Tag Archives: Staples Candlelight Concert

Candlelight And Beethoven: Merry Christmas!

2021 was a difficult year. But as dark as things seem, we always have music.

Here in Westport, we’re particularly lucky. We have the Staples High School music department. Each year, they give us a gift: the Candlelight Concert.

This year — the 81st — was particularly welcome.

Despite the challenges — including Omicron and mask mandates — the concert was astonishing. It might be the best ever.

But don’t take my word for it. Watch the combined instrumental and orchestral version of Beethoven’s Fantasie for Piano, Choir and Orchestra Op. 80 for yourself.

Starting slowly, then building to a stunning crescendo, it features senior Sasha Maskoff’s remarkable piano solo.

Vocal soloists include Sophia Betit, Shanti Wimmer, Jackiei Peterson, Sydney Gusick, Emily Desser Lauranne De Vos, Samuel Betit, Peter Macris, James Dobin-Smith, Zach Berman, Jeffrey Pogue and Ryan Porio.

Seven days from the end of a terrible year, these 12 minutes will convince you that this is — still — a very beautiful world.

(Kudos to Jim Honeycutt, who taped and produced this video.)

Roundup: Candlelight Concert, Carol Sing, Chess …

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My bad.

I was so excited to announce yesterday that Staples High School’s Candlelight Concert will be streamed, that I gave the wrong date.

It’s not Christmas Day. The correct date for the streaming is Thursday, December 23, (8 p.m.). To access the stream that day of the concert (recorded earlier), just go to www.StaplesMusic.org.

Then sit back and enjoy.

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Speaking of holiday music:

The Unitarian Church of Westport’s Community Carol Sing is set for this Sunday (December 19, 4 to 5 p.m.).

It’s COVID safe: outdoors in the large parking lot (10 Lyons Plains Road).

A French horn will accompany songs (words provided), with everything from classic carols and fun favorites to Hanukkah songs. Hey — it’s the Unitarians!

Everyone is invited.

PS: There’s hot chocolate too.

There’s no need to dress up to join the Unitarian Church carol sing. But you can.

=======================================================There’s no better new activity for young kids than chess. It teaches a variety of skills, in a social environment.

And what better way for youngsters to learn than from others just a few years older?

Westport Continuing Education introduces a new after-school program for 1st through 5th grades. “Chess Buddies” pairs students from the Staples Chess Club with aspiring grandmasters (or anyone else who wants to learn).

The program begins next month, in all 5 elementary schools.

Stapleites will be paired with adult teachers, who assist. The cost is $169, for 8 sessions. Click here to register. For more information, email conted@westportps.org, or call 203-341-1209.

Staples Chess Club members Oscar Scher, Oliver Saitz and Jordan Chiu-Skow.

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Here’s just one of 6 turkey vultures that stopped this week at Elmwood Road.

Photographer Franco Fellah — who snapped this amazing “Westport .. Naturally” shot — says, “They are magnificent, a bit spooky, but certainly majestic.” He estimates their wingspan at about 7 feet.

(Photo/Franco Fellah)

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And finally … this week marks the 100th anniversary of the Bloody Mary.

Who knew?

Well, USA Today did. They say the never-out-of-style drink was invented at Harry’s Bar in Paris a century ago.

Fix yourself a cocktail, and read the full story here.

FUN WESTPORT FACTWestport’s own Kelli O’Hara starred in the 2008 Broadway revival of “South Pacific.” (She was Nellie Forbush, however — not Bloody Mary.)

Roundup: Candlelight, Strategic PR, Justin Paul …

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Tickets went fast for this weekend’s Candlelight Concert.

But Westporters — and everyone else, around the world — can watch it online. A tape of the 81st annual event will be streamed on Thursday, December 23 (8 p.m.).

Like the concert itself, it’s free — a gift, from the Staples High School music department. The link will be available at StaplesMusic.org.

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Steve Ginsburg spent 10 great years with the ADL: 4 in Chicago, the last 6 as director of its Connecticut chapter.

His most rewarding times were helping people in crisis — CEOs, school principals, teenagers being bullied or accused of bullying — work through their issues.

Now, the Westport resident is doing that full-time.

