WARREN, NJ  – Fans of the Watchung Hills Regional High School (WHRHS) instrumental and choral music programs came out in record numbers on Wednesday, June 1, and Friday, June 3, and ended up giving standing ovations for the performances of the students and staff who put togethermemorable Spring Concerts.

Instrumental Music Director Minesh Shah and Choral Music Director Angela DiIorio Bird drew out of their studentsperformances that showed they had not merely learned the thousands of notes printed on their respective music sheets, but also they understood the music intended by the composers’ often ambitious explorations of musical expression.

The students demonstrated their mastery of the pieces, while also entertaining the audiences, both when the pieces required loud, dramatic, sudden and dynamic crescendos – and there were many of them, particularly during the Instrumental Concert, where a full range of percussion instruments were used early and often, and practically every family of instruments on stage were at one point or another given prominence -- as well as when the compositions painted pastel-colored, sometimes water-colored, moods with poignant and tender tones and meters.

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Both the instrumental and the vocal concerts featured contributions from groups of musicians and singers of differing levels of proficiency, that is to say introductory level to advanced level. However, every student participant seemed to have come to the concert well-rehearsed, spirited, and eager to please. 

For the Instrumental Concert, the encore song was, “(Risk) Everything for a Dream,” and that title was also given as the theme for the entire concert.

Instrumental Music Director Shah said, “Everyone fell in love with this beautiful piece of music.” 

He said the title and the music explores one of the essential educational philosophies, mindsets and observations about how human beings learn. 

“Take risks, and celebrate the outcomes,” Shah said as he introduced the piece. “It is in taking risks and trying the new, that we learn. Even when we risk and fail, it is often from our mistakes that we learn, that we grow, and that we develop.”

At the Vocal Concert, in between the singing of the final two songs, “Home” and “Hallelujah!,” from Handel’s “The Messiah,” Choral Music Director DiIorio Bird announced the presentation of the Senior Choral Award to this year’s recipient: Senior and four-year choral music veteran Jillian Carbone of Gillette. 

“This student will be hard to replace,” said DiIorio Bird. “She is thoughtful. She always wants to improve. From the very beginning, she made frequent visits to the chorus room, including on her own time during lunch hour and after school. She set an example for other students by having a positive work ethic, and a dedication to building a sense of growth, not just for her own personal growth, but for the program’s growth.”

DiIorio said she remembered concluding early on during Ms. Carbone’s involvement with choir that she “had a drive and a passion for working hard, but also she had a willingness to be the unsung hero, doing all the important little things that are so very crucial for the success of the program.”

Dramatic, Dynamic Finishes

Both concerts ended their evenings with memorable performances by combined groups, the Symphonic Band in the Instrumental Concert and the Combined Choirs in the Vocal concert. In both cases, every square inch of the stage of the Performing Arts Center seemed filled by student musicians and singers. All participants seemed to respond to the support that comes from having hundreds of fellow musicians and singersstanding or sitting side by side, and multiple rows deep. Shah and DiIorio Bird seemed to know exactly how to take full advantage of the opportunities that only this kind of intrinsic volume provides, particularly when the participants are well-rehearsed and confident in their parts.

For instance, at the Instrumental Concert, the Symphonic Bandplayed what perhaps everyone in the room, audience as well as students, had heard throughout their childhoods, the “Looney Tunes Overture.” No doubt the composition’s dynamic hints of silliness were performed at WHRHS as seemingly expertly as in the original by professional Los Angeles musicians, because the students were so intuitively familiar with the number. They must have heard these infectious riffs countless times as proverbial “rug rat,s” watching Saturday morning TV cartoons andfeaturing everyone’s favorite Iconic characters: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and friends.

When just two compositions later, the Symphonic Band thentackled the much more adult and heavy arrangement of the music of the Broadway musical, “The Phantom of the Opera,” and when they then postulated the encore piece, “(Risk) Everything for a Dream,” the students delivered performanceswith as much mastery as the Looney Tunes Overture. 

