Thunder from Down under, mate!

As the St. Andrew’s Orchestra stepped onto the stage of Cochran Chapel in their school uniforms and cowboy-style hats, I knew that their performance would be something different. The St. Andrew’s Cathedral school made Cochran Chapel a stop in its 2004 USA tour. Hailing from Sydney, Australia these young musicians came a long way to share their talents with our community and others across the country. The concert was well attended by students, but also attracted many audience members from Andover and neighboring towns, as well as a number of faculty members and parents. During their four-day stay in Andover, the St. Andrew’s students lived with day students and faculty and practiced with the Andover musicians. There were not only here to perform but to also get a taste of what American school is like as well as taking a tour of Boston and visiting the Berklee School of Music. The St. Andrew’s students could be seen getting tours from their hosts and just hanging out. I even saw a librarian yell at a group of them who were talking in the library, and no Andover visit is complete with out that. The show was opened by a brief introduction from Phillip Heath, Head of St. Andrew’s School. Heath said, “By taking St. Andrew’s music to the world our students hope that music can provide the bridge that links individuals and nation into more harmonious understanding of music’s influence and values.” He went on to say that music is a great way to begin to learn about other people’s cultures. St. Andrew’s hoped to bridge a link with Andover students by incorporating Andover’s orchestra and choir with those of St. Andrew’s during the second half of the program. The program began with “Dawn Awakening,” a piece written by Australian composer Ross Edwards. This was a long, intricate piece made up of four movements. The first movement featured an emphasis on the drone of the didgeridoo, a traditional Australian instrument. The string instruments echoed the didgeridoo, creating a sound imitative of the sounds heard during the Australian dawn. As the instrumentalists (consisting of a violin, trumpet, French horn, and clarinet) played, the rest of the company chanted “Aurora”(the Latin word for dawn) and “Dihibli” (the Australian word for dawn). Throughout this movement the focus of the performers was unwavering and it was easy to see the time and effort that went into the preparation of this piece, which clearly felt Australian. Another piece where the Australian roots were revealed was James Madsen’s “December.” Madsen is another Australian composer whose piece was about Christmas time in Australia. The piece incorporated Andover students and included, besides bells and singers, a phenomenal clarinet solo. It was a celebratory holiday piece, but still more serious that most American Christmas music. Another particularly impressive piece was Dvorak’s “New World Symphony.” Together, St. Andrew’s and Andover students played the first and fourth movements flawlessly. It is a particularly difficult piece composed during America’s beginnings. It is powerful, and at points bears a resemblance to “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” reportedly one of Dvorak’s favorite spirituals. The combined orchestra executed the classic piece skillfully, and their focus throughout the long piece was impressive and unwavering. “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” was not the only reference to a hymn in the performance. The choir also did a rendition of “All people on Earth do dwell,” a Christian hymn that they encouraged the audience to join. Many picked up church hymnals and sang along. St. Andrew’s proved that their talent was not one-sided when they branched out to perform pieces that were primarily vocal. It seemed every performer could not only play an instrument well, but also sing with some proficiency. The most impressive vocal piece was “Sing Baraya.” This piece incorporated aboriginal words such as “Yabun” meaning “sing together”. “[Sing Baraya] is based on ‘Song for St. Andrew’s and incorporates Latin reflecting our Western heritage, and Aboriginal words of the tribe on who’s land our school stands,” said Huw Belling, (Violin and music support). The song recognizes a diversity of influences on school life, cultural and historical which it implores us to celebrate by ‘singing together.’” There were two more primarily vocal pieces “Hope for the Future” and “Hope for Resolution.” These songs were written as a part of the anti-apartheid movement in support of Nelson Mandela. The two pieces went together extraordinarily and the harmony of the first piece was disturbed by the conflict in the second one, creating a story through the music. The concert was not just about great music; it was about the fusion of cultures. The Australians were able to represent their heritage without losing any modern edge. It was remarkable to see how, after just a few days of rehearsal with Andover students, a performance that incorporated everyone and still sounded put-together and polished could be created. You could hear the blend of the two musical styles; the voices and the instruments of these two very different groups of people mixed to make something beautiful.