Ginsburg is a co-founder of August. It’s a national strategic communications firm, helping people and companies in difficult circumstances tell their story with clarity and integrity.

His area of expertise is “diversity and bias.” For example, he cites a university campus roiled by accusations of racism. He can guide the many stakeholers — students, professors, administrators, trustees — as they speak to the media.

“At ADL, I loved working with media,” Ginsburg says. “I saw the importance of them doing their job well — and what can happen when they don’t.

“Our society is very polarized. When news breaks, there’s often a rush to judgment. But things are not always what they first seem. Society benefits from accurate, fair reporting.”

Steve Ginsburg

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Justin Paul has been very generous with his time. The Tony, Oscar and Grammy Award-winning co-songwriter of “Dear Evan Hansen,” “La La Land” and “The Greatest Showman” — and 2003 Staples High School graduate — has returned often to his alma mater (and Coleytown Middle School) to share insights and tricks of the trade with the next generation of talented Westporters.

For the rest of us — who aren’t still in school — there’s a new online course.

Paul and his writing partner, Benj Pasek, offer a month-long online class: “Songwriting for Musical Theater.” It’s immersive — 7 to 10 hours a week, for 4 weeks — that provides students with the foundation to write their own musical (including 2 original songs).

Click here for details. Who knows? Maybe after writing your musical, “You Will Be Found.”

At the end of an appearance in 2018 at Staples High, Justin Paul played piano as students sang the “Dear Evan Hansen” classic, “Waving Through a Window.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

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Everyone is in the gift-giving mood. Even the Westport Transit District.

As a holiday gift to residents, they offer free rides to users of the Wheels2U shuttle service. The service starts Monday (December 20), and is good through December 31.

Wheels2U Westport is the WTD’s on-demand, group ride, door-to -train platform shuttle service.

The free rides to and from the Westport and Greens Farms stations are not just for commuters. If you’re seeing a show, museum, the Rockefeller Center tree or friends: hop aboard the shuttle, and the train.

If you’re in the service area, use the Wheels2U Westport app to request a pickup between 5:45 and 9:45 a.m., and 4 and 8 p.m., 20 minutes before you’d normally leave.

For more information, click here.

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Back in the (Clam Box) days, there was an exit from that parking lot in the back, onto Long Lots Road.

Years ago, it was sealed off. The only exit and entrance was via Post Road East.

There may be another exit in the future. In a different spot: the upper parking deck.

Planning & Zoning Commission and Zoning Board of Appeals permission has been granted to expand the upper deck by 18 spaces; reconstruct and extend the existing retaining wall; install a planter and landscaping — and add gated, emergency access to Long Lots. It would only be used by fire, police or EMS vehicles, as a secondary exit route.

The request for a zoning permit awaits P&Z Department approval.

A view of the 877 Post Road East upper parking deck, from Long Lots Road.

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Jolantha — Weston’s favorite pig — is all decked out for the holidays

(Photo/Hans Wilhelm)

She’s got more news, too: Her brand new website just launched. Click here to see her many glamorous outfits, through the years.

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Chris Wood spotted today’s “Westport … Naturally” bird — an Eastern towhee — at Sherwood Island State Park. It “sang like it was spring,” Chris says.

(Photo/Chris Wood)

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And finally … Steve Bronski, a co-founder member of the British synth-pop trio Bronski Beat, died Thursday, at 61. Click here for a full obituary. (Hat tip: Amy Schneider)

Candlelight Tickets On Sale Soon

The weather may be cold.

But it’s the hottest ticket in town.

The 79th annual Staples High School Candlelight Concert will pack the auditorium for 3 performances next month: Friday, December 13 (8 p.m.), and Saturday, December 14 (3 p.m. and 8 p.m.).

This annual gift to the Westport community showcases the diverse talents of Staples musicians (and their teachers). There’s music from around the world, and of course the opening “Sing We Noel” processional, inspiring “Hallelujah Chorus” and creative production number.

Performers include choral and chamber groups, orchestras and bands. This year marks the Candlelight debut of band director Phil Giampietro.

Because it’s a gift from the Staples music department, tickets are free. But they go very fast. They’re available to the public starting at 9 a.m. on Monday. November 25. Click here then to get yours!

