Concert Brings the Light and Joy of the Holiday Season Home

Home for the Holidays cover photo

The Frederick Gunn School presented “Home for the Holidays 2020: A Virtual Holiday Concert and Celebration” on December 17, featuring students in the school’s Vocal Ensemble, String Ensemble, and Jazz Combo, along with special guest musicians, directed by Ron Castonguay, Director of the Arts and Director of Music. It was the first remote broadcast of a holiday concert, and the first holiday concert at The Frederick Gunn School.

“We’re doing things a bit differently this year since we can’t come together and celebrate in person,” Castonguay said, noting: “The holiday season reminds us of what’s truly important. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or celebrated Diwali last month, I hope that the music in this concert brings us together, warms your heart, and puts a smile on your face.” 

The concert opened with the Vocal Ensemble’s performance of “Merrily Sing Noel,” by Linda Spevacek, featuring sopranos Maggie Xiang ’21, Audrey Richards ’23, and Erin Ryan ’21, altos Yolanda Wang ’21, Erin Whitney ’24, and Sierra Cortes ’23, tenor Drew Sutherland ’21, and basses Dayne Bolding ’23, Al Mhya ’21, Sam Williams ’24 and Frank Fan ’23. The full Vocal Ensemble also performed a Hanukkah tribute, “The Song of Galilee,” and nine soloists were featured in “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” arranged by Mark Hayes.

Castonguay introduced a beautiful arrangement of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Russell Robinson, noting that the piece was originally arranged for voice ensemble. He adapted it for the FGS String Ensemble, featuring Aria Trotta ’23 and Eujin Shin ’21 on violin; Alice Pan ’21 on viola; Sean Christiansen ’21, Yoyo Zhang ’22, Dayne Bolding ’23 and Nic Danforth ’23 on cello; and Noah Ram ’23 on bass. The String Ensemble also performed “The Nutcracker March'' and “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” by Tchaikovsky, both arranged by Roy Phillippe. All three songs featured special guest James Czeiner on violin and viola.

Castonguay donned a Santa hat and a special tuxedo to introduce the Jazz Combo performing “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” featuring Oliver Levick ’24 on alto saxophone; Ella McKhann ’21 on tenor saxophone and clarinet; Andrew Sawyer ’24 on trumpet; James Pattillo ’21 on trombone; Joe Zhu ’21 on bass; and Jon Nichele ’21 on drums, along with special guest Christopher Ricardo on trumpet. A former student of Castonguay's at the Gulliver School in Florida, Ricardo is now a jazz trumpet player at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music. The concert concluded with the Jazz Combo and Ricardo performing a lively rendition of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

“I am proud of our school, and the students, faculty, staff and parents who comprise it,” Head of School Peter Becker said as he introduced the holiday concert and acknowledged how the community has been sustained this year by both a sense of resilience and good cheer. “What makes me most proud of our students and faculty is that you are taking seriously the importance of choosing how to endure this challenge, rather than just letting it dictate the terms of engagement. That is harder, but ultimately more life-giving, and better training for the life ahead of all of us.”

He went on to quote from the late Jonathan Sacks, who served as the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain for many years, and wrote about leadership in a way that Becker said reminded him of our school: “What distinguishes a leader from a non-leader is not position or office or role but rather, a basic attitude to life. Others wait for something to happen; leaders help make something happen. While others curse the darkness a leader lights a light.”

Becker continued: “This is a moment and a season and a year where we celebrate rhythms and realities of the light breaking through, whether Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or the Winter Solstice. Through June 21, there will be a little more light every day. What is in our control is how we respond to this challenge, as we look to January, February, and then to being together again in person in March. Let’s lean on each other, let’s be light to and for each other and the people around us. Let’s ask for help when we need it, and let’s imagine life after this COVID season has passed … Let’s begin to ask ourselves how we can be now – in small ways and big – positive, constructive, hope-filled, confident and yet humble, creative and love-oriented, active citizens. That’s what our world needs, that’s what our local communities need, that’s what our countries need, what our families need, and that’s what our school needs. Let’s do that together in 2021.” 

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