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.)
Staples High School’s 81st annual Candlelight Concert — but first of the 2020s decade — awed audiences this weekend, with stunning performances by nearly 200 young musicians and singers.
(Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
With slight tweaks — an almost indiscernible new arrangement of “Sing We Noel,” snappy staging, even a new font in the program — the beloved event held on to all its important rituals, while offering fresh takes that showcased astonishing individual talents, and tremendous collaboration among teachers and groups.
A festive scene greeted concert-goers in the auditorium lobby. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Along with offerings from the Symphonic Band, Symphonic Orchestra nd Choirs, highlights included (but were hardly limited to) the Jazz Combo’s “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”; the String Quartet’s “Andante Festivo”; the Percussion Ensemble’s “Nutcracker to Go,” and the show-stopping “Fantasie for Piano, Choir & Orchestra Op. 80” by Beethoven, with vocal soloists and a mesmerizing performance by senior pianist Sasha Maskoff.
Another tradition: Alice Addicks greeting the audience. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
Each music instructor took turns leading combined group. Take a well-deserved bow, Luke Rosenberg, Carrie Mascaro, Phil Giampietro and Jeri Hockensmith — and your scores of talented, passionate performing artists.
(Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
“Sing We Noel” processional (Photo/Dan Woog)
Orchestra director Jeri Hockensmith leads “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers.” (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
All eyes are on the conductor. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
Phil Giampietro acknowledges applause for the band and orchestra. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Masks did not detract at all from the choral selections. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Choral director Luke Rosenberg helped mastermind the 2021 Candlelight Concert. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
Jeffrey Pogue and Shanti Wimmer solo on the Jazz Ensemble’s “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
Sasnta and friend, in Don Rickenback’s peppy production number (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
Carrie Mascaro conducts the rousing “Hallelujah Chorus.” (Photo/Dan Woog)
Adding a bit of color to the Symphonic Band. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Staples music instructors (from left) Jeri Hockesmith,Don Rickenback, Mary Gardner, Luke Rosenberg, Phil Giampietro and Caitlin Serpliss acknowledge applause of their musicians after the “Hallelujah Chorus.” (Photo/Dan Woog)
Dozens of alumni joined nearly 200 musicians onstage for the “Hallelujah Chorus” finale. (Photo/Danielle Dobin)
Missed the concert? Mark this coming Thursday (December 23, 8 p.m.); click on www.StaplesMusic.org, for a streamed, previously recorded show.
As Westporters scramble to get COVID vaccine booster shots — because we’ve all had the first 2 shots already, right??!1 — the town Department of Human Services says that appointments can be made through the Vaccine Administration Management System (VAMS).
You can also check out Achorn Pharmacy (click here).
Walgreens’ website says that appointments are booked for the foreseeable future. However, I’ve heard reports of people walking in and getting jabbed.
I got my booster at the New Canaan Pharmacy. It’s a walk-in site, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. I got there at 10:15, and had a 40-minute wait.
To share your experience with other vaccine spots, click “Comments” below.
Following the shootings at Oxford High School, the Staples music staff contacted their colleagues there, offering to help.
The Michigan school replied: “The Oxford High School Performing Arts Staff is overwhelmed with the offers of support for our programs during this time. As of right now, we don’t have any ‘concrete’ needs, but our students need to know that they are supported and loved. The best way that we think we can deliver that message is through music.”
Attached to the email was music for the school fight song and alma mater.
Staples’ Symphonic Band, Symphonic Orchestra, and combined Choirs were in the midst of rehearsing for this weekend’s Candlelight Concerts. Still, teachers found time to put together a performance, and a message of support to share with Oxford and other school communities around the country.
Click here, for the gift of 180 Staples musicians — and their teachers — to their fellow students and staff at Oxford High. (Hat tip: Former media teacher Jim Honeycutt, who produced the video.)
The other day, “06880” passed along the Hackett family’s request for new and gently used sports equipment. This is the second year the Westporters have collected it, then passed it along to underserved kids through the Leveling the Field non-profit.
On Thursday night, Leveling the Field picked up a huge truckload of gear. They collected more than last year — and they thank everyone who helped make this a happy holiday for so many sports-loving youngsters.
