Band, orchestra to conclude semester with joint concert

Sofie Zalatimo and Emily Yun

All Palo Alto High School Instrumentals: Pep Band, Freshman Concert Band, Symphonic Band, String Orchestra, and Jazz Band will virtually perform a winter-themed concert at 6 p.m. Thursday through Youtube livestream. The concert will conclude the first semester of the 2020-2021 school year, in which Paly musicians have had to make significant adjustments to fit the virtual environment. “Students have taken on a greater role in their identification of mistakes and technical limitations,” Band Director Gregory Miller stated in an email to The Paly Voice. “They individually overcome those challenges through practice and some of the online tools we’ve made available to students.” Graphic: Palo Alto High School Visual and Performing Arts

To conclude an unusual virtual semester full of significant challenges and adjustments on a positive note, Palo Alto High School Band and Orchestra will host an end-of-semester concert at 6 p.m. Thursday through Youtube livestream.

Band Director Gregory Miller said the concert will feature all Paly instrumental groups: Pep Band, Freshman Concert Band, Symphonic Band, String Orchestra and Jazz Band.

According to senior violinist Derek Chen, the band and orchestra play one song together every year, with this year’s song being “Sleigh Ride.” Senior percussionist David Snyder said that he is looking forward to playing this catchy, upbeat song with a recognizable melody.

“We’re performing ‘Sleigh Ride,’ which is always a highlight because everyone is in a good mood since it’s around the holiday season,” Snyder stated in a message to The Paly Voice.

As a member of Paly Orchestra, Chen expressed excitement to play alongside the band since the two groups typically perform separately.

“It is always interesting hearing different instruments than what we normally hear every day in class,” Chen stated.

Senior saxophone player Akash Ganguly said he is also excited for “Sleigh Ride,” specifically for the part of the song where trumpet players create sounds that imitate reindeer. 

According to Chen, the students pre-recorded their individual parts, which will be combined to create one cohesive concert. Due to the virtual nature of the concert, many band and orchestra students reported little stress about the upcoming performance. 

“With virtual concerts, we are almost guaranteed that the music will sound good,” Chen stated. “Normally, concerts are a thing where you only have one shot to nail the music, but with us recording our parts ahead of time, we get multiple attempts.”

According to band and orchestra students, pre-recording pieces was one of the major changes introduced this semester.

“Recording pieces individually is both incredibly frustrating and rewarding at the same time,” Chen stated. “Unlike a concert where it is one and done if you mess up near the end, in a recording, you feel personally pressured to do it all over again, which can end up being a time sink. On the other hand, when you finally get everything to work, it is incredibly rewarding.”

Chen said that the greatest challenge in orchestra this semester was being unable to hear other musicians.  

“There is nothing you can really do about it, and our teachers have tried their best to emulate an actual orchestra experience, but it’s just not possible to have 40 or so students play at the same time and have it come through with any sort of clarity on Zoom,” Chen stated. 

Ganguly said that the virtual environment also proved to be a significant challenge in band.

“I think losing the human connection, especially in jazz band (a smaller group), has made it hard for me to improve as a player,” Ganguly stated. “I’ve had to rely on my own ears largely.”

Miller said he has also encountered many challenges this semester as a teacher. 

“The most challenging part of this semester is not being able to regularly hear our students,” Miller stated. “A traditional model allows for teachers to listen to students in class, offer feedback, and have the students try again. This is repeated, and we improve collectively as a group. Online, only one person can play at a time, so finding ways to hear individual students and offer this feedback has been challenging.”

For next semester, which will continue to be virtual, Miller said that he has plans to improve the overall virtual band experience.

“I’m excited to try a new tool, which we hope will allow students to perform together and receive faster feedback during class,” Miller stated.

The concert will be livestreamed on the Paly Instrumental Youtube channel here.