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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

***

Postscript.

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.

Music Is Instrumental Fundraising Concert Features Music From Film And Television

Burbank and John Burroughs High School instrumental and vocal music students join with professional musicians from the Los Angeles area for the one-night-only concert Music Is Instrumental – An Evening of Music from Film & Television on Friday evening, May 11.

Featuring works by John Williams, Lalo Schifrin, Peter Boyer and Carl Orff, Music Is Instrumental – An Evening of Music from Film & Television is the culmination of a year-long campaign to raise funds to repair and replace instruments for the middle school and high school music programs in the Burbank Unified School District.

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All District Symphonic Orchestra musicians and their professional mentors from Musicians at Play Foundation rehearse in the John Burroughs Band room last Friday evening with Anthony Parnther, guest conductor. ( Photo by Ross A Benson)

“This concert is going to be an incredible celebration of what can be accomplished when many groups rally around one cause!” commented Burbank Unified Arts & Career Technical Education Coordinator Peggy Flynn.

“Composers John Williams and Lalo Schifrin have donated the rights to play some of film and televisions most iconic themes –  our choirs and instrumental students have never sounded better and the opportunity to collaborate and perform with their professional mentors will be something not to miss! The rehearsals alone gave me chills.”

All District Symphonic Orchestra musicians and their professional mentors from Musicians at Play Foundation rehearse in the John Burroughs Band room last Friday evening with Anthony Parnther, guest conductor. ( Photo by Ross A Benson)

“We are so grateful for the support we are receiving from our business and non-profit partners – especially Musicians at Play Foundation founders Don and April Williams, 1000 for $100 Chairs Michael Cusumano, Michael Hastings and Linda Walmsley, the L.A. County Arts Commission, County Supervisor Barger and Burbank Arts For All Foundation for their commitment to our students and the Music is Instrumental campaign,” Flynn added.

Several professional musicians from the Musicians at Play Foundation will perform with the first BUSD All-District Symphonic Orchestra and Choir, which makes their concert debut Friday. Composer Peter Boyer guest conducts.

Music Director and Conductor Anthony Parnther just returned from conducting in New York to help coach the musicians during a rehearsal Friday evening. ( Photo by Ross A Benson)

“We have had the privilege to work with BUSD which supports our mission to build communities through music and foster the next generation of Los Angeles musicians,” commented Musicians at Play President April Williams. “The students will perform with their mentors from professional orchestras of John Williams, Michael Giacchino, L.A. Chamber Orchestra and more.”

Band, orchestra and show choirs from both BHS and JBHS open the concert. Producer and songwriter Toft Willingham will emcee the event.

A silent auction, featuring an original Star Wars score signed by John Williams, a John Debney-signed score of “Teamwork Reprise” from Sponge Bob Square Pants and instruments contributed by the Federation of Musicians Local 47, will be held. Nickelodeon is also an event sponsor.

All District Symphonic Orchestra musicians and their professional mentors from Musicians at Play Foundation rehearse in the John Burroughs Band room with Anthony Parnther, guest conductor. (Photo By Ross Benson.)

The Music is Instrumental campaign has raised approximately $111,000 so far, with about $9000 more needed to reach the initial goal of $120,000 for the first year of the campaign. More information on the District’s efforts can be found here.

“It has been incredible to work with Musicians at Play to create a final celebration concert for this year’s Music is Instrumental campaign,” commented Justin Klotzle, Burbank High School instrumental music teacher.

“The community’s support of BUSD arts programs is overwhelming, and our staff, parents, and especially students, feel the difference,” he also said. “For our students, being able to play John William’s music alongside pros while celebrating a massively successful fundraiser is a phenomenal experience that we hope to continue in the future.”

“Working with BUSD and the young gifted people from Burbank High School and John Burroughs High is such a pleasure,” said Musicians at Play Advisory Board member Don Williams. “It restores my faith in the younger generation’s ability to perpetuate the art of music.”

“It is our job as teachers and mentors to make sure the art of music fuels itself to survive the passage of time,” he added.

JBHS senior Maya Paredes rehearses Friday evening in preparation for the Music is Instrumental Concert May 11. Maya and her sister Eyén, who is in the Violin 1 section, also perform together on piano in the concert. ( Photo by Ross A Benson)

Tickets for the Music Is Instrumental – An Evening of Music from Film & Television concert are $15 general admission, $50 VIP and $10 for students and seniors. Tickets are available online now or at the box office night of show.

The concert will be held in Wolfson Auditorium at Burbank High School and begins at 7:30 p.m.

Donations to the Music is Instrumental program can be made online at https://www.burbankusd.org/afa or http://www.musiciansatplay.org/.