From left: Max Levitt, Leveling the Playing Field founder; Alex, Daisy and Chloe Hackett.
Some things old. Some things new. Nothing borrowed. But very (Staples) blue.
That’s the formula for next month’s 81st annual Candlelight Concert.
The beloved event returns with its traditional 3 in-person performances, after last year’s successful-but-still-not-the-same online documentary video.
To celebrate, the Staples High School music staff plans something special.
They’re a collegial, collaborative bunch. So that’s the theme of this year’s concert.
The familiar elements are all there: the “Sing We Noel” processional, “Hallelujah Chorus” finale, and production number in between.
Santa, elves, the choir, chorus, chorale and orchestra join in the “Hallelujah Chorus” finale. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)
But — to share the “community” feeling that the music department enjoys — they’ll offer 4 big combined pieces. The band and orchestra will share the stage with choral singers throughout the performance.
Each conductor — Luke Rosenberg (choral), Carrie Mascaro and Jeri Hockensmith (orchestra) and Phil Giampietro (band) — leads one number.
The stage has been extended, to fit all performers.
Pieces include Leroy Anderson’s “A Christmas Festival” and Beethoven’s “Choral Fantasy.” The latter — a large-scale piano concerto with chorus — features senior pianist Sasha Maskoff.
Don Rickenback returns as writer and director of the production number.
Students are as excited as their teachers for the collaboration. They enjoy rehearsing together, and the exposure to other conductors. They’re proud too to be part of a very large effort.
The Candlelight Concert is set for Friday, December 17 (8 p.m.) and Saturday, December 18 (3 and 8 p.m.). Tickets will be available to the public at 9 a.m. on December 1. COVID safety protocols in effect at the time will be followed.
It will also be livestreamed one time only (due to video rights), on December 23.
Now let hosannas ring …
The Candlelight Concert returns for its 81st year next month.
Flags at Town Hall fly at half staff, in memory of the 8 people killed in Atlanta earlier this week.
The town’s Facebook page says: “The Town of Westport condemns the horrific attacks on our Asian neighbors, families and friends. An act of violence and racism against anyone is an affront to those among us who promote love, unity, and acceptance for all.
“Westport stands in solidarity with the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.”
“When I saw a post on Facebook, I figured I’d buy the book to be supportive. Little did I know it would be a heartfelt page-turner, and that my longtime next door neighbor, a grandmother of 6 teens, is also an excellent wordsmith with an emotional multigenerational story to tell.
“An avid reader, I was impressed. I believe other Westporters will also enjoy this captivating tale by a woman who has lived and raised her family here for the past 26-plus years.
“The story spans 3 generations of strong women, from the wartime 1940s to today. It deftly shifts perspectives and countries, between Joan, a modern woman coming of age in the tristate area and her star-crossed ’60s romance; her mother, an innocent teen in Athens during the Axis occupation who toughens up, joins the Resistance and falls in love with the enemy; and grandmother, the young daughter of a rabbi who is forced to leave her doting Jewish family in Turkey and flee to a convent in Greece under an assumed Christian identity to escape the pogroms.
“Isaacson has a steel-trap memory, a knack for period details, and a penchant for describing the music and food that pulls you directly into each era and country, from Weehawken, New Jersey to Odessa, Russia to Athens, Greece to Westport.
“It’s a story of struggle, survival, sisterhood, and of enduring family love that spans 3 generations. Pour yourself a cup of Ibrik (strong Greek coffee) and put your feet up for a good read by a local author.”
Joan Isaacson with her husband Sheldon, at Compo Beach.
There’s no “Sing We Noel” processional this weekend. Alumni won’t throng the risers for the “Hallelujah Chorus.” All the little things — the beautiful music, zippy production number, even the large wreath hanging as a backdrop — are missing from this year’s Candlelight Concert.
But parents, friends and alumni — even the singers and musicians themselves — will feel the familiar goosebumps this Saturday (December 19, 7:30 p.m.), when a special livestream brings Candlelight to homes around the globe.
And if your home is in Westport, why not do something to help the town?
