Choir revives tradition of live benefit concert

Section leaders Erielle Reyes (12), Sydney Reyes (12), David Gorsage (12) and Choir Advisor Mr. Davis discuss Choir’s annual Benefit Concert and what it meant to them

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Mateo Cole

Ayala Choir Director Mr. Davis directs the Women’s Ensemble throughout their performance, which consisted of the songs “Kaval Sviri” by Petar Liondev, “I Denna Ljuva Sommartid” sung with soloist Victoria Vurbenova-Mouri by Kim Andre Anderson, “Song of Miriam” by Elaine Hagenberg, “Coming Home” by Jay Althouse, and “Music Down In My Soul” arranged by Moses Hogan.

Isabel Sim , Features Editor

Sprightly notes spring into the air, ones that inspire cheer in the people listening to the music. Uplifting music fills the room as the Women’s Ensemble sings a rendition of “Music Down In My Soul,” a song meant to evoke joy in the audience. 

In order to raise money for singer Donna Ramirez (C/O 2021), Ayala’s Mixed Choir, Men’s Ensemble, Women’s Ensemble, Vocal Ensemble, and fifth and sixth-period Mixed Choir performed at their annual benefit concert on February 25 and 26 at 7 pm in the MPR. Through the Ayala Choirs website and Instagram page, tickets quickly sold out. 

 

With the addition of Canyon Hills Jr. High, all the choir groups of Ayala sang songs that were meant to express togetherness through times of hardship, the group’s shared bond, determination to overcome obstacles, appreciation of nature, and in some, the stages of grief. 

Canyon Hills Jr. High, led by choir advisor Laura Iacopetti, opened the show with a rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner,” followed by “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Roger Emerson, a song about making it through one’s fears out of bravery, and finishing with “Pong Pong Piyangaw” by Maria Therese Vizconde-Roldan, an uplifting song in a native language from the Philippines.

Women’s Ensemble sang songs with themes of home and joy, while the Vocal Ensemble sang three songs following the five stages of grief, complete with soloists Erielle Reyes (12) and Joey Rice (12) and American Sign Language Interpreter Eliana Madera (12). The Concert Choir and Canyon Hills Jr. High School Choir finished the overall performance with a rendition of “Shadowland” by Mac Huff.

Running for the past several years, the concert has benefited singers or other choir organizations in need. This year’s recipient was Donna Ramirez, who sang in the Women’s Ensemble during her time at Ayala and is currently singing at a college choir program. 

For section leader Reyes, the concert was a chance to give back to Ramirez, who sang her last song with Reyes at a previous benefit concert and to show her appreciation and support for them.

I think [giving back] is such an art of being like a valued human. I cannot emphasize how important it is to give back to people that are in need, whether it be [that] they’re down on their luck, something happened or they had a bad streak, and they’ve been struggling for a long time. To be able to pick others up instead of putting them down is something that everybody should be able to take pride in.

— Robert Davis, Choir Director

Reyes said of their ending song “Shadowland”: “It’s a ‘we’re here for you’ song for Ramirez. It’s ours and [Choir Director Mr. Davis’] message to Donna, saying ‘let my blessings be your guide and take you where you need to be. I’m proud of you. Don’t forget where you came from. Don’t forget your tribe. We’re here for you.’” 

Reyes states that the performance and overall preparation made her choir group feel closer together as they bonded over memories of singing together, sharing their emotions through their songs. She recalls times when Mr. Davis would have her and her fellow choir members hold hands in the dark to think about what their songs mean to them and to express what they were feeling in the moment. 

“[The process shows] that we’re a community, whether or not you’re in this ensemble, if you’ve graduated, or if you’re slightly associated,” Reyes said. 

Section leader David Gorsage (12), who led the Men’s Ensemble for the show, reflects on their song “My Son,” which is a song that expresses the grief King David from the Bible felt when he found out that his son was dead.

“It’s an extremely beautiful, rich, emotional piece, and it’s always such a joy to sing,” Gorsage said. 

Another section leader, Sydney Reyes (12), stated that it was initially difficult to prepare for the show in joint with several different choir groups, but she managed to overcome those challenges and appreciate her fellow choir members.

“There’s something so special about having live music and having your friends around you who are also passionate about these new pieces that you’re learning,” Sydney Reyes said. “I’m very grateful for that.”

Similar to Erielle Reyes’ point of view, Mr. Davis feels grateful for the chance to give back to Ramirez and to teach his choir groups the importance of giving back.

“I think [giving back] is such an art of being a valued human. It meant so much that we were doing that here, and I was like, ‘We’re not getting rid of it,” Davis said. “This is something that we have to do. I cannot emphasize how important it is to give back to people that are in need, whether it be they’re down on their luck, something happened or they had a bad streak, and they’ve been struggling for a long time. To be able to pick others up instead of putting them down is something that everybody should be able to take pride in.” 

With each performance and song that the choir sings, Davis hopes to teach his students life lessons such as perseverance or giving back to others, lessons that they wouldn’t otherwise learn in a fully academic setting.

“I really try to generate a big family atmosphere and a big positive culture within this choir program,” Davis said. “To generate a culture where students look out for each other and take care of each other means more to me than anything musically we can do, but musically, man, they’re just doing such great work. I could not be more proud of the music that they’re making.”

For example, one of the songs performed by the Vocal Ensemble called “Dawn and Dusk,” by Ken Steven, uses whistles and claps to mimic the sounds of nature, following the flow and ebb of its activity.

“When I was talking about it in context with my singers, it was essentially like walking into a forest and seeing all of the light that’s around you, and not just the animals, but the plants and being able to be surrounded by life, especially within the context of the entire set about life and death,” Davis said. “It was a chance to surround our audience with life before we had to then come to terms with mortality and start the grieving process.” 

Due to the pandemic and schools going on distance learning for the 2020-2021 school year, the Ayala Benefit Concert was one of the Choir’s first live performances since their last show in 2019. Davis emphasizes the impact that a live performance can have on the audience, allowing the audience to emotionally connect with the music and for the singers to see the impact that their music is making.

“There is no substitute for a live performance,” Davis said. “There will never be a substitute. Being able to perform live is such a different atmosphere because [with an online performance], there is no reading [of emotions]. And the other part is that as an audience member, it’s important for us to see other people come and to even see other choirs within our own program perform. I always love having my students watch other groups perform because there’s so many things that we can learn from that just as much as performing ourselves.”

Davis evaluates the performance of his students and cannot help but gush with pride.

“They never cease to impress me musically. And I feel like they did that again tonight. It’s just awesome when you have students that want to work, and that’s why they’re able to sing so beautifully. But even tonight, they exceeded my expectations. They come in and always have a great attitude. They’ve always been so supportive of each other, and to walk onstage and to sing with such beauty and emotion, it really means a lot.”