Annual Winter Instrumental Concert Sweetens Holiday Cheer


Arnav Chandan

Symphonic Orchestra unites with Portola Singers on stage to perform George Frideric Handel’s “Sinfonia” and “For Unto Us A Child Is Born.” “[Choir] had invited us to play at their concert last week, and so this is sort of a reciprocal thing where they’re going to come and sing with us at our concert,” instrumental music teacher Desmond Stevens said.

The theater lights dim as the soft, soothing tunes of the ensembles replace the stillness of the audience,  engulfing the theater in mystery and wonder. What could possibly be sweeter than starting the winter holidays by sitting back and enjoying the magical, harmonious sounds of Portola High’s orchestra and bands? 

Continuing their annual winter tradition, students from six orchestras and bands performed at the “What Sweeter Music” instrumental concert on Dec. 16 and 17 in the theater. The concert was split into two days: String Orchestra, Concert Orchestra and Symphonic Orchestra performed on Dec. 16, and Wind Ensemble, Concert Band and Symphonic Band performed on Dec. 17. 

“The theme of the concert isn’t really a specific theme and more of an overall depiction of the holiday and winter season,” instrumental music teacher Desmond Stevens said. “We took that from one of the pieces that one of the groups is playing, which I felt just represented and embodied the whole spirit of the season.”

The concert followed a pay-what-you-can model in which attendees were encouraged but not required to pay for entry. Half of the donations received will be put toward Portola High’s music program, and the other half will be donated to support the Alzheimer’s OC charity to promote the idea of using music as a service to the community, according to Stevens. 

“My family has recently experienced an Alzheimer’s diagnosis with my mother, and so Alzheimer’s OC has become a group that our family appreciates and relies on to help with caregiving for people with memory issues,” Stevens said. “So it’s been a real integral part of what we have done to make our lives more normal, and realizing how much they contribute to the community was a really important part of wanting to support them here at Portola.”

On the first day, String Orchestra and Concert Orchestra performed an array of music ranging from Gustav Holst’s articulate “Rhapsody on a Theme” to a vivacious medley of music from the film “The Polar Express.” Symphonic Orchestra performed the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s exhilarating and intense “A Mad Russian’s Christmas” using electric violins played by two soloists, senior Kevin Lu and junior Jayden Yeung. 

“I had never done anything with an electric violin before this concert, and it was new for basically everyone in the orchestra, and the students thought it’d be an interesting and unique thing to showcase at this concert,” Lu said. 

On the second day, the bands performed, playing melodies such as Nurit Hirsh’s soothing “Bashana Haba’ah” and John Rutter’s uplifting “What Sweeter Music,” the titular track of the concert. 

To conclude the concert, seniors Garrett Lee, Chloe Moon and Christopher Stocks produced a humorous and whimsical homemade video parody of “Home Alone,” showcasing freshman Asher Wettstein’s attempt to prevent Stevens from breaking into the theater while the orchestra played “Home Alone” theme music live. 

The concert marked the return of the orchestra and band programs to in-person winter concerts, wishing all attendees to have a relaxing winter break, a merry Christmas and a happy new year. 

“I think we were all ready to go out there, entertain everyone and have a great time performing,” clarinetist and junior Kyle Jong said. “It felt really amazing just to be in front of everyone, and I think we were definitely able to put on the best show that we could for all the people who showed up to the concert.”