Musicians win big at NYC festival

Bears also perform at Devils hockey game

Upper School musicians earned four first places and one second place at the 2016 Big Apple Classic music festival, held March 17–20 in and around New York City. The Strings Ensemble, Jazz Band, Chamber Singers and Bearitones all brought home gold, and the Concert Band earned runner-up honors in the annual spring festival that attracts schools from around the country.

According to Performing Arts Department Chair Earl Jackson, all that hardware capped off what was a great musical and cultural learning experience for the boys: As part of the four-day trip, the 69 students also performed at a New Jersey Devils hockey game at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, and at Midtown New York's Pier 81 (pictured below) near the USS Intrepid battleship.

"The great thing about a trip like this is that our students learn how to play in different venues because you have to adapt to what's around you and how you're going to sound," Jackson said. "In addition to playing for the judges in the festival, we played at a loud, crowded professional sporting event. And the next day we did a performance outside in New York City on the docks, with the skyscrapers in front of us, playing in the cold with nothing but our raw sound."

The festival itself was also a learning opportunity, as the judges offered post-performance clinics for the boys to evaluate their strengths and areas for improvement.

"The judges told us what we need to do to become great, which is why we go to festivals," said Jackson, who every two years takes his musicians to either the Big Apple Classic or OrlandoFest music festival at Universal Orlando Resort. "Festivals are our assessments, just like you'd have in math, science or English. The only difference is we're playing in front of people, and that builds teamwork because you win or you lose together. My goal is always that I want us to be the best that we can be... and we're almost there."

The whirlwind weekend also gave the boys the chance to sightsee and soak up some eclectic New York City culture. They toured the legendary Apollo Theater (pictured above), where the Bearitones performed on the same stage that music greats such as Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Michael Jackson have graced; attended the Broadway musical Something Rotten; explored Times Square; attended the festival awards banquet at Medieval Times; took a boat cruise around Manhattan; and ate what Jackson called "some of the best soul food there is" at Sylvia's in Harlem.

"Some of the stuff the boys did, like playing at the Devils game or performing on stage at the Apollo — that's something they can take with them forever," Jackson said. "As a teacher, it's rewarding to give the boys that opportunity. I enjoy seeing them enriched in that way."