Tag Archives: Orphenians

Staples Music Program Doesn’t Miss A Beat

In just 2 years, Luke Rosenberg has taken his place with the legendary Staples High School choral directors George Weigle and Alice Lipson.

On a scale of 1-10, last night’s spring concert was at least an 11. A variety of choirs, choruses and ensembles wowed the crowd with a host of Broadway songs, from Les Mis, Fiddler on the Roof and many others.

The love between dozens of performers and their director was evident, as Rosenberg grew emotional honoring his graduating seniors.

To see what he has done in his brief time wielding the baton, check the 2 videos below.

The 1st is “Tap-Tap,” a Haitian song with some of the most intricate rhythms and harmonies you’ll find anywhere on the planet. It’s performed by the Orphenians — the elite singing group that, because of today’s manic teenage schedules, manages to rehearse just once a week.

The 2nd is “Seasons of Love,” the haunting melody from Rent performed by the underclass chorus and chorale. Soloists are Kate Griffin — a freshman who stuns the audience — and sophomore Nick Ribolla.

Music is just one of the many things our high school students do. And they do it very, very well.

Orphenians Tap Chanticleer’s Talent

Chanticleer is a 36-year-old, San Francisco-based ensemble. The New Yorker called them “the world’s reigning male chorus.”

Orphenians is a 56-year-old elite choir at Staples. Director Luke Rosenberg is working hard to make them the world’s reigning a cappella chorus — at least, at the high school level.

Orphenians director Luke Rosenberg. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Orphenians director Luke Rosenberg. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

On Wednesday, Chanticleer visited Darien High School for a choral festival. Participating were their hosts, plus choirs from Staples, Westhill-Stamford and Brewster Highs.

It was a long, intense but joyful day. First, everyone rehearsed 2 pre-selected pieces as a mass choir, under the direction of Chanticleer’s musical director.

Each high school choir then performed its own selected repertoire, for the other schools to enjoy. Next came Orphenians’ special 90-minute workshop with 3 members of Chanticleer.

The evening concert showed off each individual choir. Finally, Chanticleer combined with all several hundred students for 2 tutti numbers: Monteverdi’s “Si Ch’io vorrei morire” and Andre Thomas’ “Rockin’ Jerusalem.”

Here’s an iPhone recording of Orphenians performing “Tap-Tap.” You can hear the group live at Staples, later this spring.

(If your browser does not take you directly to YouTube, click here.)

 

Oprhenians In Action

Snow knocked out yesterday’s Candlelight Concerts.

But the Orphenians — Staples’ elite singing group — spread their special holiday cheer this morning. They performed at the 11 a.m. mass at St. Jean Baptiste Church.  

Forty singers took an 8:23 train to New York this morning. For teenagers, 8:23 a.m. Sunday is a time that usually does not exist.

But that’s the magic of the holiday season.

And of Orphenians.

Orphenians rehearsing before their mass at St. Jean Baptiste Church. Luke Rosenberg is the conductor.

Orphenians rehearsing before their mass at St. Jean Baptiste Church. Luke Rosenberg is the conductor.

(Click here if your browser does not take you directly to this YouTube video of the Orphenians’ rehearsal.)

Christmas In Connecticut

Actually, in Westport.

The Westport Downtown Merchants Association threw a holiday party tonight, and nearly everyone in town came.

After the Christmas tree lighting at Town Hall, hundreds of folks — nearly all of them under age 10, it seemed — moseyed around the corner to Christ & Holy Trinity Church.

There was music, food, a fire pit, ice carving, and — for the adults — wine. Plus tables with info about Westport’s favorite non-profit groups.

And — most important of all — Santa.

Holiday 1

A small part of the large crowd at Christ & Holy Trinity Church.

A small part of the large crowd at Christ & Holy Trinity Church.

An ice sculptor, hard at work.

An ice sculptor, hard at work.


(Click here if your browser does not take you directly to the Staples High School Orphenians’ YouTube video.)

 

Now Hear This!

The arts are alive and well at Staples High School.

This morning’s post highlights the upcoming Players production of You Can’t Take It With You.

Earlier this week, first-year choral director Luke Rosenberg produced a spectacular spring concert. A variety of groups — chorus, chorale, choir and Orphenians — sang sophisticated, challenging music.

The international program featured selections in Latin, Swahili, Zulu, Hungarian, Latvian, Spanish and Hawaiian (!). There was an American spiritual, a complex Indian raga, and the powerful final number: Billy Joel’s haunting “And So It Goes.”

Staples media lab instructor Jim Honeycutt made a 12-minute highlight tape. Click below (or here) to enjoy the hard work and great talent of scores of Westport teenagers.