The timeless “Sing We Noel” processional. (Photo/Kerry Long)

Candlelight Kiosks Add To 75th Anniversary Joy

More than a year ago, “06880” posted a request. The Staples High School music department was preparing for its 75th anniversary Candlelight Concert — 13 months away — and needed old programs and recordings for a display. They figured a few might trickle in.

The trickle became a torrent. Audio recordings — records, tapes and CDs — of every concert since that year (except 3) poured in from across the country. So did most printed programs since ’53. (It’s uncertain whether any programs or recordings were made between the very 1st Candlelight in 1940, and 1952.)

Then the fun began.

As anyone who has ever attended a Staples performance knows, the music department does things in a big way. Concertgoers tonight and tomorrow will see a lot more than a simple display.

Staples parent Jeff Hauser spent weeks processing the files. A Brooklyn company digitized the old vinyl LPs. However, they returned only 1 computer file per side. Someone had to hand-split those sides into individual songs — and consult the programs to find out the name of each one.

Staples senior Devon Murray volunteered many hours creating elegantly written software. It allows everyone to click on a particular year, then listen to whatever they want. He’ll be in the lobby, standing near laptops to help anyone (from the Class of 1953?)  who needs help.

In 1979, the annual concert was already 39 years old. Some of those performers -- now with their own children out of college -- will return this weekend.

In 1979, the annual concert was already 39 years old. Some of those performers — now with their own children out of college — will return this weekend.

Staples parent David Pogue took time off from his PBS Nova/CBS Sunday Morning/Yahoo tech jobs to cut apart songs from some of the 1950s concerts. He also loaned the laptops and headphones for the kiosks.

Pogue had fun watching Candlelight evolve. He says, for example, “what we consider a lovely soloist has changed a lot over the years. In the ’50s they were usually given to girls with light, warbly voices, with very fast, fluttery vibratos.”

Pogue also noticed changes to the printed programs. In the 1960s each program says at the top: “Please do not applaud during the program, since the entire concert is being recorded.”

These days, he notes, the show is recorded ahead of time, “without any pesky audience members to ruin the effect.”

The front of the 1962 Candlelight program.

The front of the 1962 Candlelight program.

The audio and program displays are two more added attractions to this weekend’s very special 75th anniversary concert. But if you don’t have tickets, don’t bother going. They were sold out weeks ago.

On the other hand — as noted before, Staples’ music department does things in a very big way. Tomorrow’s (Saturday, December 19, 8 p.m.) performance is being aired live on WWPT-FM (90.3), and broadcast live on Cablevision Channel 78.

If you don’t live within range of radio or TV — no prob! Just click here for a livestream.

You can enjoy Candlelight anywhere in the world. All you’ll miss is the kiosk.

“Now Let Hosannas Ring…”

Last night’s 73rd annual Candlelight Concert at Staples High School featured many things old: the haunting “Sing We Noel” processional, the orchestra’s superb “Nutcracker Suite,” a rousing “Hallelujah Chorus.”

There were a few things new too, like the choir’s world premiere of Don Rickenbach’s “Santa Claus Visits Mother Goose Land” production number.

Two performances are scheduled for today, at 2 and 8 p.m. — weather permitting. Check the Westport Public Schools’ snow line (203-341-1SNO) for updates, starting around noon.

The "Sing We Noel" processional has been part of every Candlelight Concert since 1940. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The “Sing We Noel” processional has been part of every Candlelight Concert since 1940. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Cellist Max Liben added beauty to the choral voices. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Cellist Max Liben added beauty to the choral voices. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The a cappella choir's selections ranged from "Schindler's List" and "Carol of the Bells" to "Deck the Halls." (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The a cappella choir’s selections ranged from “Schindler’s List” and “Carol of the Bells” to “Deck the Halls.” (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Choral director Luke Rosenberg draws dozens of voices together. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Choral director Luke Rosenberg draws dozens of voices together. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Don Rickenbach composed a new -- and very clever -- production number for the choir. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Don Rickenbach composed a new — and very clever — production number for the choir. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The "Santa Claus Visits Mother Goose Land" production number included reindeer, Rudolph (Thomas Bonner) and, front, tap dancer Jack Bowman. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The “Santa Claus Visits Mother Goose Land” production number included reindeer and (front, bow tie) tap dancer Jack Bowman. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(Click here if your browser does not take you directly to YouTube.)

