The dedication and depth of East Islip’s vaunted music program, overseen by its director, Stephen Guarino, were on maximum display during East Islip High School’s two spectacular spring concerts. Both events were held at the school’s auditorium during the month of May, wowing parents, friends and staff with the immense musical talent demonstrated by East Islip’s award-winning student-musicians.
Principal William Brennen was on hand to introduce the first concert on May 17. After thanking the students and their teachers for their hard work and dedication, and the audience for their attendance, he turned the stage over to the young musicians of East Islip. “You don’t want to hear me, you want to hear your kids,” joked Brennen, before the curtains rose.
Directed by Christopher Neske, the East Islip High School Concert Band took the stage and launched into a vibrant version of the “Jupiter” movement of Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.” Next was the “Star Wars Trilogy” – three tunes from John Williams’ score to the famous space adventure film, from the ominous “Imperial March” and lush “Princess Leia’s Theme” to the familiar fanfare of the main theme. Neske acknowledged the band’s graduating seniors before leading into their final number, a jaunty rendition of John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
The concert choir was up next, led by director Bethany Affelt and accompanied by Christopher McKee. Special guest James Burke on bagpipes brought a true Scottish flair to their opening number, the medley “Ower the Hills.” The choir also tackled the Beatles’ classic “Can’t Buy Me Love,” John Leavitt’s arrangement of “Kyrie” and a rambunctious bass-and-drum-powered version of Shakira’s “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa),” the official theme of the 2010 soccer World Cup.
The women’s choir, also directed by Affelt, began their portion of the show with a Renaissance flavor, singing Pierre Certon’s 16th-century “Je Le Vous Dirai! (Do Not Dare I Say It).” After a haunting version of beloved Irish ballad “Danny Boy,” the girls performed “Leading Ladies – Songs That Stopped the Show,” a fun medley of five songs from female-centered Broadway musicals: “Wicked” (from “Popular”), “Don't Cry for Me, Argentina” (“Evita"), “Don't Rain on My Parade” (“Funny Girl”), “Adelaide's Lament” (“Guys and Dolls”) and the title tune of “The Sound of Music.”
The East Islip High School String Orchestra ended Spring Concert I, dedicating the performance to the memory of the late Amanda Hartley, a former East Islip student and cellist. After Bach’s Sinfonia in D Major and the traditional folk number “Poor Wayfaring Stranger,” the student-musicians all donned colorful masks and feathers to play a mix of Lady Gaga hits arranged for strings. This medley melded the classic and the modern in a way that brought a touch of witty fun to the proceedings and greatly entertained the audience. For the grand finale, members of the concert band joined the string orchestra for an epic performance of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture,” replete with a climactic explosion of celebratory confetti.
East Islip’s sonic splendors continued at Spring Concert II, held on May 22.
Neske’s wind ensemble started this second show with renditions of Leonard Bernstein’s “Slava! (A Political Overture for Orchestra),” Percy Grainger’s Australian favorite “Colonial Song” and David Maslanka’s “Give Us This Day.”
The honors choir, directed by Affelt and accompanied by McKee, sang a remarkably diverse set of material: traditional gospel/blues song “John the Revelator,” “The Stars Stand Up in the Air” (by Eric William Barnum and Thomas MacDonaugh), Pierre Passereau’s chanson “Il Est Bel et Bon,” Paul Simon’s elegiac “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and the electrifying “Jai Ho!” (from “Slumdog Millionaire”).
The final section of the concert belonged to the East Islip High School Honors Symphony Orchestra, directed by Susan Rydzeski. They began by performing Vivaldi’s “Allegro” from his Concerto in G Minor, featuring cello soloists Karyn DeFranco and William Meehan. The evening ended with their powerful renditions of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s orchestration of Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain” and John Williams’ “The Cowboys Overture.”