Songs For Sandy Hook

Last Thursday night — with little fanfare, but tremendous talent and spirit — the Staples Music Department offered a phenomenal concert.

A fundraiser for the Sandy Hook Family Fund, it featured the elite Orphenians a cappella singing group, and chamber orchestra.

If you weren’t there, you missed an amazing night. Fortunately, Jim Honeycutt — the indefatigable Media Lab director — produced an 18-minute “highlight reel.”

The 1st clip is the Orphenians’ “There Will Be Rest,” by Frank Ticheli (Luke Rosenberg, director).

The 2nd is from the Chamber Orchestra’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” by Mozart (Adele Valovich, director).

The 3rd series of clips, with the combined groups, is from the movements of Schubert’s “Mass No. 2 in G Major”: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus
and Agnus Dei.

Click below for this inspiring performance. If your browser does not support a direct link, click here, then click on the YouTube video.

(The full video is available on Channel 78, at 8 p.m. most evenings.)

Luke Rosenberg: Staples’ Masterful New Maestro

In some towns, filling the position of choral teacher is a “meh” task.

Westport is not “some towns.”

When Justin Miller suddenly resigned as Staples’ instructor in August — after 2 years on the job — administrators were under the gun. They had to hire someone to oversee the high-profile position — teaching choral music, directing the choir and elite Orphenians, creating memorable music for the Candlelight Concert.

And they had to do it with the school year just a couple of weeks away.

Fortunately, the position was posted the same day Luke Rosenberg expanded his job search to Connecticut.

Luke Rosenberg

The Michigan native had moved to Brooklyn the month before. His spouse had gotten a graphic design job in New York. Neither had ever lived in the city — or knew much about the East Coast.

“I thought finding a job would be easy,” says Rosenberg, who had served as  choral director in Caledonia, a Grand Rapids suburb with a great performing arts program and first-class facility he calls “upper middle class like Westport, but more spread out.”

But there was a hiring freeze in New York City, and leads proved fruitless. Eventually, a friend asked if Luke was looking in Connecticut.

“I had no idea it was so close,” he says.

He saw the just-posted position in Westport. He knew nothing about the town. But he did his research — including reading every page of the school district’s website. Photos of Staples reminded him of Caledonia High (click here to see why). When he interviewed on a Friday, he was prepared.

On Monday he met with superintendent of school Elliott Landon. (That’s proof of the importance Westport places on its choral director.) Almost immediately, he was offered the job.

Rosenberg flew back to Michigan to get his car. He drove east quickly, and saw his choral room for the first time.

There was music to order, a rehearsal schedule to arrange, a program to lead.

The Staples choral program has a rich history. In 2010, the elite group celebrated its 50th anniversary.

One of Rosenberg’s first acts was to add events. A fall “parlor concert” of choral music was added (it’s tonight in the auditorium, at 7:30). A new spring concert will include all the choirs.

Rosenberg also started learning about Staples’ music tradition.  The choral program — including the 72-year-old Candlelight Concert, which flourished under George Weigle and his successor, Alice Lipson — are among the town jewels.

“Tradition is important,” Rosenberg says. “Especially in a close community, it’s important to keep links to the past.” Rest assured, Westport: the blue robes,  “Welcome Yule” processional, production number — all will remain.

However, Rosenberg adds, it’s important for a new director to add his own spin.

He hopes to bring “a sense of Cambridge — like an old English candlelight ceremony” to the concert. “It’s beautiful,” he says. “You want to let the music wash over you.”

The Candlelight Concert is timeless. This shot, from 2011, was taken by Lynn U. Miller — a Staples choir member in the early 1970s.

Rosenberg plans to reintroduce downtown caroling. His singers will carol in New York too, on December 21. And he will add a performance, by Orphenians and the chamber orchestra, of Schubert’s “Mass in G.”

Rosenberg has already made a few changes. He’s opened Orphenians up to all grade levels. (It was previously restricted to juniors and seniors.)

“It’s an awesome ensemble,” he says of the elite traveling choir. “I want to bring in the best musicians — whatever their grade. The better the ensemble, the more enticing it will be to everyone.”

With 33 singers — the most in years — it’s perfectly balanced: 8 basses, 8 tenors, 8 altos and 9 sopranos.

Rosenberg is understated, but his enthusiasm is palpable. “Orphenians can be fantastic,” he says. “They have the potential to blow people out of the water.”

He recently met Alice Lipson, his predecessor. “She’s wonderful,” he notes. “She was so great and helpful, especially with Candlelight.” He has not yet met the legendary Dr. Weigle.

