Students Play, Sing, and Impress

Hundreds of parents, friends, and community members gathered eagerly on Thursday, December 13th, to hear the Deer Park High School music program’s Christmas concert and were delighted with what they experienced. The first jazz tune with its holiday songs in simple swing time set the tone for an evening mostly devoted to holiday music. The sing-along of Christmas classics at the end put the bow on a beautifully wrapped aural gift.

Five ensembles performed throughout the evening. The first three demonstrated their musical abilities in the cafeteria. The Jazz Band opened the concert, and during their performance played a cover of “Africa” by Toto that a student, Tyler O’Neil, had been so enthusiastic about he actually purchased the music himself. The Jazz Band was followed by the Stag Steel Pan Ensemble as students rocked out to “Grandma Got Runover By A Reindeer”. Taylor Belote, who directed three of the five groups performing, pointed out that this was the first country song the Caribbean instruments had ever played. The Hart Chorale, directed by Christina Thomas, then sang two of the carols they had been performing at various community events.

At this point, a short intermission allowed the musicians and their audience to move into the Kenneth M. Fisher Performing Arts Center for the two remaining ensembles. Cory Thompson directed the 8th Grade Concert Band in several pieces, as the red and green stage lights twinkled on the trombone slide in his low brass section. Then, in one more transition, the 54-person High School Concert Band took the stage.

Before sharing the details of their performance, let’s take a short jaunt back through history. In the fall of 2011 Belote was hired to be the new music teacher. At that point there were twenty-five students in the struggling concert band, no jazz band or drumline, and no steel pan players in Deer Park. There were some individuals proficient in their instruments, but overall the quality of music produced was rather low. Now that Belote is in his eighth year of teaching music in Deer Park, the program has grown enough to demand the hiring of more staff, and there are more opportunities than ever to learn to play well in Deer Park. With that context, let’s move again to the concert hall with the Deer Park High School band.

As the first notes of their warm-up filled the room, an aura of peace settled over the listeners. Here was beauty. Here was skill. The previous ensembles had done a good job, but the combined will of fifty-five individuals melded seamlessly into one gorgeous sound. The audience, though told it was only a rehearsal piece, was moved to clap at its end.

The Concert Band’s first piece was also its most challenging. To Challenge the Sky and Heavens Above by Robert Smith opened with Colin Buscher’s performance of the best French Horn solo by a Deer Park student in years. His hard work was the highlight of the night. The low woodwind section also shone as they demonstrated their masterful background accompaniment during a section in a difficult meter. As the longest selection of the evening, To Challenge The Sky was difficult, yet soaring, and Belote and his students performed admirably in the selection and rehearsal of the demanding piece.

The evening’s entertainment ended shortly thereafter as the 8th Grade Concert Band rejoined their seniors, and the Hart Chorale took up stations surrounding the auditorium to lead their community in singing Christmas favorites together. The venue is named the Kenneth M. Fisher Performing Arts Center in honor of Deer Park High School’s beloved band director from the 70’s and 80’s. Based on tonight’s performance and the incredible growth in the music program over the last eight years, this reporter would not be surprised if a Taylor Belote Auditorium, or something similar, were to be built in Deer Park’s distant future.

Bravo, students and teachers. Bravo.

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