In his closing remarks to Dalriada School’s annual Evening of Music, held on Wednesday, 18th March 2015, Headmaster, Mr Tom Skelton said that he felt it to be the best that he had experienced and I tend to think that the capacity audience was in complete agreement.
We were treated to an extremely high level of skill and proficiency from the young performers in a programme woven together by Head of Music, Mrs Heather Montgomery, who provided us the variety of genre, style and mood which ensured a hugely enjoyable and entertaining evening for the audience.
We knew we would find the evening an uplifting one as we heard the orchestra’s boisterous performance of Vaughan Williams’ ‘Seventeen Come Sunday’ from the English Folksong Suite, the percussion section confidently reminding us that these folksongs were rooted in the military band tradition, while the juxtaposed wind and string sections created melodies which transported us to idyllic English countryside.
The upbeat tempo continued with Sarah Fielding’s colourful performance of Elissa Milne’s jazz piano solo, ‘Wild Mushrooms’, in which she captured exactly the humour of the quirky, syncopated melody and particularly impressive was Sarah’s effortless execution of all of those runs!
Josh Henry’s performance of Claude Debussy’s flute solo, ‘Syrinx’ didn’t give us much time to catch our collective breath. It may have taken less than three minutes to play, but what a technically intricate piece; in that time, Josh hypnotised us completely with the plaintive sounds of Greek mythology, while remaining true to the impressionist sound of Debussy. One treat just led to the next as John Hope beckoned us into the world of Massenet’s Thais, as she meditated on the direction of her life and her spiritual awakening.
Listening to John’s handling of the tempo variations, the soaring melodies and especially the appassionato of the climax, we entirely believed in the inner struggle and passion of Thais in this expert handling of the music’s dramatic tension.
The orchestra decided that it had enjoyed the earlier nod to the Jazz tradition and so thought it time for Gershwin, and we were treated to a breathless performance of ‘Fascinating Rhythm’. It seemed, by the smiling faces of the members of the orchestra, that they were enjoying themselves as much as the audience and the tuned percussion by Naomi Given certainly made it all tremendous fun. I think George would have been proud that the orchestra had fulfilled his intention ‘to get the most effect out of the fewest notes.’
No musical programme is complete without Mozart and this year the String Group brought us the 1st Movement from Divertimento in D followed by another Vaughan Williams, Fantasia on Greensleeves.
The group’s performance of Mozart did full justice to the composer’s inventiveness with a lively opening Allegro, a charming central Andante and a brilliant Presto to conclude. The time-honoured classic Greensleeves formed the basis for the Fantasia and proved a definite favourite with the audience; it felt as if the haunting, mellow sounds so evocative of a bygone age were wrapping us in an old, familiar and incredibly comfortable childhood blanket, made all the softer by the flutes of Hannah Christie and Aoife Cameron-Mitchell which added to the ethereal quality of the sound.
In our dreamlike state, we could almost have missed one of the highlights of the evening: Thomas Hancock’s solo piano performance of Gershwin’s Piano Prelude No. 3. Thomas’s mastery of the piano was more than evident as he choreographed the question and answer session between the chords of E flat minor and E flat major; the heavily syncopated middle section; the craggy rhythms; the battle between the chords of the major and minor and the brilliant syncopated concluding flourish.
The only problem for the audience was that it ended much too soon. The mood of sophistication was maintained in the next performance, this time in a Herman duet for piano and clarinet, performed by Robert Simpson on piano and Jonathan Waide on clarinet. These performers complemented each other perfectly in a suave, yet lively performance, reminiscent of the leisure and easy fun of 1930’s American city life.
As the mid-point of the evening neared, the orchestra reformed to take us on an excursion into the world of film with Custer’s medley of Barry’s much loved James Bond themes, For Your Eyes Only, Live and Let Die and, of course, Goldfinger. The Wind Band, trained and conducted by Mr Philip McGavock, then moved us beautifully to the world of popular music with a joyful rendition of Pharrell Williams’ Happy and a medley from the hit musical, Wicked, with the talented Jack Nevin on percussion and the ever-versatile Thomas Hancock providing rhythm with his own fair hands! Let’s say, we all left for the interval, ‘happy’!
