Though the snow was blowing on Jan. 20, Inaugural Saturday, the roads were icy and the night was a bone-chiller, the 2001 Music Educators of Berks County Senior All-County Festival was held as scheduled. It was Twin Valley High's turn to sponsor the event, hosted in a different school every year, and they weren't about to cancel for a little thing like a potential blizzard.
In fact, it would have been difficult to cancel for a variety of reasons. Eighteen area schools participated, including Twin Valley, Daniel Boone, Exeter, Governor Mifflin, Reading and Wyomissing.
Three musical categories were featured, (Senior High County Orchestra, Chorus, and Band) and there were 100 members in the chorus alone. Just contacting everyone would have been a major feat. But, more importantly, the young people who worked so hard to reach that level and perform that evening would have been devastated.
This was evident in the growing excitement that filled the halls of TVHS before the concert. Though the weather was terrible, the foyer filled quickly with young and old, performers and audience. Everywhere you turned were proud parents kissing their children for luck, and well-dressed musicians exchanging nervous chatter before the performance. But the level of this banter was surprising. One duo was discussing the work of Bach, commenting that during his era there was no social conscience, and people just wanted music so they could dance. Not what you might expect from the MTV generation!
Most had purchased tickets well in advance for the limited seating concert. As Dan Long of Twin Valley's music department explained, "The ticket money helps defray the cost of bringing in guest conductors, printing the programs and tickets, and buying the music that's performed.' Most of the audience was made up of parents and relatives of performers, there to encourage them and also enjoy an evening of quality entertainment.
In all, the program lasted about an hour and three quarters, as a combination snow/sleet storm raged outside. The house was still packed. At 8 p.m. the concert mistress stepped forward and tune-up began. A hush spread over the crowd as the sound, somewhat discordant at first, slowly became more agreeable. Finally it became recognizable, part of The 1812 Overture.
Mindful of the weather, the concert began immediately, with introductions made as quickly as possible. David Leithmann, guest conductor of the orchestra, has performed the same service for various concerts throughout the county. A string educator for 30 years, Leithmann now serves as an instructor at Elizabethtown College. His segment of the program was worth the price of admission by itself. The music rose and fell, swelling to a crescendo, then a hushed after-effect. During the Light Cavalry Overturn, you could actually hear the thunder of a cavalry charge; the instruments dueled musically, as the sound traveled back and forth across the orchestra. The rumble of hoof beats finally rolled into a familiar tune and the piece ended.
The orchestra then began the lighter, airier notes of tunes from Les Miserables. This music, at first uplifting and inspiring, turned playful, with a happy, gypsy-like feel. Their final number, "Pops' Hoe Down, began with one instrument at a time joining in until all were fully involved. The old fashioned rhythm made you want to jump up to dance and yell, "Ye Haw!' "The Pop Goes the Weasel! segment in the middle of the piece was particularly delightful. During the climax, there were some decidedly un-orchestra like effects - whistles, pops and clicks - that everyone in the audience thoroughly enjoyed.
Sandra Sittler, guest conductor of the Chorus, was introduced as a native of Berks County, holding degrees from West Chester University and Indiana University, Indiana. She led the 100-voice choir in six pieces, ranging from the classic How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place by Brahms to the lively a capella number, Jamaica Market Place - with a dash of Gilbert and Sullivan thrown in for variety.
Keith Wiley, guest conductor of the band, is a member of the faculty at Millersville University and the assistant Chair of Music. He took time before each of the band's five numbers to create a setting and explain the background of the pieces. He did this with humor and the audience relaxed into the music despite their concerns over the weather outside. Each of the three groups received a standing ovation at the end of their performance. Kudos are also due to the wonderful stage crew for their speedy and efficient set-up and tear-down between the different segments.
The sponsoring groups for this concert, the Music Educators of Berks County is a division of the Pennsylvania Music Educators' Association. You can learn more about their organizations, as well as check on future musical events, by checking their website (www.berksmusic.com).