The Winter Concert

by Adam Oussaid

On December 8 at 6 o’clock, I went to see the orchestra, chorus, and band perform for their 2022 Winter Concert. I walked into the auditorium, took a program, found a seat in the center, and waited for the performance to start.

The audience was loud and talkative - why wouldn't it be? The performance hadn’t started yet and all of the lights were still on. People continued to shuffle in and out, greet others, and change seats. About ten minutes after six, the band director introduced the concert, and the Combined Chorus began.

The lights in the auditorium were not turned off, and the stage wasn’t fully lit, but I figured that it must have just been taking a little bit of time to get ready. The first song was Carol of the Bells, and it was excellent if a little quiet. After the first song, people continued to enter, exit, and move around.

Then the Beginner Chorus began, performing In Winter, and there was almost no detectable change in the noise level of the audience. As good as the Beginner Chorus sounded, their numbers could not overpower the intensity of noise from the audience through their second song..

The Intermediate Chorus was up next, performing Bidi Bom and Oh Come All Ye Faithful, and they did a very good job on both. However, the background noise didn’t let them be heard as they deserved, given how hard they worked on their music.

Up next was the Advanced Chorus, which was very impressive, and had some great harmonies. Yet despite their numbers, they too were unable to cut through the background noise of the audience. A group of people sitting near me began laughing emphatically during the solemn O Holy Night, and not much changed into Cool Yule.

Finally, the combined Chorus came back up. The chorus director turned to introduce the last song, making a very questionable decision: she suggested that if anybody knew the words they should sing along. The chorus began, and while I did not hear one person sing along, it seemed as though the audience took it as a signal that all conventions of enjoying a musical performance could be ignored, and in my seat near the back, the lyrics were for the most part completely unintelligible. It sounded more like a full cafeteria or a football game than a choral performance.

After the chorus finished, the orchestra came out. The new director, Mr. Kuuti, introduced the orchestra (and his 150-year-old violin) and started with Christmas Bits And Pieces. Fortunately for the orchestra, the instruments are naturally louder than the human voice and played it well. Next up was Jolly Old St. Nicolas, and they continued to sound excellent, the upper strings especially sounding virtually flawless. With the third song, Wizard In Winter, the lower strings started to hit their stride, and the orchestra came together very well. Finally, they performed Winter Storm, a great finish to a good performance with few mistakes. There is no doubt in my mind that the orchestra has improved since last year, and is exceeding expectations under their new leadership.

After a brief intermission, the band took the stage. The beginning band played two songs, followed by two from the Intermediate band. Both of them sounded excellent. The advanced band played three songs, and they were truly exceptional. I think they would merit a concert of their own, and you could hear the hours of work they have been putting into their music.

The musicians were very good, which is why I think that the way that the audience treated them is so unfortunate. The chorus were put in a bad situation, and while they sang through it and did an honorable job, they were no match for a hundred and fifty people speaking at full volume. The orchestra had to deal with it too, and it really did a lot to degrade the most moving moments in their pieces. The band, with their size and volume, were effectively able to silence the crowd, but for the majority of the concert, it was as if the audience was not there to see a concert but sit and chat. And I am not talking about students - in fact, most of the people speaking during the performance were adults.

This experience is just a symptom of the way our school undervalues the arts in general. The groups work on songs for months, getting ready for one seminal performance. The fact that the idea of going did not even occur to most students is a tragedy.

It is as if our school does everything in its power to diminish the arts. The prestigious IB program has a broad intellectual focus that would be complemented by involvement in the fine arts, Yet you have to completely drop your music class when you get in. You could have been in a band, orchestra, or chorus for years, developing your skill and taking it very seriously, but in order to take advantage of one of the best programs our school offers, you have to be willing to throw that away.

Something should be done to change the way that the musical programs at our school are treated. The quality of some of the songs I heard was genuinely good enough to warrant taking time out of your day to see them, and it is wrong that the band, orchestra, and chorus should be misvalued so greatly.