All Candlelight, All The Time

If you love the Staples Candlelight Concert — and who doesn’t? — what could be better than hearing it again on radio?

How about hearing the last 11 Candelights played non-stop, beginning tomorrow (Friday) afternoon and continuing straight through early next week?

Candlelight 2011 (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

The Candlelight Concert — the high school music department’s annual gift to the town — is a soaring, inspiring and beautiful collection of vocal, orchestral and band music. There are hymns, carols, Hanukkah and African music, and a lovably schlocky production number.

Now, thanks to the miracle of modern technology – and the good, old-fashioned hard work of media instructor Jim Honeycutt — every Candlelight from 2001 through two weeks ago will be streamed live on the internet on WWPT, 90.3 FM. (It will also run in the background as part of the school district’s stream — and will be broadcast as background music on Cablevision Channel 78.)

The Staples Media Lab began recording the concerts — actually, the final rehearsal — in 2001. The idea for the CDs — and help with the initial recordings — came from student Robert Anstett.

The program design was used for the 1st CD covers. Quickly though, the art department got involved. Now students in the Advanced Design and Technology class create the covers.

Honeycutt and his crew work hard to produce CDs in time for each year’s shows. Profits are donated to the media, music and art departments. Some of the money went to purchase a new stereo microphone preamp, making this year’s CD “the best-sounding ever,” Honeycutt says.

9 Candlelight covers. (Collage created by Jim Honeycutt)

Why does he do it?

“Maybe because of my love of music,” Honeycutt muses.

“Maybe cause I think the memory of these wonderful concerts should be preserved. Maybe because I have the most amazing job in the world. I don’t know — but I’m happy to do it.”

The reward, Honeycutt says, comes from the faces of audience members leaving each concert, who are thrilled to have CDs of the impressive performances. One mother owns every one.

Now, musicians, alumni, parents, Candlelight fans — and anyone else with an internet connection — can enjoy 11 years’ worth of wonderful concerts.

It’s the music department — and Jim Honeycutt’s — gift to the world.

(Click here to listen live to WWPT-FM. And — though this has nothing to do with the Staples Media Lab — hard-core Candlelight addicts can listen to the 1972 concert, available through Westporters.com — click here, then click on the lower left corner.)

Candlelight By Day

For nearly 70 years, the local holiday season was heralded by Staples’ Candlelight Concert.

Founded in 1940 by legendary music maestro John Ohanian, it’s survived wars (both military and cultural), changes in education, and the school’s move from Riverside Avenue  to North Avenue.

Alumni -- like these choir members from 1979 -- attend the Candlelight Concert every year.

Sure, a couple of decades ago, the band joined the choir and orchestra onstage.  But the concert may still be the only place in the world the haunting and obscure “Sing We Noel” processional can be heard these days.

Yet now the Candlelight Concert is starting to fade away.

Last year the long-standing performance schedule — Friday night at 7 p.m., Saturday at 7 and 9:30 — was changed.  The 1st Saturday show was moved 5 hours earlier — t0 2 p.m.  The evening performance began at 8 p.m.

The same times are set for this year.

The idea was to provide more opportunities for parents for young children, and senior citizens.

That’s commendable.  But it misses the mark.

Young kids are not the target audience.  And seniors could be served by a dress rehearsal on Friday afternoon — an idea the music teachers favor.

Hallelujah!

The final Saturday show has always been the most festive — high-energy, emotional, a true kickoff to the holiday season.  It’s been something Staples musicians look forward to their entire high school careers — because the seats are filled with alumni.  All are invited on stage for a rousing finale:  the “Hallelujah Chorus.”

Alums — off in college, or no longer in town but back for the holidays — know there will be seats available at that final show.  They don’t get them ahead of time, as concert-goers do for the other ones.

The new schedule — with 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. shows — means that hundreds of musicians spend an entire Saturday, right before the holidays, backstage or onstage.  That’s a lot to ask.

Then there’s the ambience.  “How can you have a Candlelight concert when there’s sunlight streaming in the back door?” one frustrated performer asks.

Some traditions change.  Some are worth saving.

For 7 decades the Candlelight Concert — twice on Saturday night — was one of the best.