SOUTH PLAINFIELD - In keeping with tradition, the South Plainfield High School (SPHS) Music Department performed their annual winter concert on Dec. 10. Students of the Concert Choir, Jazz Band, Chamber Choir, Orchestra and Concert Band performed holiday favorites, nostalgic classics and much more during the spectacular display of talent.
“The kids worked really hard, and we had a great performance,” said William Haughwout, SPHS Director of Bands.
The jazz band kicked off the evening with a swinging collection of songs, beginning with “Flight of the Foo Bird,” featuring soloist Jonathan Mohan on alto saxophone. They followed with the popular 1970s song, “You’re Still a Young Man,” Emilio Castillo and Stephen "Doc" Kupka’s first hit. The performance featured soloists Sebastian Rohrer on tenor saxophone and Jonathan Mohan on alto saxophone.
The jazz section of the evening concluded with William Chase’s “Get It On,” with soloists Mikael Evans (tenor saxophone), Jonathan Mohan (alto saxophone), Thomas O’Brien (alto saxophone), Sebastian Rohrer (tenor saxophone), Colin Campos (trombone), Jason Rodas (trombone), and Maxwell Strassburger (bass). The song came to a powerful ending with Joseph Anesh’s drum set solo.
The lights dimmed, and in the darkness, the Concert Choir entered, filing down each aisle for the traditional candlelight processional. Each student held a battery lit candle casting a warm glow while they sang the Latin lyrics to the song “Adeste Fideles.” They made their way to the stage as the words of the song filled the auditorium.
With Director of SPHS Choral Activities Dr. Donna Kregler leading the chorus and Paul DiDario accompanying on piano, the concert chorus performed several songs, including a favorite of the students, “The Old Mill” by Kenneth Riggs.
“The music, especially ‘The Old Mill,’ I feel like it really allowed us to express ourselves with the lyrics,” said Alisabelle Pontevedra, freshman alto in Concert Choir. “When our vocal coach, Dr. Kregler, gives us a really good song, we can really express our voices to the song, and we can really feel it in the music.”
“I really liked performing ‘The Old Mill’ because it has beautiful chorals with the piano and all the voices,” said Patrick Joyner, senior in the choir. “It’s a really beautiful and touching song.”
Soloist Chase Atkinson took center stage for his part in “Baba Yetu,” by Christopher Tin. The Grammy Award-winning theme song written for Civilization IV, is a Swahili translation of the Lord’s Prayer and highlighted the choir’s vocal skills as their voices melded in harmony.
“My favorite song was ‘Baba Yetu,’” said Joyner. “As a bass, I love going low and that song has a consistent low part. So it’s challenging to push my own limits farther than I think I can go, and it has a nice groove and beat.”
The Concert Choir also sang the Christmas favorite “Sleigh Ride,” arranged by Hawley Ades, bringing forth the joy of the season.
“Everyone who has sung the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ with us, please join us on stage,” Kregler said to the audience. “I want to see all of those former students of mine.”
Three students stood before the choir using sign language to communicate the lyrics while everyone joined in singing “Hallelujah Chorus” by George Frideric Handel, from “The Messiah,” which was first performed in Dublin in 1742, and remains the most popular works in the Western choral canon.
The Chamber Choir is a smaller choir of select vocalists. They sang several selections for their portion of the performance, including the classic Beatles hit “Yesterday” as arranged by Bob Chilcott. Kregler took a moment to acknowledge some very important guests.
“My parents are here,” said Kregler to the audience. “They’ve been coming to my concerts for 32 years.”
“She just loves music,” Joseph Kregler later said, referring to his daughter Dr. Donna Kregler. “She loves working with the students. She always wanted to be a music teacher.”
“The choir came to where we live at the Renaissance last week and the concert was amazing,” said Diane Kregler. “Every person that came, said to me that they could not believe how well they performed. They said these kids showed how much fun they were having. My daughter has always loved music and performed in all the performing arts. She continued and it’s wonderful to see how amazing her students are.”
