O’ Fallon Township High School, O’Fallon, Illinois, and Bob Rogers Travel present An American Musical Tapestry in ReviewO’ Fallon Township High School, O’Fallon, Illinois, and Bob Rogers Travel present An American Musical Tapestry O’Fallon Township High School Combined Choir. O’Fallon Township High School Select Choir; Cristina Nordin, conductor; Phillip Wilhelm, accompanist O’ Fallon Township High School Symphonic Band, O’ Fallon Township High School Wind Ensemble; Melissa Gustafson-Hinds, Mark Donahue, Sean Michael Harris, conductors Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall; New York, NY May 27, 2014
On May 27, 2014, the O’Fallon Township High School music program, consisting of two choirs and two bands, took the stage in Stern Auditorium in Carnegie Hall with a program entitled “An American Musical Tapestry.” With selections of folk favorites, gospel, popular songs, and Americana, it was a program designed to be crowd-pleasing. For the sake of full disclosure, this reviewer was not present for the concert, but was sent a live, unedited recording of the performance. In the spirit of the live performance, I only listened to the recording a single time, which I believe is the most objective way to review this performance.
The first thing that struck me was the rather large number of selections offered. It is usually my goal to mention every work, but as there were twenty-three works performed, I will focus on the highlights for each of the groups. A second observation, after reading through the printed program, was the very clear concept of the status of the groups – one could liken it to junior varsity/varsity squads in sports. The main difference as I can tell, is that there is no limit on the numbers of players/singers at the “junior varsity” level, while the elite “varsity” numbers were much smaller.
The Combined Choir opened the performance with “Simple Gifts”, in what was a charming start to their program. They exuded energy in “Seize the Day” from the hit musical Newsies,in what the highlight of their selections to this listener. They ended with a lovely rendition of “America.” To be sure, there were issues with the intonation, mainly with the sopranos whenever the music went above the staff, and ensemble-wise in loud sections, both which are not to be unexpected for younger singers. Praise must be given to conductor Cristina Nordin for her musical selections, which were designed both to be entertaining and to showcase the emerging talents of her young singers.
The Select Choir was up next and showed their quality in another excellently chosen group of works. One could feel the languor in Gershwin’s “Summertime” and the jubilation of “Saints Bound for Heaven”, but this listener was especially taken with Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes”, in an excellent arrangement by Bob Chilcott. The intonation was mostly precise throughout, and the ensemble balance was excellent in what was a most enjoyable performance.
After intermission, it was time for the bands to take to the stage. This leads me back to an observation I made in a previous review in this journal about High School bands, specifically the challenges in regards to instrumentation. With nineteen flutes, eleven clarinets and alto saxophones, and twelve trumpets listed on the roster, it would seem the Symphonic Band is rather top-heavy, but one is also a bit surprised there are more tuba players than trombones. Normally, I would have serious reservations about this, but as I am sure it is an “everyone plays regardless of instrument” situation, I will try to refrain from making any more of this issue. Opening with Vaughan Williams’s Flourish for Wind Band, the Symphonic band showed signs of their potential intertwined with some moments of what might have been nervousness. I was pleased that William Latham’s Brighton Beach was much tighter and more focused in performance, bringing back some happy memories for this listener, who played the piece in his own band days long, long ago. The highlight of their commendable performance was the Emperata Overture, by one of the greats of band composition, Claude T. Smith. I am sure many of these talented youngsters will fill the roster of the Wind Ensemble in the near future.
The Wind Ensemble took the stage and immediately affirmed their “varsity” status in a polished performance of Bernstein’s Overture to Candide, one of the staples of the advanced band repertoire. It had the right touch of irony without ever crossing into mockery. However, their performance of David Maslanka’s Requiem was not only the highlight of their selections, but far and away the highlight of the entire concert for this listener. Regular readers of this journal are aware of my admiration for Maslanka’s works, but with that admiration come high expectations in performance. It truly was exceptional – a performance that was profoundly moving from start to finish.
To conclude the concert, the combined forces of all four groups gave a stirring performance of United We Stand, a medley of patriotic songs.
Music is alive and well in the O’Fallon Township, and all the young performers can feel justly proud. One must also acknowledge the fine work of Cristina Nordin, Mark Donahue, Sean Michael Harris, and Melissa Gustafson-Hinds in their leadership and development of a fine music program.