The audience at the end of the Vocal Concert were treatedsimilarly. The massive Combined Chorus was masterful on its final song, “Home,” which was made into an international hit by the recording artist Phillip Phillips. As if that were not enough, as encore, the Vocal Concert delivered its annual “all-hands-on-deck” exuberant rendering of Hallelujah from Handel’s, The Messiah.” The WHRHS singers and friends knocked the songs out of the park, delivering the culmination of the evening, and for that matter, the week. 

As is by now tradition, Choral Music Director DiIorio Bird invited everyone in the audience who was familiar with the iconic piece either from when they were students themselves in the WHRHS Choral Music program, or for that matter having sung it with an academic, community or church choir, or just having sung from the pews at church, to come up on stage, swell the ranks of the Combined Chorus that much more, and send the audience home with a performance they will not likely forget.

The Programs

At the Instrumental Concert, The Concert Band performed three pieces: “Pulsation,” by Richard L. Saucedo; “A House Divided,” by Brian Balmages; and “Africa,” by Robert W. Smith.

The Wind Ensemble performed three pieces: “Full Tilt,” by Richard L. Saucedo; “Damnation of Faust,” by Hector Berlioz; and “Danse Bacchanale,” by Camille Saint-Saens.

The String Orchestra performed four pieces: “The Idylls of Pegasus,” by Richard Meyer; “Theme from Downtown Abbey,” arranged by Larry Moore; “Appalachian Morning,” by Richard Sheldon; and “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” by EdvardGrieg.

The Symphonic Band performed four pieces: “Looney Tunes Overture,” arranged by Bill Holcombe; “Radetzky March,” by Johann Strauss; “The Phantom of the Opera,” arranged by Warren Baker; and the encore, “(Risk) Everything for a Dream,” by Richard L. Sauceda. 

Concert Band Period 1 has 38 student musicians, Concert Band Period 6 has 53 musicians, the String Orchestra has 32 musicians, and the Wind Ensemble has 60 musicians.

At the Vocal Concert, the Chorus sang: “Your Song” by Elton John and Bernie Taupin; “Chantez Alleluia! (Sing Alleluia!),”by Dave and Jean Perry; and “Sweet Caroline,” by Neil Diamond. On that number, the audience was encouraged by DiIorio Bird to sing the iconic “bah bah bah” and “so good, so good, so good” parts.

The Advanced Chorus sang: “The Heavens are Telling,” by Franz Joseph Haydn; Erev Shel Shoshanim (Evening of Roses),” by Josef Hadar; “I’m Gonna Rise (When the Son Comes Down!),” by Paul Marsena; Medley from the Broadway Musical “Footloose,” arranged by Mark Brymer; and Radiohead’s “Creep” and David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” a tribute to David Bowie.

Varying-sized smaller “ensembles” of singers sang: “You Raise Me Up,” by Brendan Graham and Rolf Lovland; “Uptown Girl,” by Billy Joel; “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” by Elvis Presley; “Birdland,” by Jerry Nowak; “Main Theme: Super Smash Bros. Brawl,” by Nobuo Uematsu; “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” by Billy Joel; “Salmo 150,” by Ernani Aguiar; and “Save the World/Don’t You Worry Child.”

Male, Female and Mixed Barbershop Quartets sang: “Lollipop,” by Beverly Ross and Julius Dixon; “Coney Island Baby,” as sung by the Mainstreeters; and “And So It Goes,” by Billy Joel.

Senior solos included: “The Impossible Dream,” from the “Man of La Mancha,” featuring Eric Bautista; “All That Matters,” by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, featuring Julia Sluyter; “My Man,” from the Ziegfield Follies from GLEE, featuring KrishtiBhaumik.

The Combined Choirs sang: “Home,” by Greg Holden and Drew Pearson; and “Hallelujah! From The Messiah,” by George Frederic Handel.

There are 111 singers in the Advanced Chorus, including 44 Sopranos, 41 Altos, 13 Tenors and 15 Basses. There are 120 singers in Chorus, including 36 Sopranos, 47 Altos, 17 Tenors, and 20 Basses.