Seasonal concert delights at E. L. Crossley

E.L Crossley's concert band plays at the school's winter concert last Wednesday evening. VOICE PHOTO

Music Department holds winter performance


E.L Crossley Secondary School’s music department held its annual winter concert on Wednesday night, transforming the school’s main gymnasium into a veritable concert hall. Music teachers Janine Barber and David Gaines led the school’s groups—from the full concert band to small vocal ensembles—through the nearly two-hour performance, playing classic Christmas songs and contemporary pop alike, in front of a sizeable crowd. Barber’s vocal class began the evening with O Canada, which Barber said that the group would soon perform at a Niagara Icedogs game.

“It’s great to have some gentlemen in the class this year,” Barber said, looking to the back row of singers at the boys standing there. She explained that at the beginning of the year, many of the students had been too shy to sing in front of the class. “Now they’re performing in front of you,” she said.

When the choir had finished their first set, a few of the singers quickly rushed to get their instruments to join the whole band as it took their seats and prepared to play. Gaines directed the group in their first song—flicking his baton with sharp, precise movements while keeping a pinky extended—a medley of Christmas songs in which the familiar melodies were woven in and around each other.

He and Barber took to the front to explain the concert band, which consists of students from different grades and different levels of experience. One of the more experiences musicians playing through the night was Grade 11 student Rob Cretney, who accompanied the choir on piano, before switching to baritone saxophone to play with the concert and jazz bands.

“I started playing piano when I was in Grade Three,” said Cretney during the brief intermission. (Gaines had introduced the break by saying, “When I say ten minutes folks, I mean ten minutes. There’s about six kids on a hockey team, and I promised the coach that I’d have them out of here by 9:30.)

Cretney said that he’d just started playing the saxophone three years ago, but really enjoyed the instrument, and plays with the Brock wind ensemble too. Cretney said that his favourite song to play of the evening was “Minor Swing from the Middle” with the jazz band.

“We only perform twice a year,” he said, “and it’s way scarier to play in front of people. But it’s a good adrenaline rush. Plus it’s jazz, so you’re allowed to play wrong notes.”

Cretney’s cousin, Abigail Shatford, also performed that evening, though much to her disappointment she is only a member of the extra-curricular vocal ensemble.

“I’ve done all the vocal classes, which is pretty heartbreaking,” she said. “There’s no real choir, either,” she added, lamenting the fact that ever fewer students seem to be taking music classes.

“We’re always trying to get more students in the classes, because if not, they might not run and then one of the music teachers won’t be teaching music full time. The school tends to be all about athletics and rowing, and that’s okay. But music is another important part too.”

After the intermission, the jazz band returned and played a spirited rendition of the James Bond theme. Perhaps the evening’s most poignant songs were performed by small groups from Barber’s vocal class.

“There are a lot of instrumentalists in the class, too, so they’ll be accompanying themselves on piano or guitar in all of the songs—this was an assignment for them,” said Barber. “They had to come up with a song in which they all had a solo, sang together, and have their own harmonies. I had nothing to do with the compositions.”

Barber indeed walked away from the stage as the small groups of three or four stood alone, dressed in black amid the black stage and black curtains. Without microphones, the groups began singing quietly, just barely audible above the piano or guitar, but each group seemed to gain confidence as their songs progressed.

Gaines introduced the second-to-last song of the night as one written by a high-school music teacher.

“It’s called ‘Chasing Sunlight,’” he said. “It’s about driving west across the prairies in the evening. The sun sets slower when you’re driving towards it at one hundred kilometres an hour. Considering how close we are to the shortest day of the year, it’ll be good to think of any sunlight at all.”

Once the band had finished with another medley of carols, and the fathers had put away their video cameras and the grandmothers their iPads, Gaines thanked the crowd for coming.

“And now the hockey players can leave,” he said, mostly to the parents in the audience. “But the others ones: not so fast. They all have to put away their instruments, and bring at least one chair and music stand back to the music room.”


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