Never in my life have I witnessed over two hundred singers and musicians come together on a Friday afternoon during the week before finals to volunteer two hours of their time to perform a concert for high school and middle school students. I didn’t realize what this outreach concert was going to entail until I walked into Schoenberg Hall to see a beautiful lit stage with risers for the singers, instrument stands and chairs for the musicians, a beautiful grand piano, and an incredible backdrop of snowflake images. I arrived half-an-hour before show time dressed in my usual concert attire, an elegant black dress with black hose, shoes, and stage makeup. Everyone dressed up as if they were performing the regular quarter end concert. Professor Donald Neuen, Director of Choral Activities, would constantly reiterate that dress coincides with professionalism, and UCLA students never settle for mediocrity but rather perfection instead. He approached the preparation for this concert with the same dedication to excellence for any performance and seemed especially anxious to please this special audience. We were representing UCLA for these students, and, not only that, we were also representing music, in its finest, most powerful, and most beautiful form.
Members from the Chorale and Chorus along with music majors, UCLA music department staff, crew team members, and individuals outside of UCLA worked side-by-side to make the event a huge success. Most significantly, Dr. Rebecca Lord, Associate Director of Choral Activities, spearheaded the entire benefit concert, visiting schools to promote the performance and organizing a seemingly endless list of details to make this vision a reality. The concert included a wide range of music from classic Christmas songs and lively Hanukkah pieces to stirring Russian music and the cheerful Christmas special arrangement, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. The UCLA Orchestra members volunteered their time to accompany pieces such as Personet Hodie, a Latin piece from the 16th century, and Joy to the World.
In a time when the United States economy is facing financial difficulties, significant cutbacks have been made to the music programs in public schools resulting in less exposure to the arts for today’s high school and middle school students. The entire UCLA Chorale along with the full support of head conductor Donald Neuen and assistant conductor Rebecca Lord decided to step into the gap and share an amazing music experience that these deserving students would not normally have received.
Before lining up to go on stage, I got a glimpse of the amount of students coming out of the busses and making their way towards Schoenberg Hall. Would the students view this concert as being “not cool”? When I was their age and not yet part of a chorus, my idea of a chorus was something found in churches made up mostly of elderly people or the one shown in the movie “Sister Act.” My surface level judgments were eventually obliterated when I first joined a chorus and realized that choral music is very energetic, beautiful, passionate, moving, and fun. The purpose of this holiday concert was to bring the gift of beautiful music to these students and their teachers along with the goal of inspiring students to pursue music in their own lives.
After the concert was finished, the students and teachers loudly applauded and walked away with amazement and a different countenance than when they entered the room. The following night after the concert, I received an email from Rebecca Lord regarding some of the comments the students wrote about the concert. Many students loved the different songs, and some commented that it was an experience they would never forget. One student even mentioned that the concert changed her life.
Previously this winter quarter, the UCLA Chorale has focused on rehearsing Verdi’s Requiem, which they performed in Phoenix, Arizona, in the nationally acclaimed Arizona Musicfest. The UCLA Chorale Department is looking forward to expanding its outreach in the future by inviting more students from schools around Los Angeles to attend performances such as the upcoming concert on Friday, March 16. At this concert, the UCLA Chorus and Chamber singers will perform pieces dedicated entirely to Latino music. The final Winter Concert was held on March 17th at 7 pm to 9 pm. As a member of the Chamber singers, I can attest that anyone who attends the Chamber and Chorus Concert will leave Schoenberg Hall completely delighted after hearing the energetic, lively rhythms and beautiful, romantic melodies.
Walking back from a Chorale rehearsal one day, I contemplated how in this era where technology and science have become center stage, the arts have unfortunately been overlooked to some extent. Life is about numbers and grades. While we need accuracy to manage our economy, we need beauty as well. Most of all, we need hope. As I was listening to the UCLA Chorus sing, there was one piece that resonated in my mind. It was titled, “I Wonder as I Wander.” The song is about a little girl and her father who become destitute during the era of the Great Depression. One day, a man comes by as the little girl is singing. He offers her a quarter every time she sings her song. Over time, the man writes down the lyrics and comprises the words that are cherished to this day. The song is one of the most beautiful pieces I have heard and is filled with hope, just like the UCLA Chorale and Chorus outreach concert. I can hardly wait to hear the comments of the students after the next outreach concert and to see even more students participate in this exceptional event.
While these outreach concerts were unique experiences for the UCLA Chorale and Chorus, there are plenty of other opportunities to get involved and help share the gift of music to aspiring musicians and students in this difficult economic time. For instance, musicians are gladly wanted for clubs such as Bruin Music Tutors. Also, becoming a part of an A Cappella group on campus is a great way to sing while also volunteering in the Los Angeles Community. Artists are also desired for organizations such as the Community Outreach Through Arts at UCLA and the hART project. Both of these groups reach out to students in underprivileged areas by putting on performances, mentoring students through music, and developing a much needed arts program. There are many other music/art organizations that have the same outreach mission. For a list of them, you can visit the following website.
The first initiative to volunteer can be the most difficult, but the end reward is truly priceless. A quote by Maya Angelou sums up this exact feeling, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Make every moment count. You just never know who might be watching in the audience.