Staples High School’s Candlelight Concert is always special. The 3 performances are the hottest ticket in town. For parents, other Westporters and alumni who attend, it marks the true start of the holiday season.
The coronavirus impacted the concert, as it has every other aspect of life. This year’s event — the 80th annual — went virtual. Choirs, orchestras and bands were recorded earlier this month. Performers and conductors were (of course) masked and socially distanced.
But one of the unexpected and joyful consequences of COVID is that this year’s Candlelight was extra-special.
Ryan Smith used several cameras to tape the performances. Brandon Malin led a superb high school lighting crew. The Staples Music Parents Association’s decorations turned the gym into a concert hall.
I was honored to be asked to conduct interviews with former music instructors and alumni. George Weigle and John Hanulik’s now-grown children, alums like Suzanne Sherman Propp, Shirah Lipson and Jon Gailmor — all provided perspectives, augmented by the current talented, passionate directors.
The Staples musicians were — as always — spectacular. Astonishingly, they had had only one in-person rehearsal a week together — and that was with only half the group. The other half was learning remotely.
Add in the fact that they performed apart from each other — no easy feat — and this truly seems like a holiday miracle.
Nearly 3,500 people logged in to last night’s Candlelight Concert. The total audience probably reached 5 figures, as many viewers watched with family and friends.
They were watching in Westport, of course, but all over the world too — California, France, you name it. We know, because the “chat” function was filled with chatter. Strangers became fast friends, posting memories and praising the current crop of young musicians (and their teachers).
It was something old, something new. It was fresh and different — but there was still the processional, “Sing We Noel,” and the “Hallelujah Chorus.”
It was the Candlelight Concert, COVID -style.