The spiritual serenity of Faure’s Requiem was captured completely by all the choirs as the second half of the concert commenced. This tender work of consolation was performed sensitively, with different sections competently carrying the melody at various times. The well-known Pie Jesu was exquisitely sung by Hannah Frizzell, one of Dalriada’s finest soprano voices, while the bass solo for
the Libera Me was sensitively performed by Christopher McLean. The whole performance was ethereal: a delight to listen to.
The next three contributions to the evening were sheer entertainment. We were thrilled by the Senior Choir’s foot-tapping and energetic rendition of You Can’t Stop the Beat from the musical, Hairspray, which left the John Armstrong Hall ‘spinning round and round’, with its brave falsettos by David Tang and Daniel White, and the equally brave actions of the choir! Special mention, too, must be made of Thomas Hancock’s brilliant piano accompaniment which just delighted the audience!
The Junior Choir’s clear, sweet two-part singing of Doh-re-mi was appreciated for the simple beauty created by our youngest voices, while Lydia Pollock and Christopher Nevin’s vocal duet, Anything You Can Do, was loved by audience and pupils alike, as another highlight of the evening. Who could fail to adore these two beautiful voices pitted against each other in a love-hate relationship, all supported by some very humorous acting? I’m not sure which was more impressive – the length of time for which Lydia could sustain that note or the pirouetting capabilities of Chris?
Erb’s arrangement of the folk song, Shenandoah sobered us again as the Chamber Choir’s wistful performance of the four verses allowed a sense of nostalgia to flow through the hall with its haunting echoes and beautifully blended voices, particularly in the full four-part harmony of the third verse. The melancholy was expressed most evocatively in the extended finale as all the voices
resolved in unison. Just as we’ve come to expect the highest quality from the Chamber Choir, we’ve also come to expect exuberance from the Traditional Group and, as membership of this group continues to expand, so, it seems, does that exuberance.
The jigs took off at a rollicking tempo to slow into the wistful La Danse des Foins. Rachel McClelland’s pure voice was perfect for her ethereal, soft performance of Lift the Wings and the set finished with a rousing, passionate, pulsing performance of Riverdance. Judith Campbell and John McLean then treated us to a wonderful bagpipe and drum duet and this was followed by a astonishing solo snare drum set by John McLean, twice World Champion, the incredible speed of which left the audience simply speechless.
The Intermediate Choir, under the direction of Mrs Diana Culbertson, treated us to a gem of a performance in Build Me Up, Buttercup, the choir’s energy and sheer enjoyment again spilling over into the audience and then it was almost time to finish, but two final items remained - and both worth waiting for. The Chamber Choir’s gorgeous rendition of Whitacre’s Seal Lullaby recreated for us an experience of waves gently lapping and sea gently undulating, through the rounded crescendo-diminuendo of the choir’s beautifully blended voices. With the sudden change of pace in Rutter’s Sing a Song of Sixpence, it was easy to see the proficiency of this talented group of vocalists, with their clarity and agility of diction, precision of pitch and sensitive dynamics.
And so, another Dalriada Evening of Music had almost ended, except that it hadn’t yet quite finished; the Senior Choir had a final offering for us in the form of Sager and Foster’s The Prayer. For many of the members of the choir, it was their farewell to music in Dalriada School and parents, staff and friends joined them in praying for their safety, as they leave the security of the familiar to begin adult life.
Like Mr Skelton, I can’t remember a better Evening of Music; audience, parents and performers are incredibly grateful for the commitment of Mrs Heather Montgomery and her team to providing high quality music and a wealth of opportunities for students to develop their musical ability, allowing them to reach the impressive proficiency witnessed throughout the concert. Most importantly, she has created yet another evening of memories which will live with those young performers long after they leave Dalriada’s Music Department: that ‘beat’ will definitely not stop!