The choir concluded with the choir singing A capella, “At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners” by Williametta Spencer.
“I feel like it went really well,” said Joyner. “We put a lot of time and effort in, especially for choir, from not knowing any of the songs to be able to make music with them. We came a long way, and we’re able to do something really beautiful, not just sing, but make music.”
“Thank you, parents, for coming,” Kregler said. “It’s absolutely wonderful working with these kids. They put in a lot of work every day, whether they’re at A.M. Choir, Chamber Choir after school, lessons during school. They really work hard and you should be really proud of what they do in music. It’s unique and a great thing for them. Thank you all for coming.”
The orchestra portion of the evening began with Diane Lee, SPHS Orchestra Director, leading the students in their selections of music.
“Here are my awesome students of Chamber Orchestra, which meets after school on Mondays,” said Lee. “We don’t meet every day, but we learn as much a repertoire as regular A.M. classes. So this is my wonderful group of chamber orchestra to perform three pieces.”
The Chamber Orchestra began with “A Thousand Years,” as arranged by David Hodges and Christina Perri, from the movie The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn. They also performed “Clair de Lune,” by Claude debussy, a classic from 1905.
“I felt like this was a great opportunity just to be here,” said Timson Nguyen, junior, violin 1. “I’m just so thrilled to be playing with my classmates and to have an amazing conductor, Ms. Lee. It was just an amazing experience.”
The final selection of chamber orchestra section of the evening was “Por Una Cabeza” by Alfredo Le Pera and Carlos Garbel, featuring soloist Liesl Co on violin.
The rest of the orchestra joined the chamber orchestra on stage for the conclusion of the string’s segment.
The orchestra performed the masterpiece “Recuerdos de la Alhambra” by Francisco Tarrega, featuring soloist Jessenia Moreno, the beautiful notes of the piece rising through the auditorium. The song was written in 1896 after the composer visited the Alhambra in Granada while under the patronage of Conxa Martínez.
They also played “Overture to the Wind” by Kirt Mosier, featuring several solo violinists Liesl Co and Thommy Baez Santana, as well as violist Ryan Rajpal. Through frenzied strokes of the strings’ bows, the song expressed the different moods of a storm.
“My favorite song was ‘Overture to the Wind,’” said Nguyen. “I was just in the moment. To be playing that song with all the speed changes and volume changes was amazing. I’m speechless.”
“Thank you for coming out tonight and supporting us,” Lee said. “It’s an honor to teach your children, and I wish you all the best this holiday season.”
The Concert Band concluded the evening with three songs they have been hard at work preparing, beginning with Irish folk song, “Celtic Suite,” by Elliot Del Borgo, a favorite of the students. Each section of the band displayed their talent.
“They’ve been practicing some of this music since September,” Haughwout said. “They really are dedicated and put their hearts into it.”
Performing “Christmas Celebration” by Kenny Bierschenk, the concert band played a medley of holiday songs, including ‘O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,’ ‘The First Noel,’ ‘Here We Come A-Wassailing,’ and several other Christmas classics, filling the auditorium with joy.
Haughwout took a moment to recognize the families who support the students day in and day out.
“I’d like to thank you for coming out supporting your student’s music education,” said Haughwout. “Without you, they wouldn’t be sitting here as dedicated as they are to play this fabulous music for you.”
They concluded the concert with “Everest: The Forbidden Journey” by Rob Romeyn, featuring soloist Emily Wong on flute, painting a magical image with the harmonic sounds of the instruments and building to a dramatic ending.
The 2019 SPHS Winter Concert brought joy to those who attended and pride to the dedicated students whose talents were evident in the results of their work.
“We practiced really hard, and we have no regrets,” said Joyner. “We’re proud of what we did.”
“On behalf the music department I wish everyone a very happy and safe holiday,” Haughwout said. “Thank you very much for coming.”