Strike up the band – live performances are back!

Winter band and orchestra concerts this week mark first live shows since 2019


Ryan Syms

Band director Javier Cerna with his first period wind ensemble class in preparation for their Tuesday winter performance in the theater. This week’s band concerts are the first live performances since 2019.

In-person band and orchestra concerts at Cal High are finally back after more than two years. 

Though the chamber and string orchestras performed at the fall concert in October, symphonic band, jazz band, jazz ensemble, and wind ensemble are marking Tuesday’s holiday concert as their first performance since 2019 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

String orchestra and chamber orchestra perform Thursday. All concerts are at 7 p.m. in the school theatre. All of the performances are free.

Band and orchestra directors Javier Cerna and Lori Willis are ecstatic about the move from virtual concerts to live performances.

“We were able to put some good stuff together virtually, but it’s just not the same as being in a room together and making music,” said Willis, the chamber orchestra director. “I think that has been uplifting for students.”

The band concerts, ensembles and orchestra concerts are performing a mix of holiday favorites and jazz tunes, from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s version of “Carol of the Bells” to “Harlem Nocturne” by Earl Hagen and Dick Rogers. 

Although both directors believe the ensembles are well-prepared for their performances, the preparation process has not always been sunshine and rainbows.

Cerna is Cal High’s fifth band director in four years. Consequently, students in the music program have had to adapt quickly to multiple changes throughout the years. 

Cerna said students are adjusting to these changes and improving quickly.

“Took them a while, you know, new director, who the heck is this guy?” Cerna said. “Trying to figure out how I do things, teaching them my methods. I gave them some tough pieces and they’re stepping up. Raising the bar of what we can play. They’re all practicing really hard.”

Willis also sees talent in the student musicians and feels positive about her work with the group. 

“My favorite part is the joy on the students’ faces and you can just tell that people are so happy that they get to be together again to make music,” Willis said.

The ensembles urge families to join them for their performances. The directors believe it will be a great experience for all and they’ll leave with no regrets.  

Junior Ethan Shin, who plays cello in chamber orchestra, is excited to make good music with his friends. 

“I want to show off what we’ve been working hard at,” Shin said. 

Shin and the other members of the chamber orchestra are performing pieces such as Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You” and Leroy Anderson’s “A Christmas Festival”.

The ensembles look forward to the thrill of live performances as they stand onstage and create a great bond with each other and the audience as well.

“If they make a mistake on a song, it’s not perfect,” Cerna said. “Who cares? We’re back. We’re playing music. COVID sucks. Let’s celebrate the fact that we’re together, playing again, which is the most important thing.”

Note: Staff writer Alice Oh is a member of Cal High’s chamber orchestra.