A harmonious collaboration

Music unites schools


Adria Watson

Heritage High School music director Steve Ernest conducts band students as audience members watch.

Dr. Luis Zuniga’s weeks of hard labor and coordination finally came to fruition Wednesday, Nov. 8 with the Los Medanos College Orchestral Invitational, Beethoven No.1 a night of powerful music and successful collaborations.

The night began with the Heritage High School Orchestra playing two very distinct pieces, led by their director Steve Ernest. The first was “Two South American Tangos” by A.G. Villoldo. Their second piece, “Conquistador” by Deborah Baker Monday, began with a brief hiccup, but they picked up the darker, moody piece shortly after.

Next was the Antioch High School Orchestra, led by their director Kenan Baker. Though the band did not set out to play in the large collaboration, the small orchestra of 10 packed a punch with a medley from the blockbuster “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Farandole” by George Bizet.

The Freedom High Orchestra, led by George Chilcott, brought the airy feelings of spring to the chilly fall night. They played a trio of pieces: “Pennywhistle Jig” by Henry Mancini, “Ashokan Farewell” by Jay Ungar which began with an impressive violin solo and “Hornpipe” by George F. Handel.

Director Julianne George and the Alhambra High Orchestra, finished off the features with two pieces: “Take 5” by Paul Desmond and “Amadeus” by Mozart, the first being jazzy and upbeat, the second intense and action-packed.

The night ended with what was colloquially termed the “Mega Orchestra”. The orchestra consisted of approximately 60 to 80 people from the Heritage, Freedom and Alhambra High School orchestras, as well as LMC’s own orchestra led by Dr. Zuniga.

Before playing, Zuniga asked that the audience give them “five minutes” to get themselves situated and a cacophony of practicing musicians ensued. Then, from the cacophony rose this singular sound which grew in height as more musicians picked up the tune.The crowd fell silent and then broke into applause.

Zuniga then gave his closing remarks and welcomed the participating high school students to LMC’s rehearsals Monday nights. He also said that the audience could expect collaborative events like these to come.

With that, the “Mega Orchestra” played the first and fourth movements of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1. The piece was bold and bright, with the sound of birds in the wind section and bees and thunder to be heard in others. Zuniga leaned into the band, jumping with the music, and coming in low with his finger to his lips for the quieter portions. The piece ended as boldly as it began and the crowd swelled with applause afterwards.

The success of the Orchestral Invitational was a fulfilling night for many reasons, especially for those who at first felt intimidated by the collaboration.

Heritage High School director Steve Ernest explained that when he first approached his students with the piece they told him, “We can’t do this” because it was simply too overwhelming. But over time they continued “chipping away at it” piece by piece and in the last few weeks before the event Ernest said that it “really started to sparkle”.  

Carla Santos, a freshman from the Heritage orchestra, expressed similar sentiments.

She admitted that in the beginning she “didn’t know half the things in the music”. The collaboration was a learning curve for her. Over the span of the semester she learned what tempo and pit staccato were, as well as how to sight read, but playing next to a college student encouraged Santos because it gave her someone to look up to.

Julianne George, Alhambra’s director, described the phenomena she was seeing in her own students.   

“When you’re sitting next to someone better than you, it’s like sports,” Julianne said. “All of a sudden you’re playing at an accelerated rate.”

The night was an impressive feat for everyone involved and Dr. Zuniga succeeded at bringing together “a community through music”.