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Plan, Practice, Perform - Winter Concert is One Success of Many Yet to Come

The NHS Instrumental Program held their Winter Concert on February 15, 2024 in the auditorium and showcased all of their jazz, band, and string ensembles. The concert, originally planned for February 12, 2024, was delayed due to the snowstorm that overwhelmed the North Jersey area. 


Jazz Band, Jazz Ensemble, Jazz Lab, Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra, Concert Band, and Wind Ensemble performed their respective pieces with just about six weeks to prepare. Though this may seem daunting, it’s no problem for Orchestra Director Elizabeth Nowik. In fact, it’s something she enjoys. “I think it’s fun. I like to be able to do some stuff that’s a little lighter. I think when you do the same music for six months, it gets a little tiring, so I like getting to break it up a little bit,” she said. 


However, the time constraints are notorious for creating an immense amount of pressure and stress, whether it appears in individual musicians or ensembles as a whole. Freshman Noah Blasiak is a cellist in the Orchestra and Chamber Orchestra. Outside of instrumental ensembles, he is an avid member of the choral programs, both inside and outside of the building; he is involved in the Concert Choir, Men’s Ensemble, and Region Choir, and he will be auditioning for the All-State Choir.


The Chamber Orchestra—a select, audition-only group of six Orchestra students—played two pieces for the Instrumental Concert: Pyarelal Sharma’s “Mirage” and Frederick Müller’s “Lennon and McCartney Medley”, which included iconic throwback pieces such as the Beatles’ “Yesterday”, “Michelle”, and “Hey Jude”. The ensemble had also involved the entire audience in their rendition of “Hey Jude”, with interactive claps and a sung “na-na-na” section that resembled that of a Paul McCartney concert arranged by Nowik.


Though successful, Blasiak expressed his concerns regarding the rehearsal times for these pieces: “The practice time for Chamber Strings, specifically, was a little minimal, and I think that it makes sense because of the busy schedules of everyone in the group, but I wish we’d had more time so we could’ve sounded even better. . . Our community is better if the ensemble is better, and the ensemble is better with personal practice.”


Nowik concurred with a similar statement. Though she was happy with the performances that had been presented, she said, “There were a couple of hiccups in [the Beatles medley] that I thought maybe some more rehearsing could’ve ironed out, some misunderstandings with the different layers, but overall, I was very happy with it.”


Band Director Angelina Hamada instructed five of the seven performing ensembles and she agreed that the limited timespan was stressful in some capacity. “I think, in hindsight, the February Concert should have easier music. I think the preparation during this time should be focused on fundamentals again, tackling easier music, and trying to strive for the highest music quality, not just the most challenging music at a not-so-great quality. I think we tackled really challenging music, and I don’t think we got the quality to where I was hoping because of the short amount of time,” she said.


Despite this, Wind Ensemble’s performances proved to be quite notable, especially with the inclusion of some of John H. Walker Middle School’s Symphonic Band for Robert W. Smith’s “The Great Locomotive Chase”. This performance followed an in-house field trip that took place on February 2, 2024, in which the eighth graders rehearsed with the Wind Ensemble for an instrumental workshop. 


The Wind Ensemble and Chamber Orchestra also reached common ground in terms of the origins of two of their respective pieces. Wind Ensemble performed Brian Balmages’ Indian-influenced “Homage to Bharat”, which translates to “Homage to India”, while Chamber Orchestra’s “Mirage” was written by Indian composer Pyarelal Sharma. 


Hamada emphasized the importance of musical diversity, especially in Nutley: “Nutley has a very strong culture of tradition. . . I was hoping that, by introducing the students to something different, that that would help them become more open-minded to experiences different from what they know. There is a lot to benefit from opening up your experience and your perspective, and I was hoping that this concert would encourage students to do that as well.”


Nowik spoke on the topic in a broader perspective: “I chose it because I do think that the string scene in India is very big, and I think if you’re gonna be doing a program that has a lot of different styles of playing, it really would be remiss to leave that out. I think it’s worth bringing that in there. It’s nice that we do have a diverse student population—we do have a lot of Indian-American students—and, in general, I think it’s just good to represent, especially when you have such a big population using the instruments we use on stage but in a completely different way from what we’re used to.”


Now, the Instrumental Program is preparing for a variety of different performances that will take place in the next few months. Café Night—an instrumental fundraiser hosted by Nutley Music Boosters that allows students to showcase their talents in numerous ensembles, trios, duets, or even solos—is scheduled to take place on March 3, 2024 in the large gym. Both Hamada and Nowik have their sights set on using the weeks between the February Concert and Café Night as prep weeks, with Hamada having “a lot of exciting things happening in the band world.”


“I have a million clinicians coming in,” she said. 


Some of these clinicians include principal clarinet of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Juan Esteban Martinez, University of Connecticut Band Director Dr. Janet Kim, and TCNJ Band Director Dr. Eric Laprade. There will also be a concert percussion workshop held by Marching Band staff member Nick Peters as well as a low brass workshop for trombone, euphonium, and tuba. 


“It’s really great because the students get to hear these people come in and perform,” Hamada said. “They get to have a concept of sound. It’s not just me describing it. They get to hear it and say, ‘Oh, okay, how do I recreate that?’ so I think that’s super impactful.”


After Café Night, the Instrumental Program—as well as the choral program—will be preparing for not just the Spring Concert, but the Music Department’s trip to San Antonio, Texas to compete in the Bluebonnet Classic Competition at the Tobin Center. They are set to depart for the trip on April 18, 2024 and will return on April 21, 2024.


The Wind Ensemble and Orchestra, respectively, will also participate in the NJSMA Region Concert Band Festival and Orchestra Festival. The Concert Band Festival will take place on March 20, 2024; the Orchestra Festival will take place on April 23, 2024.