May 23, 2019

High school singers take on a big stage

Samantha Kizner '19, Print Editor-in-Chief

Keith Lockhart (far left) came to the high school to rehearse with Dr. Kevin McDonald (next to Lockhart), Chad Weirick (at the piano), and the high school singers before their performance with the Boston Pops. Photo by Barry Braunstein.

On December 29 and 30, the high school’s Keynote and Rice Street singers will take a stage coveted by many. Many performers wait their entire lives before even stepping foot into Symphony Hall as a musical guest. For these high schoolers, however, this unique opportunity has come at a young age.

“This is a pretty special event,” said Dr. Kevin McDonald, the choral director at the high school. “[The Boston Pops] is one of the most highly acclaimed organizations in the country.”

The event, in and of itself, is unique. As part of their holiday series, the Boston Pops will show the movie “Home Alone” in Symphony Hall. Certain parts of the movie call for orchestral and choral arrangements, and the Pops, alongside WHS students, will fulfill these roles. The whole event will be conducted by Keith Lockhart, and there will be three shows.

In the weeks leading up to the performance, students have begun to realize how incredible this opportunity truly is.

“I know everyone uses the ‘once in a lifetime’ cliché, but this will definitely only happen once in my life, and I can already see it as something that I will never forget,” said Maeve Mungovan ’19, a Keynotes singer.

Mungovan is not wrong in believing this will be something she will never forget; for previous students, that is exactly what this experience was. Five years ago, with a completely different crop of singers, McDonald and the singing groups undertook the same challenge.

“Five years ago, our name was passed on to the Boston Pops as a school that might be up to the task of performing with them on this project. We had a spectacular time doing it, to the point where a lot of our singers walked out of here saying it was the best thing they had done in their four years at the high school,” McDonald said.

“We didn’t think about any alternatives this time. We knew there would be different students five years down the road, but the quality of the program doesn’t tend to depend on the individual students. It depends on what you do with the students once they get here,” said Keith Lockhart, Conductor of the Boston Pops Orchestra.

While excitement builds as the performance grows closer, this anticipation comes with nerves. The musical aspects of the show must fall in line with the movie, which Lockhart will be responding to. The singers, however, must follow Lockhart’s instructions and conducting. McDonald, however, feels more prepared this year, having already done this once.

“Making this lineup is very tricky. I understand that better this time around, so the students will be more prepared for the show,” McDonald said.

In terms of what else will differ from the previous show, McDonald feels that the environment will change due to the new roster of students.

“It comes back to who the singers are. This is a different group, with a different personality, and different relationships with one another. The music is the same, the performance is the same, but it is how they are going to interact and feel throughout the process that will be different,” McDonald said.

According to the students, the fact that two groups have come together for this performance has only strengthened their relationships. This holds true both on and off the stage.

“We have bonded so much more this year. When we sing together, we sound so amazing. We are all there to make great music, and when we work together that’s exactly what we do,” said Lily Torres ’19, a Rice Street singer.

Mungovan adds that the two groups also have the same tenacity in terms of wanting the performance to be the best it can.

“We are all excited to sing together because usually, that does not happen often. I think both groups are very invested and want it to be a fun, exciting night for everyone,” said Mungovan.

As for what the students are most nervous about, the level of prestige that the Boston Pops hold can be a bit intimidating.

“This is around professional people, so we want to look, and be, professional. On the other hand, we are high schoolers. There is such a high standard of what is expected from you. When you are given such an incredible opportunity, you have to be extremely mature,” said Torres.

Despite the nerves that the students may have, the groups have been preparing since October and know that they can execute the performance with perfection. Lockhart, too, has faith that they will rise to the occasion.

“It’s attributed to the people who run the program that the singers are very well trained and you don’t have any rudimentary stuff to work out. In this situation with very little rehearsal time, we need a group like this that can act professional,” Lockhart said.

McDonald is also confident in the students’ abilities.

“If there’s something that I have learned in my 23 years of teaching, it is that if you challenge a high school student to accomplish something, and they believe they can, they will,” said McDonald.

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