Michael Sixsmith, Mikell Washington and “Santa.”. The Candlelight Concert includes both traditional music and a jazzy production number. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Lipson brought multicultural music to Staples. Rosenberg hopes to expand it. He envisions a spring concert with music from the Middle East, Africa, Asia and South America.

He’d also like to resurrect some of the international tours, pioneered by Weigle  and continued by Lipson.

“Change is always difficult,” he acknowledges. His students are “very respectful,” but he could tell in the beginning they were uncertain what lay ahead.

“Once they realized I know what I’m talking about, they understood we can do great things together, and we started working well,” he says. “And once they heard a really good chord locked in, there were goosebumps.”

Westport audiences, he hopes, will feel those goosebumps too.

Hallelujah!

The Baton Passes From Lipson To Miller

For 21 years — always seen from behind — Alice Lipson’s flowing, braided hair has been the “face” of Staples choral music.

Next fall, the director’s hair will be much shorter.  And male.

Justin Miller has verbally accepted an offer to succeed Lipson — retiring after 35 years in the Westport school system — as director of Staples’ choruses, choirs and Orphenians.

He is only the 3rd choral director in the past 51 years.  From 1959 to 1989, George Weigle held the post.

It is a position of great tradition — as Miller well knows.  A Westporter from 1st grade on, he sang for Lipson between 1998 and 2001.

Justin Miller holds up the "Choir of the World" trophy last year in Wales.

It is a position of great importance t00 — and Miller is up to the task.  Not yet 30, he is a founder, past president and current musical director of the Westminster Chorus.  Last year they were crowned international champs — winning the “Choir of the World” Pavarotti Trophy in Wales — while in 2007 they earned an international chorus gold medal.

In Wales they beat out choirs from major American universities, and accomplished European choirs.  One judge called them “musical butter — soft, inviting and delicious.”

The chance to return to Staples — where he acted in “Chorus Line” as a freshman, toured Scotland with “Pippin,” and led the now-legendary barbershop group the Testostertones — lured Miller east from California, where he now teaches.

“Westport is a really special community,” he says.

“As a student teacher, and through festivals I’ve been a part of, I’ve learned it’s hard to find an entire town that is as involved in the success of its high school as Westport is.

“There are strong programs in other places, but there’s something special about Westport.  It’s why I wanted to come back.”

He double majored in choral directing and music education at Chapman University, then began work on his master’s.

Miller has found success out West.  In addition to Westminster, he was part of 3 international chorus championships with the Masters of Harmony.

Though young, he has held choral leadership positions for years — directing, as well as handling budgets and preparing for competitions.

Miller traveled to Westport over his spring break from Tesoro High School in Orange County to interview with teachers and administrators, and teach a freshman chorus class.  Fortuitously, superintendent Elliott Landon was in Los Angeles during our own spring break, and interviewed Miller there.

How does he feel about replacing Lipson, a legend?

“I can’t replace her,” Miller says.  “She’s been there so long, and so much of the program is representative of her.

“There are things I’ll do differently, because we’re different people.  But luckily I was in choir and Orphenians.  I know her style.  Hopefully I can make it a smooth transition.”

One difference:  He hopes to introduce “modern composers, who are rock stars in the choral world,” into the repertoire.

He would like to enter more festivals and contests, and sing for other schools and choral directors.  “Their feedback on what we’re doing is important,” Miller says.

He may also incorporate his Testostertones experience into the curriculum, organizing small ensembles with contemporary music.

And he might reintroduce Fine Arts Nights — a Lipson innovation — with evenings of musical theater, pops and classical music.

“Alice had the benefit of coming from a middle school,” Miller says.  “I don’t know many people at Staples any more.

“I look forward to getting to know the juniors and seniors.  The more a choir feels like a family, the more quality work we’ll be able to do.”

As Alice Lipson passes her choir family on to Justin Miller — the next leader, and young enough to be her son — she knows the next Staples chorus generation is in good hands.

Hallelujah!

(Click here for the Westminster Chorus in action in Wales last year — and here for a great YouTube video of Miller’s reaction at the international championship presentation.)

Orphs Honor Dr K

The tributes have begun for beloved Staples English teacher Gerry Kuroghlian.

Near the end of tonight’s Orphenians concert, Alice Lipson — director of the elite choral group — dedicated a song to the retiring instructor.  She thanked him for his unwavering support of the arts throughout his 42-year career.

The song:  The Beatles’ poignant “In My Life.”

Gerry:  We know we’ll never lose affection.   In our life, there is no one compares with you.

Alice Lipson and Gerry Kuroghlian -- 2 special people.

Alice Lipson and Gerry Kuroghlian -- 2 special people.