fundraising concert. (Photo By Ross Benson)

Actor Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants, emceed the evening.

A silent auction and online auction were held, with items including an original Star Wars music score signed by John Williams, an Up movie score signed by Giacchino and musical instruments signed by various popular musicians.

Nearly $60,000 of the original $75,000 fundraising goal was raised from donations, ticket sales, musical instrument adoption, and the silent auction. Work to reach the $75,000 goal, which will go to support instrumental and vocal music programs at Burbank and Burroughs, continues.

“We are continuing the effort online and plan to extend opportunities for instrument and equipment adoption,” commented Peggy Flynn, Burbank Unified Arts & Career Technical Education Coordinator.

Donations can still be made via PayPal online here.

Conductor Anthony Parnther at work with the Burbank musicians and industry professionals from Musicians At Play Foundation. (Photo By Ross Benson)

“We are so grateful to the Musicians at Play Foundation, the MAP mentors, our sponsors and all who attended the Music Is Instrumental benefit concert – together they made this opportunity possible,” Flynn commented. “Our students grew artistically and experienced firsthand what can be accomplished when we join forces around one important cause.”

“Music education is about more than aspiring to be a performer,” she added. “It teaches collaboration, innovation, patience, persistence and self-discipline. We are thrilled to have made progress towards our fundraising goal and so proud that we all did this together!”

(Photo By Ross Benson)

Musicians At Play founders Don and April Williams and the Foundation musicians lent their support to the 2018 Music Is Instrumental benefit concert, which raised more than $132,000 for instrument repair and replacement. BUSD aims to raise $1.2 million over 10 years for instrument repair and replacement.

With BUSD facing budget cuts to offset pension costs, the district’s high school instrumental and vocal music programs viewed the March 8 concert as a way to raise needed funds for their ongoing programs.

Burroughs vocal music teacher Brendan Jennings directed the Reach For The Stars concert and the other departments, led by Burroughs instrumental teacher Taylor Arakelian, Burbank High instrumental teacher Justin Klotzle and Burbank choir teacher Brett Carroll, all worked together to put on the show.

The MAP Foundation has provided mentors for BUSD high school musicians for three years, with last year providing the first collaborative concert. In addition to standard high school repertoire, the Foundation mentors have added in crowd-pleasing favorites from the film scoring world.

(Photo By Ross Benson)

“It is also important for students to play music that they ordinarily wouldn’t get to play,” added Williams. “John Williams and Michael Giacchino soundtrack music is the soundtrack of young peoples and adult lives.”

“Learning from the same musicians that played on the films is so important for them not just musically but for the life skills they acquire by watching professionals do their work. This experience with the mentors will help carry them through life as well.”

“Over the past three years, many students have used this experience as a platform to reach their college goals and professional career paths,” he also said. “Community support of instruments for the BUSD programs is crucial in giving the tools needed for students to reap the rewards of the program.”


“Reach For The Stars”: BUSD Raises Funds For High School Music Programs

The vocal and instrumental music programs at Burbank and John Burroughs High Schools join forces and Reach For The Stars with a highly anticipated fundraising concert on Friday, March 8, at Burbank High’s Wolfson Auditorium. Students and supporters gathered Sunday, March 3, to raise funds at California Pizza Kitchen and kick off a week of heightened awareness for the upcoming concert.

The concert includes performances by Burbank and Burroughs bands and choirs, some of whom are mentored this year by the industry professionals from the Musicians at Play Foundation.

The second half of the concert, conducted once again by Anthony Parnther, internationally renowned maestro from the London Philharmonic, features iconic works by John Williams and Michael Giacchino.

Don and April Williams, founders of Musicians At Play Foundation, are joined by Peggy Flynn, BUSD Arts & Career Technical Education Coordinator, to promote the upcoming “Reach For The Stars” concert to raise funds for Burbank high school music programs. (Photo by Ross A Benson)

Musicans At Play founder and professional timpanist Don Williams reprises his role as the annual concert’s special guest.

Last year’s Music Is Instrumental concert, held in May 2018, was a resounding success, by both artistically wowing the audience and financially bringing in more than $132,000 for musical instrument repair and replacement.

This year, the Burbank and Burroughs choirs and bands have taken leadership of the event, explained Peggy Flynn, Arts & Career Technical Education Coordinator for the Burbank Unified School District.

Proceeds from the March 8 concert will be used for instrument repair and replacement and for essential performance equipment for the BHS and JBHS auditoriums, she added.

Students and supporters of Music Is Instrumental program and the “Reach For The Stars” concert raise some funds at California Pizza Kitchen for Burbank and Burroughs High Schools’ music programs. (Photo by Ross A Benson)

Tickets are available at www.busdarts.com and the online auction is also live for pre-event viewing and bidding. Donations and sponsorships are welcomed and can be made online as well. The online auction runs through 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 9.

VIP tickets are $40 each and include assigned orchestra and balcony seating and an intermission reception with food and entertainment. Instrument and equipment adoptions will also be available at the event.

Peggy Flynn, BUSD Arts & Career Technical Education Coordinator, with Don Williams, professional timpanist and Musicians At Play founder. ( Photo by Ross A Benson)

General admission seating is $20 for adults and $10 for students and seniors.

The Burbank High School instrumental program is led by Justin Klotzle and choir program by Brett Carroll. Burroughs High School’s instrumental program is headed by Taylor Arakelian and choir by Brendan Jennings, who is also directing the Reach For The Stars concert. JBHS VMA parent Jessica Good chairs the event.

The concert begins at 7:00 p.m. Friday, March 8. Burbank High School is located at 902 N. Third Street in Burbank.

BUSD Music Is Instrumental Concert Amazes Audience

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.

music is instrumental

Burbank Unified All District Symphonic Orchestra and Choir and professional mentors from Musicians at Play Foundation amazed the audience at Burbank’s Wolfson Auditorium for the Music Is Instrumental fund-raising concert. (Photo By Ross Benson)

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.

music is instrumental

Conductor Anthony Parnther leads the BUSD All District Orchestra in a rousing performance of music from film and television. (Photo By Ross Benson)

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.

Conductor Anthony Parnther leads the BUSD All District Orchestra in a rousing performance of music from film and television. (Photo By Ross Benson)

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.

music is instrumental

Professional violinist Ben Powell plays a solo during the performance of the “Title Theme” from “Mission Impossible.” Stand partner, Jordan eighth-grader Eyén Paredes, listens. (Photo By Ross Benson)

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.”

Burbank High School choir performs. Conductor Anthony Parnther leads the BUSD All District Orchestra in a rousing performance of music from film and television. (Photo By Ross Benson)

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.