Photos by Valerie Chu

Paly instrumental groups perform in Pops Concert

Paly’s music department held its annual Pops Concert on Friday, Mar. 18, featuring the school’s orchestra, bands and jazz bands, for the first time in three years.

The performance, held in the Peery Center for students, parents and staff, included popular and mainstream music, differentiating it from the ensembles’ typical classical performances.

Senior band member and euphonist Mihir Gupta said before the concert that the ensembles focused on selecting music students are likely to recognize.

“For the concert, we’re playing music from musicals and movies that are, as you can tell from the name, pretty well-known,” Gupta said. “We also have a lot of small groups playing various pop songs.”

The songs played included film medleys such as “West Side Story” and “Bond… James Bond” and familiar songs such as “Mamma Mia” and “Fireflies.” Band and orchestra director Jeffrey Willner said the concert’s music was selected in order to make the concert more fun and engaging for the audience.

“We play things that are in a lighter classical vein, or something like a medley of Motown hits,” Willner said. “We try to do as much current music as we can, but also just things that people like to hear, or that your parents will recognize.”

In addition to its music, the concert boasted a more entertaining environment than the average Paly concert, Willner said.

“The goal is always to have a nice event for the community, and not just a concert, but something with a little bit of a party atmosphere,” Willner said. “It’s a concert that’s really festive with fun music that moves pretty quickly.”

The performance was held in a fully decorated Peery Center for a crowd of nearly 400 people, a much larger audience than other music events this year.

“The main thing we wanted was that when we look up to the stands, we don’t see a bunch of emptiness,” Willner said. “I don’t want to sell a bunch of tickets just to make money, I want it to be a fun event where there are lots of people there, and they feel good.”

Because the concert has been held virtually for the past two years, junior band member and trumpeter Nico Shieh said before the concert he was looking forward to the in-person event,

“This is the first time I’m doing this concert in person,” Shieh said. “I’m pretty excited, since I’ve heard about it but never actually done it.”

Gupta said he was happy to be playing in front of a larger in-person audience, especially because of the accessible selection of songs.

“It’s definitely different since everyone’s going to be there, in contrast to previous concerts where we had a limited audience,” Gupta said. “I’m looking forward to playing songs my friends will recognize.”

In past years, the concert has been held accompanying the school’s Swing Dance, which typically features a swing dance lesson and a live performance from the school’s jazz band.

“I remember being at the dance in my freshman year,” Gupta said. “They taught everyone how to dance with the music, and it was a pretty fun event.”

Due to health concerns related to COVID-19, however, Paly’s Music Department decided not to hold the dance for the third year in a row.

“When we began the preparation for it a few months ago, there was no way that we could have felt comfortable having it be a swing dance,” Willner said. “Because of masks, and touching and people being in really close quarters, it just wasn’t going to make sense.”

Shieh, who is part of Paly’s jazz band, said he hopes to play in the Swing Dance in the future despite being unable to do so this year.

“It’s something I’d definitely like to do,” Shieh said. “My freshman year, school got canceled right before this concert, and we had everything prepared for it.”

Despite the cancellation, Willner said he sees a silver lining in that band and orchestra members outside the jazz band played a larger role throughout the event.

“Everybody in the band is engaged when we do the dancing because we force them to,” Willner said, “but for the rest of the night, a lot of people are just sitting around eating pizza. For this one, everybody’s… on at different points until the end.”

In lieu of the dance, the groups performed more songs than in other concerts, including short songs performed by small groups of musicians and collaborations between different music groups.

Willner said the exclusion of the dance created an opportunity to have these extra performances. 

“We’ve never done it like this before, with the little groups and everything, because usually we have the swing dance and the concert is usually just an hour,” Willner said.

One feature of the concert was a song, “Flourishes,” played jointly between all of Paly’s instrumental groups. According to Willner, this was a unique experience for the music groups.

 “I try to have the percussion and winds play with the orchestra at least once a year. But as far as having everybody play something together, like we’re doing, that’s not normal.” Willner said. “Every individual who plays in this concert is going to be playing together.”

Willner said the variety of songs and the ability for students to choose some of the music performed has been a positive experience for students. 

“I see (the band) working on tunes and everybody’s having a good time,” Willner said. “People get to pick these songs, and the students can be more engaged in creating what’s going to happen at this concert.”

Shieh said that because of the large number of songs that the groups are playing, preparing for the concert was particularly challenging.

“Out of the 24 songs we’re playing, I’m in eight or nine of them,” Shieh said. “It can be hard not to get tired when playing that much on the trumpet, but I’m excited for it.”

Shieh said this concert is one-of-a-kind because it is one of the few times Paly’s instrumental groups all perform at the same event.

“It’s nice that we have the band, orchestra and everyone else playing together,” Shieh said. “People should take the whole thing in, because this only happens once a year.”

Updated 3/23