(Photo by Lynn U. Miller)
The Staples High School music department — which for 80 yeas has offered this gift to the town — has a great idea to make this home-for-the-holiday event extra special.
They suggest that everyone in Westport enjoy a takeout dinner this Saturday. Pick a favorite spot. Order a favorite meal. Pick it up (or have it delivered). Then gather around the TV screen (or computer), and make a festive night of it.
The music department makes this super easy. They’ve linked to Our Town Crier’s Westport Marketplace restaurant page. Just click here. There are dozens of places to choose from, featuring every cuisine (and price point).
It’s no secret: Restaurants need our help.
It’s also no secret: The Candlelight Concert is all about sharing.
This Saturday, share a meal along with music. And help our restaurants end 2020 on a high “note.”
(Click here for free registration for Saturday’s Candlelight Concert.)
COVID has canceled many holiday traditions: tree lightings. Carol sings. Office parties.
It can’t stop the Candlelight Concert. Can it?
The beloved event — Staples High School’s music department gift to the town — takes place Saturday, December 19.
Of course, there’s a coronavirus caveat.
The bad news: For the first time in its fabled 80-year history, there will be no in-person audience. The musical numbers were recorded this weekend — with strict adherence to safety protocols. The concert will be livestreamed a week from next Sunday, at 7:30 p.m.
The good news: It will be a fantastic production.
In addition to the usual, wonderful professional-quality choirs, orchestra and bands, there are compelling interviews with current and past music directors, famed alumni participants, and the children of legendary educators George Weigle and John Hanulik.
The even better news: Because it’s a virtual concert, there’s no limit to the audience. There’s no scrambling for tickets. Anyone, anywhere on the globe (with an internet connection) can thrill to this year’s Candlelight “live.”
Even the musicians will be able to enjoy the show, at home with their families.
Registration for the remote access link is available next Monday (December 14, 9 a.m.) at www.StaplesMusic.org. Mark that date — and the December 19, 7:30 p.m. showtime.
There won’t be hundreds of musicians together on stage this year. But the Candlelight Concert will be as inspiring and beautiful as ever.
Years ago, the Westport Youth Concert began as an opportunity to enrich students’ cultural awareness, through music.
As the school district’s emphasis on global understanding has grown, so has the Youth Concert. It’s evolved into a cross-cultural, collaborative event involving not only music, but Westport Public Schools’ visual arts and world language departments.
Outside organizations like the Westport Library, Westport Public Art Collections and PTA Cultural Arts have signed on as community partners.
A scene from last year’s Youth Concert.
This year’s event exemplifies the music department’s mission. “Music of China” features Staples High School musicians, the award-winning Middle School Percussion Ensemble, and guest artists from the New York Chinese Cultural Center. They’ll perform a lion dance and musical piece using a pipa, guzheng and erhu — with mini-lessons about each instrument.
The feature performance is Tuesday, February 4 (7 p.m., Staples auditorium). On that day, and February 6, in-school educational concerts for 3rd through 6th graders will complement the public concert.
It’s a huge undertaking. Youth Concert planning begins at the start of the school year. Coordinator Candi Innaco creates a classroom guide. It introduces the theme, and includes links to resources and classroom instruction.
Leading up to the event, teachers at Greens Farms, Long Lots and Saugatuck Elementary School had students design China-related art: hanging lanterns, wish kites, brush paintings, Ming Dynasty vases and the like.
Westport student art: Ming Dynasty vases.
All elementary music instructors are teaching the tune and lyrics to “Jasmine Flower.” At the concert, students will sing it from the audience — led by Staples’ Orphenians.
Staples’ world language department is involved too. Mandarin students will emcee the concert, and photos taken by teacher Chris Fray on his recent visit to China will be shown.
WestPAC, meanwhile, is displaying art and photography from China at their traveling pop-up galleries, at every school.
In March, the Westport Library will bring the same guest artists from the New York China Cultural Center, to perform again.
China lion dance, performed by members of the New York Chinese Cultural Center.
The public is invited to the free February 4 evening performance. For more information about this event and the Westport music program, click here.
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome — and appreciated! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to “06880” c/o Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Or use Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Or Zelle: email@example.com. Thanks!)